A social service for the developers

Earlier this month the Malta Developers Association (MDA) – through its President Sandro Chetcuti – urged the government to tackle the problem of construction waste.

Instead of acting as requested, the government should request that the MDA, being a representative of the major producers of this waste stream, should assume responsibility for the construction waste which is mostly generated by its members.

Time and again, development lobby has emphasised the fact that it strongly believes in sustainable development. How about putting its beliefs into practice and applying them to resolving the issue of the construction waste which it generates, thereby contributing to a reduction in the environmental footprint of the construction industry?

There is general agreement that stone is a scarce resource, yet no efforts are being made to divert construction waste – in whole or in part – to recycling, although stone forms a substantial part of the construction waste generated.

When we speak of recycling, the paper, plastic, metal and glass recycling bins come to mind. To these, nowadays, we include organic waste as well as electric and electronic waste. We are rightly told that we need to “sort it out”.

What about sorting out construction waste and recycling it? Can’t be done? You are joking! Ever been in need of a stone slab to replace a damaged one? I am not only referring to the small normal-sized ones, but the large ones – those we refer to in the building industry as “xorok tal-qasba” – which fetch a considerable price on the market.

Have you ever come across a dismantled stone spiral staircase put up for sale?

As a matter of fact, the recycling of what some consider to be “construction waste” is already in hand but it is carried out on a very small scale. In reality, this is the only practical and sustainable solution: finding a suitable use for what is now considered as being “construction waste”.

The Waste Management Strategy for the Maltese Islands, adopted in 2014, is sub-titled: A resource management approach. With reference to construction waste this entails “lengthening the life cycle of virgin resources” thereby maximising the limestone resource. It is an opportunity to safeguard the limited resources of our islands.

Opening up more landfills is no solution to addressing the issue of construction waste. The recently announced charge of €8 per tonne of construction waste is too little. Construction waste imposes much higher costs on the country than a mere €8 per tonne. In effect, this means that the construction industry is being subsidised.

Way back in 2012, it was reported in the local media that Wasteserve was charging the government €20 per tonne for waste deposited at its landfills. Most of these charges were then subsidised, they were paid out of public funds.

Instead of the €8 per tonne of construction waste, a high landfill charge – say €100 per tonne – should be charged: €8 being the landfill operational charges with the rest being an environmental tax. This would ensure that the construction industry internalises its costs, that is, it pays for them itself. It would also kick-start the construction industry into actively recycling on a large scale.

Many uses can be found for construction waste. It would certainly, however, signify that demolition work, where necessary, are carried out in a more orderly manner, with the aim of preserving stonework with the least amount of damage for possible re-use. Most recoverable materials can be recycled and re-used.

The construction industry needs to act responsibly: it must accept direct responsibility for its environmental footprints. This, rather than the introduction of “social services” for Sandro’s MDA in the form of low or subsidised landfill charges, is the only way to address the construction waste generated.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 17 February 2019

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