Wasteserve illegality: sort it out.

Farmers in Magħtab have been asked to contact Wasteserve by the end of this month in order to facilitate access to their land “for necessary studies with the intent of potential acquisition for public purposes”.

Notice No. 1261, published in The Malta Government Gazette of the 17 December 2019, lists eight plots of land in Magħtab which are being considered. This land has a total area of 254,144 square metres, slightly more than 226 tumoli. Most of it is currently in use as agricultural land, notwithstanding the difficult circumstances arising from the operation of landfills in the vicinity since 1975.

What does Wasteserve need this land for?

There are three pending major waste management issues. The landfills at Magħtab will be shortly filled to capacity. Undoubtedly this state of affairs has been reached earlier than anticipated due to the fact that too much waste is still going to landfill. Recycling is still at an insignificant level and the collection of organic waste as a separate stream is still in its infancy. Much still needs to be done in instilling awareness on the need to substantially reduce both the amount of waste generated as well as the portion of it going to landfill.

The Government will most probably also seek to implement its electoral pledge to close down the Sant Antnin Waste Treatment Plant. This is pledge number 27 in the Labour Party Electoral Manifesto for the 2017 general election and it, too, will most probably be directed towards the Magħtab waste complex, which Wasteserve refers to as the Magħtab Environment Complex.

The third pending issue is the so-called thermal facility, ie the incinerator, scheduled to be in operation by 2025.

Wasteserve needs land to address all three issues, in the process converting Magħtab permanently to the waste centre of the Maltese islands.

The Wasteserve website describes the Magħtab complex as being comparable in size to Valletta, being spread over an area in excess of 600,000 square metres.

Earlier Environment and Planning Minister Aaron Farrugia, politically responsible for Wasteserve, explained on television that the planned extension to the Magħtab landfill requires 145,000 square metres of land, while the proposed incinerator and other facilities would require an additional 105,000 square metres. The “other facilities” is an indirect reference to the Labour Party’s commitment to close down the Sant Antnin Waste Treatment Plant.

Adding up all this land required for the Wasteserve projects at Magħtab would bring the Waste Complex size to around 850,000 square metres when all the pending projects are implemented. This means that the proposed take up of 254,144 square metres of mostly agricultural land as declared in the Malta Government Gazette edition of the 17 December 2019 could be just enough space. Like Oliver Twist, Wasteserve will, however, most probably come back for more.

Perusal of the information available on the website of the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) indicates that the IPPC permit for the landfills at Magħtab expired quite some time ago, signifying that Wasteserve is operating in a state of illegality.

The IPPC (Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control) permits are issued by the ERA in terms of the provisions of the relative EU Directive after detailed studies on the operations and impacts of the proposed activity have been carried out or updated. According to the ERA website, the Ta’ Żwejra non-hazardous landfill within the Magħtab complex is operating on the basis of a permit which expired on the 24 July 2018 (permit IP 0001/05). On the other hand, the L-Għallis non-hazardous landfill, also within the Magħtab complex, operates on the basis of a permit which was issued way back in January 2013 and should have expired at the beginning of 2018 (permit IP 0001/06). Malta’s only landfill complex is thus operating without a valid permit at law.

If Wasteserve does not follow the provisions of basic environmental legislation, it is no surprise that a section of the population is inclined to follow its example.

Sort it out!

Why does the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA), the environment regulator, tolerate this state of affairs? The Chairman of ERA, Professor Victor Axiaq, owes an explanation. His resignation is long overdue.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 23 February 2020

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