Nitgħallmu min-natura

Aħna familjari ma kif taħdem l-ekonomija linejari. Nagħmlu użu mir-riżorsi li nsibu madwarna u wara li ma jkollniex iktar bżonnhom narmuhom.  

In-natura taħdem ferm differenti minn hekk u minn għandha nistgħu nitgħallmu ħafna. Fil-fatt jekk nippruvaw nimxu fuq il-passi tan-natura nistgħu nsolvu bosta mill-problemi li nħabbtu wiċċna magħhom.  

Teżisti linja ta’ studju speċjali imsejħa biomimicry (imitazzjoni tan-natura) li tfittex kif nistgħu nifhmu iktar lin-natura u nitgħallmu minn għandha. Li nibdlu l-mentalità tagħna li narmu kollox hi waħda mit-tagħlimiet bażiċi li għandna bżonn.

Ħarsu lejn siġra. Meta jasal il-waqt addattat għaliha twaqqa’ l-weraq li jitmermru fil-ħamrija madwar is-siġra.  Dawn, imbagħad isiru ħaġa waħda mal-ħamrija u jservu biex is-siġra terġa tassorbi n-nutrijenti akkumulati.

Hekk taħdem l-ekonomija naturali. In-natura ma timxix bħalna, ma tarmi xejn. Issib użu għal kollox. Għalhekk ngħidu li l-ekonomija tan-natura hi waħda ċirkulari għax ma tarmi xejn, u tirriċikla kollox.  Kull prodott naturali li jispiċċa ma jintremiex iżda jitmermer u jerġa’ jitwieled mill-ġdid f’xi forma jew oħra. Jidħol f’ċiklu naturali ġdid.

Fil-ktieb tagħhom Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the way we make things William McDonough and Michael Braungart jiffukaw fuq dan kollu. Jidentifikaw inizjattivi speċifiċi  industrijali u kummerċjali li bihom inaqqsu l-użu ta’ materjali fl-ekonomija, dik li nsejħula dematerialisation. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan jista’ jitwettaq ħafna iktar bl-użu ta’ inqas riżorsi.  Ikollna l-istess kwalità ta’ servizz (jew aħjar) b’inqas użu ta’materjal: effiċjenza prattika fl-użu tar-riżorsi.

Dan iwassal mhux biss biex jonqsu l-ispejjes tal-użu tal-materjal imma ukoll jitnaqqsu l-ispejjes konnessi mal-enerġija użata: dawn huma uħud mill-benefiċċji li ġġib bidla minn ekonomija linejari għal waħda cirkulari.  Twassal ukoll għal żieda fl-investiment kif ukoll għal żieda fl-impiegi li jistgħu jinħolqu. Il-kontribut finali jkun li ntejbu l-kwalità tal-ħajja ta’ kulħadd.

Din il-ġimgħa l-Ministru tal-Ambjent aġġornana dwar il-pjan nazzjonali ta’ azzjoni biex ikunu applikati f’pajjiżna l-prinċipji tal-ekonomija ċirkulari.  Dan hu tajjeb, avolja dan hu paroli li ilna ħafna nisimgħu dwaru tul is-snin: mingħajr ma jsir xejn.

Il-Ministru fisser il-pjani tal-Gvern fuq il-magni li ser ikunu stallati madwar Malta biex permezz tagħhom ikun iffaċilitat ir-riċiklaġġ tal-fliexken tal-plastik u skart ieħor konness mal-ippakkeġġjar. Riżultat ta’ din l-inizjattiva fliexken tal-plastik u kontenituri oħra (tal-birra u tal-inbid, per eżempju) jinġabru f’magni mxerrdin mal-pajjiż u minnhom tieħu lura d-depożitu li tkun ħallast meta tkun xtrajt l-ilma, birra, inbid jew inkella luminata.

Però jkun utili li niftakru li fl-2004, kien hemm proposta kważi simili li kienet ġiet ippreżentata lill-Gvern immexxi mill-Partit Nazzjonalista. Din il-proposta kienet bħala alternattiva għall-eko-kontribuzzjoni li kienet qed tkun introdotta dakinnhar.   Kienu Farsons li fl-2004 ipproponew skema ta’ depożitu fuq il-kontenituri, liema depożitu kien ikun jista’ jittieħed lura kif kien qed iseħħ fid-Danimarka. Sfortunatament kien hemm oġġezzjonijiet kbar għall-dik il-proposta u din għaldaqstant flok ma kienet diskussa u mtejba ġiet imwarrba u injorata. Il-Gvern dakinnhar qagħad fuq dak li qalu industrijalisti oħra tal-luminati li kellhom aċċess ikbar għall-widna tal-Prim Ministru Gonzi. Dan hu kollu dokumentat.

Wara sbatax-il sena, mela, erġajna wasalna fil-punt tat-tluq oriġinali. Imma sadanittant inħlew sbatax-il sena.  

Hu fl-interess ta’ kulħadd li din l-iskema titħaddem sewwa u li tirnexxi. L-iskop hu li jkun irkuprat 85 fil-mija tal-iskart tal-ippakkeġġjar li hu ġġenerat fil-gżejjer Maltin. Nemmen li hu possibli li din il-mira tintlaħaq, kif kien anke possibli li tintlaħaq sbatax-il sena ilu. Din l-iskema ddaħħal ftit sens fil-politika tal-immaniġjar tal-iskart f’Malta. Nittama li ma tkunx ostakolata bħal ta’ qabilha.

Nistennew li jasal il-jum li tkun implimentata.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 23 ta’ Mejju 2021

Lessons from nature

We are accustomed to the functioning of the linear economy. We extract the resources from the earth, we make use of them and subsequently when they are beyond their useful life, we throw them away.

Nature works quite differently. We can learn a lot from nature. As a matter of fact, if we try to imitate nature, we can solve many of the problems which we face.

Biomimicry is a relatively new branch of study which seeks ways in which we can learn from nature. Discarding our throwaway attitudes is one such basic lesson.

Take a look at any tree. At the appropriate time, it sheds its leaves, which disintegrate in the soil below. Nature does not waste the leaves shed by the tree, as they are reused and reabsorbed through the roots of the same tree as nutrients.

This is how nature’s economy works. Mother nature functions on the basis of a cradle-to-cradle philosophy in contrast to our cradle-to-grave attitude. The natural economy is a circular one which does not throw anything away: it recycles everything. At the end of the useful life of any natural product this does not end in a landfill but it gives birth to another product, a new fruit. It is reintroduced into the natural cycle.

In their book Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the way we make things William McDonough and Michael Braungart focus specifically on this matter. They identify specific industrial and commercial initiatives which seek to dematerialise the economy as a result of which we can end up doing much more with less use of resources. The same or better level of service is achieved but, in the process, there are substantially fewer material inputs: practical resource efficiency.

In addition to saving on material costs as well as energy used, the transition from a linear to a circular economy presents numerous potential benefits. In particular, it attracts additional investment and can create thousands of jobs that practically and realistically contribute to making the world a better place to live in.

This week the Minister for the Environment gave an update on a national action plan to intensify efforts to align Malta to circular economy principles. This is positive even though we have heard this a multitude of times over the years.

The Honourable Minister outlined government’s plans on plastic bottle return machines which will be available all over the islands to facilitate their recycling. As a result of this initiative plastic bottles will be returned at which point a deposit paid on their purchase will be refunded.

It would be pertinent to point out that way back in 2004, or thereabouts, a proposal essentially very similar to this had been submitted to the then PN led government as an alternative to the eco-contribution scheme.  In fact, Farsons had then proposed the setting up of a deposit refund scheme for packaging waste on the basis of the Danish model. It was however unfortunately shot down instead of being developed and adapted to the local circumstances. Government instead opted for an eco-tax as emphasised by another powerful lobby which had a much easier access to Prime Minister Gonzi and his entourage. This is all documented.

Seventeen years down the line we are back at the original point of departure. Seventeen years have in the meantime been wasted. It is in everybody’s interest that the proposed scheme functions successfully. The objective is to achieve an 85 per cent recycling of the packaging waste generated on these islands. I believe that it is achievable now just as it was seventeen years ago. It puts back some sense in Malta’s waste management policy! Hopefully it will not be sabotaged once more.

I look forward to the implementation date.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 23 May 2021

Waste Management consultations

The Minister for the Environment has informed us that, tomorrow, Monday, he will be publishing a new Waste Management Strategy for public consultation.

The current waste management strategy is up for renewal as it was originally envisaged to cover between 2014 and 2020.

It is indeed unfortunate that the public consultation has been delayed this far. It has also once more been slotted in a festive period, thereby reducing its effectiveness.

One hopes that the strategy being submitted for public consultation, next Monday, will be accompanied by the studies which have been carried out in order to assist in its preparation. We need to understand the motivation for the proposals being made through studies, not through political soundbites. When proposals are buttressed by serious studies it is much easier for them to be accepted.

One such study commissioned some months ago is a waste characterisation study. This study which has presumably been carried out simultaneously in all the regions should identify the composition of our waste by region. There are known to be significant variations in waste generated in the different regions which variations are a reflection of a standard of living which inevitably varies. These variations need to be quantified as they have an important effect on the manner in which the waste management services are impacted.

We also need to be informed as to the results attained so far in the implementation of measures to organise and modernise waste management. I would expect that, for example, the documentation available in the public consultation should be accompanied by the reports drawn up to examine the uptake of organic waste collection from domestic households. 

In my opinion, the experience so far is generally positive. There is however a need for substantial improvement. This applies across the board, not just to the organic waste stream but also to general recycling which so far still lags far behind what is expected.  Recycling is officially at 12 per cent, but most probably, from what I have been informed, it is closer to 8 per cent of the municipal solid waste generated.

On Thursday an online public consultation is scheduled on the Environmental Impact Assessment relative to the proposed Magħtab incinerator, also referred to as the waste to energy facility. Some reports feeding this consultation are unfortunately tainted by conflicts of interest which may eventually result in the invalidation of the whole EIA consultation process.

This is unfortunate as waste management urgently requires more focused attention, not just to attain compliance with EU standards but more importantly because it may eventually translate into a better quality of life for all of us.

We need to minimise the waste that we generate. For example, our supermarkets need to be encouraged to use biodegradable packaging as this would ensure a further increase in the organic waste stream and consequently a further potential reduction in the mixed waste black bag. So far as a result of the introduction of the organic waste collection the black bag content should have reduced by about fifty per cent in content. This can be further reduced with suitable policy initiatives aimed at a reduction of the waste going to landfill.

Incinerating our waste, should not be an encouraged option. 

The shift to a circular economy is an opportunity which we should embrace. It is the time to shift seriously to a sustainable consumption mode. The personal choices we make accumulate in our waste bag which should be reducing gradually in both size of bag and volume of content.

There is still much to do. I sincerely hope that we can achieve much more. This will however only happen if we can tap the good faith of the environmentally conscious among us. It is only at that point that the moderate improvements achieved to date can be transformed into a definite success. We need it, and it can be done.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 13 December 2020

The basics of waste politics

Waste is what we throw away. It does however have value, which at times can be substantial.

We have lived most of our lives in a linear economy as a result of which, after we consume a product, at the end of its useful life, we throw it away as we have no further use for it.

The shift to a circular economy ought to change all that, such that after consumption we do not throw away what’s left from our “consumed product”.  In a circular economy, at the end of its useful life a product is used to create a new product. This is the objective of a sustainable waste management policy.

Incinerating waste is a declaration of failure of waste management policy. This policy has not failed overnight. Its failure is the accumulated result of mismanagement over the years as well as a reluctance of the authorities as well as the regulator to set up clear and practical objectives which drive the message home that each and every one of us needs to take control of the waste that we generate.

Consider for example the issue of organic waste. While undoubtedly progress has been achieved on the organic waste generated in our households, we still lag behind in controlling the organic waste generated by the tourism industry. The impacts of Covid-19 on the tourism industry is a unique, once in a lifetime opportunity, to bring the industry to its senses on the need to control its act. It is an opportunity which is being unfortunately being lost.

Recycling in Malta is in shambles. Malta is currently recycling around 12 per cent of Municipal Solid Waste when the Waste Framework Directive target for 2020 is fifty per cent which increases to 55 per cent in 2025. This is the extent of the failure of waste management policy in Malta.

It is a key principle of EU waste policy to move up the waste hierarchy ladder: disposal (including incineration) being the least desirable with waste prevention being the most desirable stage.

Incineration encourages the throwaway society. It does not encourage citizens to care about what they consume. It sends the message that others will shoulder the problems created by our consumption.

Where is the environmental benefit of incineration? A study commissioned by the international NGO Zero Waste Europe entitled The Potential Contribution of Waste Management to a Low Carbon Economy indicates that recycling of waste can save substantially much more energy that can be generated through the incineration of the same waste. The waste to energy proposal is thus another gimmick.

More effort needs to be invested in waste minimisation and in recycling of waste. The recycling industry has the potential of developing into a very robust pillar of the green economy, creating a number of green jobs. The government proposal in favour of incineration will be an insurmountable obstacle as a result of which this important element of the circular economy will not be allowed to develop.

Burning waste in an incinerator will further reduce the commitment of the few who are currently bothering to recycle. Instead of avoiding addressing the failure of implementing the waste management strategy, it would be more appropriate if the reasons for this failure are identified and acted upon.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 18 October 2020

Patt Ġdid Aħdar

Patt Ġdid Aħdar (Green New Deal) hi tweġiba għall-kriżijiet li qed tiffaċċja s-soċjetà tagħna. Għandu jkollu l-mira li jirrikonċila l-istil ta’ ħajjitna – kif ngħixu, kif nipproduċu u x’nikkunsmaw – mal-limiti prattiċi u fiżiċi tad-dinja madwarna.

Hu vjaġġ li jista’ jittrasforma l-ħajja f’kull settur b’riformi radikali li jorbtu katina flimkien. Bħala riżultat nistgħu ngħixu f’iktar armonija man-natura.

Matul is-sena d-dieħla għandna nisimgħu dwar in-nisġa ta’ strateġija għal Patt Ġdid Aħdar fl-Unjoni Ewropea. Ursula von der Leyen, għandha mira ambizzjuża: trid li jkollha pjan dwar dan il-Patt Ġdid Aħdar lest għad-diskussjoni fi żmien mitt jum minn meta l-Kummissjoni Ewropea l-Ġdida tibda tiffunzjona. Dan bla dubju jkollu effett fuq kull pajjiż membru tal-Unjoni. Nistennew għaldaqstant li matul is-sena jkollna l-proposti tal-Gvern Malti ukoll f’dan is-sens.

Din hi triq li l-Ħodor Ewropej ilhom imexxu l-quddiem għal bosta snin u mhix koinċidenza li din il-viżjoni tal-Kummissjoni Ewropea l-Ġdida qed tieħu sura hekk kif il-Grupp tal-Ħodor fil-Parlament Ewropew kiber sostanzjalment fid-daqs.

Il-Patt Ġdid Aħdar hu dwar ferm iktar mit-tibdil fil-klima. Huwa ukoll dwar il-mudell ekonomiku li hu l-kawża tad-degradazzjoni ambjentali madwarna.

Fil-kummenti tiegħu huwa u jagħlaq id-diskussjoni dwar il-Baġit, il-Prim Ministru, pereżempju, spjega li l-qalba għal karozzi tal-elettriku tfisser ferm iktar milli sempliċiment nimpurtaw il-karozzi u li niżviluppaw l-infrastruttura meħtieġa għalihom.

Tfisser ukoll t-tmiem tat-taxxi tar-reġistrazzjoni tal-karozzi kif ukoll it-taxxi li jinġabru mill-bejgħ tal-petrol u d-diżil li dwarhom l-istima għas-sena 2020 hi ta’ €157 miljun, skont l-estimi tal-Baġit li l-Ministru tal-Finanzi ppreżenta reċentement fil-Parlament. Ma’ din is-somma wieħed irid jikkunsidra ukoll it-taxxa li tinġabar mar-reġistrazzjoni tal-karozzi li għas-sena 2020 hi stmata li tlaħħaq €55 miljun kif ukoll il-liċenzji tat-triq li jitħallsu kull sena, huma stmati li jlaħħqu €85 miljun oħra fis-sena finanzjarja 2020. Dan ifisser li fis-sena 2020 €297 miljun mid-dħul tal-Gvern ser ikunu dipendenti fuq il-karozzi, prinċipalment fuq karozzi privati. Sa mill-2018 bħala inċentiv favur l-introduzzjoni ta’ karozzi bl-elettriku kienet introdotta eżenzjoni mit-taxxa tar-registrazzjoni. Dakinnhar ukoll kienet tħabbret esenzjoni ta’ ħames snin fuq il-liċenzja tat-triq għal dawn il-karozzi. L-impatt tal-elettrifikazzjoni, għaldaqstant imur lil hinn mill-klima. Hemm impatt ukoll fuq il-finanzi pubbliċi għax ikun meħtieġ identifikazzjoni ta’ sostitut għal dan in-nuqqas ta’ dħul.

Hu ċar li l-inkarigu li Frans Timmermans ingħata dwar il-Patt Ġdid Aħdar prinċipalment ser ikun iffukat dwar il-politika tal-klima u kif l-Unjoni Ewropea għandha tilħaq il-mira ta’ status carbon neutral sal-2050.

Imma hemm iktar minn hekk ukoll. Ursula von der Leyen fl-ittra tagħha tal-10 Settembru 2019 fejn tfisser l-oġġettivi li jridu jintlaħqu minn Timmermans tgħid li “għandna nħarsu b’mod iktar wiesa’, mill-enerġija li nipproduċu u nużaw, b’inkoraġġiment għal investiment mis-settur privat u appoġġ għat-teknoloġija nadifa, inkluż għat-trasport li nużaw, l-ikel li nikkunsmaw u l-ippakkeġġar li narmu.” Dan ser jinkudi ukoll responsabbiltà kemm għall-ekonomija ċirkulari kif ukoll għal dik assoċjat mal-qasam marittimu, magħrufa ukoll bħala l-ekonomija l-blu.

Ursula von der Leyen temfasizza ukoll il-mira dwar it-tnaqqis tal-emissjonijiet tal-karbonju li tinsisti illi għandhom jiżdiedu ta’ l-inqas sa’ tnaqqis ta’ 50% sas-sena 2030.

Tagħmel emfasi partikolari wkoll fuq l-impatti soċjali ta’ din il-bidla billi tiffoka fuq il-ħtieġa ta’ transizzjoni ġusta prinċipalment f’dawk ir-reġjuni li huma dipendenti fuq l-industrija, fuq il-faħam, inkella fuq l-industrija tal-enerġija. Ma’ dan huwa ppjanat kemm attenzjoni dwar il-ħarsien tal-bijodiversità kif ukoll il-mira li jitrazzan kull xorta ta’ tniġġis.

Punt interessanti fl-inkarigu ta’ von der Leyen lil Timmermans huwa emfasi li l-politika ta’ tassazzjoni hi meqjusa bħala għodda essenzjali li għandha tintuża biex jintlaħqu l-miri tal-politika dwar il-klima. Dan ifisser li ser ikun hemm pressjoni sostanzjali fuq il-Gvern Malti biex jikkura l-allerġija li għandu għat-tassazzjoni, b’mod partikolari t-tassazzjoni ambjentali, għodda effettiva u importanti ħafna fl-implimentazzjoni tal-politika ambjentali.

Bla dubju ser nistennew il-proposti ta’ Timmermans u d-dibattitu imqanqal li ser isegwi!

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 27 ta’ Ottubru 2019

 

A Green New Deal

The Green New Deal is a comprehensive response to the crises we face. It aims to reconcile our lifestyles – the way we live, produce and consume – with the physical limits of our planet.

It is a transformational journey consisting of sweeping, interlinked reforms at all levels and all sectors, the end result being a more harmonious relationship with nature.

During the next year we should be hearing about the formulation of a strategy for an EU Green New Deal. Ursula von der Leyen, has an ambitious target: her aim is to have an EU blueprint for a Green New Deal ready for discussion within the first hundred days of the new EU Commission being in office. Without a shadow of doubt this will have an impact on all member states of the EU, so as a result we should expect that, during the year, the Maltese Government will also publish its own proposals on the matter.

The European Greens have been advocating such a roadmap for years, and it is certainly no coincidence that the new EU Commission’s vision comes so soon after the Green Group in the European Parliament increased substantially in size.

A Green New Deal is much more than dealing with climate change – it also signifies a focus on the economic model underpinning the accumulating environmental degradation.

In his concluding remarks in the budget debate, for example, the Prime Minister explained that the electrification of private transport signifies much more than importing electricity-driven cars, and the development of an infrastructure for charging points.

It also implies doing away with car registration taxes as well as forgoing taxation collected from the sale of fuel which, for the year 2020, is estimated at €157 million, according to the budgetary estimates which the Finance Minister recently tabled in Parliament. To this substantial sum one must add the projected vehicle registration tax, which is estimated at €55 million and the circulation licence taxes estimated at €85 million for the financial year 2020. This signifies that €297 million of government income projected for 2020 is dependent on cars, mostly private cars and indicates the potential financial impact of the electrification of private transport, which will undoubtedly be spread over a number of years.

In order to incentivise the take-up of electric cars, an exemption from registration taxes on electric cars has been in effect since 2018. Similarly, an exemption on the payment of circulation taxes for the first five years is currently applicable – hence the argument that the issue is much more than climate politics. Consequently, it is also about economics and finance as the government will need to find a substitute for these taxes

Clearly, Frans Timmermans’ brief indicates that his Green New Deal proposals will be focused towards climate change politics and the EU’s attainment of a carbon neutral status by 2050. It is, however substantially more than that. In fact, Ursula von der Leyen states in Timmermans’ mission letter dated 10 September 2019 that “ we must look at everything from how we use and produce energy, unlock private investment and support new clean technologies, all the way through to the transport we use, the food we eat and the packaging we throw away.” This will include responsibility for both the blue economy and the circular economy.

Subsequently, von der Leyen emphasises carbon emission reduction targets must be increased to at least 50 percent by 2030. She furthermore underlines the need for focusing on cushioning against social impacts through ensuring a just transition – in particular in the industrial, coal and energy intensive regions to which will be added a focus on protecting our biodiversity and a zero pollution ambition.

An interesting twist is von der Leyen’s instruction to Timmermans to ensure “that our tax policies enable us to deliver on our climate ambitions.” This signifying that there will be considerable pressure on the Maltese government to seek a cure for its allergy to taxation, particularly environmental taxation, which is an important and effective tool in the implementation of environmental policy.

We await Timmermans’ proposals and the interesting debate that will undoubtedly follow.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 27 October 2019

Il-plastik f’ħajjitna

L-Awtorità għall-Ambjent u r-Riżorsi (ERA) bħalissa qed tieħu ħsieb konsultazzjoni pubblika dwar il-plastik li jintrema wara li jkun intuża darba waħda biss. Dan jikkuntrasta mal-istrateġija tal-Unjoni Ewropea li tħares lejn il-plastik b’mod iktar wiesa’ u olistiku.

L-argument bażiku hu li t-tfassil tal-politika tagħna trid tħares fit-tul u tqis l-impatti f’kull stadju tal-implimentazzjoni. Dak li hu deskritt bħala life-cycle thinking. Dan ifisser, b’mod partikolari, li fil-proċess tal-manifattura u l-użu tal-materjali, l-impatti ambjentali f’kull stadju tal-użu ta’ prodott ikun ikkunsidrat u analizzat fl-istadju l-iktar bikri possibli. Dan jibda mill-għażla tal-materjal użat, inkluż il-mod kif dan hu prodott u jibqa’ sejjer sal-mument li l-ħajja tal-oġġett tiġi fi tmiemha u allura jintrema jew inkella jkun ipproċessat mill-ġdid għal użu ieħor.

Id-dibattitu tal-lum hu dwar ir-rimi ta’ plastik wara li dan ikun intuża’ darba waħda (single-use plastic). Dan hu s-sors tal-ġenerazzjoni ta’ ammont sostanzjali ta’ skart li jeħtieġ li jkun indirizzat b’mod urġenti minħabba li żdied b’mod astronomiku f’dawn l-aħħar snin. Id-dokument li l-ERA ħarġet għall konsultazzjoni pubblika hu intitolat : Single-Use plastic products Strategy for Malta. (Bl-Ingliż biss, għax għall-ERA l-Malti qiesu ma jeżistix.) Min-naħa l-oħra, id-dokument tal-istrateġija tal-Unjoni Ewropea hu intitolat : A European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy.

Id-dibattitu lokali hu indirizzat lejn it-tnaqqis tal-iskart iġġenerat mill-plastik u dan f’kuntrast mad-dibattitu Ewropew li għandu ħarsa iktar wiesgħa u jiffoka fuq ir-rwol tal-ekonomija ċirkulari. Dan il-kuntrast hu wieħed sinifikanti u jixhed kemm it-tfassil tal-politika lokali hi limitata għall-ovvju u ma tħarisx biżżejjed fil-fond ta’ dak li qed niffaċċjaw.

L-iktar ħaġa ovvja dwar il-plastik hi l-ħtieġa li jonqos il-ġenerazzjoni tal-iskart tal-plastik. F’dan l-aspett id-dokument konsultattiv Malti jindirizza b’mod adegwat il-ħtieġa li jonqos il-konsum tal-plastik u li titjieb l-ekonomija u l-kwalità tar-riċiklaġġ. Din l-istrateġija tidentifika l-problema, konsistenti f’oġġetti li nużaw kontinwament. Din hi s-soċjetà li tinqeda u tarmi (the disposal society): tazzi, straws, frieket u skieken, fliexken u kontenituri tal-ikel . Hi l-imġiba tagħna li għandha tkun fil-mira biex ma nibqawx nużaw oġgetti għal darba u narmuhom. Mhiex triq faċli għax is-soċjetà konsumista mexxietna f’din it-triq.

Ironikament fost il-proposti li hemm fid-dokument konsultattiv Malti hemm indikat miżuri ta’ diżinċentiv ekonomiku kif ukoll miżuri fiskali. Dan forsi jfakkar lil uħud mill-qarrejja dwar l-eko-kontribuzzjoni li kienet introdotta (kważi) bl-addoċċ mill-amminsitrazzjoni mmexxija minn Lawrence Gonzi fl-2005. Din il-miżura fiskali kienet introdotta biex (fost affarijiet oħra) jkun indirizzat l-iskart iġġenerat mill-plastik li nużaw darba: ewlenija fosthom il-fliexken tal-plastik.

L-eko-kontribuzzjoni kienet tneħħiet mill-Gvern tal-lum. Ikun interessanti kieku jkollna iktar informazzjoni dwar x’inhuma dawn il-miżuri fiskali kkontemplati bħala parti mill-istrateġija lokali dwar il-plastik. Għax mill-qari tad-dokument konsultattiv ma naslu mkien.

Waħda mill-miżuri prattiċi u tajba li qed ikunu ikkunsidrati biex tkun indirizzata l-ħtieġa li ma jintremewx fliexken tal-plastik, u li iktar minnhom jinġabru għar-riċiklaġġ, hi skema ta’ depositu fuq il-fliexken tal-plastik, liema depożitu tieħdu lura meta tirritorna l-flixkun. Meta din l-iskema tkun implimentata bla dubju tista’ tagħti riżultati tajbin. Lura lejn is-snin 2004/5 l-istess proposta kienet saret minn produtturi tal-minerali f’Malta bħala alternattiva għall-introduzzjoni tal-eko-kontribuzzjoni. Sfortunatament il-proposta kienet skartata minn rappresentanti tal-ħwienet għax ma riedux ikollhom x’jaqsmu mal-iskart.

Kieku bħala pajjiż fettaqna inqas fil-passat, illum forsi qegħdin f’posizzjoni aħjar biex nindirizzaw l-iskart ġġenerat mill-plastik. Fil-fatt ħlejna ħmistax-il sena għax il-Gvern dakinnhar kien ċeda.

L-istrateġija tal-Unjoni Ewopea dwar il-plastik tmur lil hinn mill-iskart. Għandna bżonn viżjoni ċara dwar is-sehem tal-plastik fl-iżvilupp tal-ekonomija ċirkulari, punt li l-istrateġija lokali ma teżaminax. L-isfidi jeħtieġ li nittrasformawhom f’opportunitajiet b’mod li nagħmlu l-aħjar użu possibli mir-riżorsi li għandna għad-disposizzjoni tagħna.

Ħarsu lejn in-natura: din ma taħlix. Il-weraq li jaqgħu mis-siġra jkunu assorbiti mill-ħamrija bħala sors ta’ nutrijenti u b’hekk il-weraq ikunu rriċiklati. L-ekonomija ċirkulari hi imfassla fuq dak li tgħallimna n-natura li taħdem b’mod ċikliku.

Din hi t-triq ‘il-quddiem. Għandna bżonn ta’ viżjoni strateġika mhux biss dwar x’ser nagħmlu fuq l-iskart ġġenerat mill-plastik imma iktar dwar kif nistgħu u għandna nużaw il-plastik biex nibnu ekonomija ċirkulari.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 9 ta’ Ġunju 2019

Plastic in our life

The Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) is currently engaged in a public consultation regarding single use plastic. This contrasts with the more wide-ranging EU strategy which considers plastic in a wider and more holistic context.

The basic issue to be addressed is the need to entrench life-cycle thinking in our policy making. This signifies, in particular, that in the manufacture and use of materials, the environmental impacts at each stage of a product’s “life” are considered and analysed at the drawing board. This is a process which runs from the very resources used in the production right to the disposal or reuse of the product.

The current debate is concerned with the disposal of single use plastic which is the source of a waste stream that needs to be urgently addressed as it has increased exponentially over the years.

The public consultation document issued by the ERA is entitled: Single-Use plastic products Strategy for Malta. On the other hand, the EU strategy document is entitled A European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy.

The local debate is being channelled towards addressing the minimisation of waste in contrast to the EU debate which is more wide ranging, focusing on the role of the circular economy. The contrast is significant and identifies the lack of depth in local policy making.

The most obvious issue with plastic is the need to reduce its contribution to the waste stream. In this respect, the Maltese consultation document adequately addresses the need to reduce consumption as well as the improvement of the economics and quality of recycling. It identifies a number of items in daily use which are part of the problem. Essentially it focuses on the disposal society with disposable cups, straws, cutlery, bottles and food containers topping the list. We have to address our behaviour and opt more often to use non-disposables! It is an uphill struggle to avoid moving along the road we have been led for so long.

Ironically, among the policy options which the Maltese consultation document highlights are economic disincentives and fiscal measures. This might remind readers of the “eco-contribution” which was introduced in a haphazard manner by the Lawrence Gonzi administration way back in 2005. This fiscal measure was brought about in order to address the waste generated by single-use plastics: primarily  plastic water bottles.

The eco-contribution was scrapped by the current government. It would be interesting if we could have more information as to what fiscal measures are being contemplated as part of the implementation process of the local plastics strategy because through a perusal of the consultation document, we are none the wiser.

It would be pertinent to point out that one of the practical measures being contemplated to address head-on the recycling of plastic bottles is a plastic packaging deposit scheme. If implemented, this would go a long way to addressing the plastic waste stream. Way back in 2004/5 this same proposal was put forward by beverage producers in Malta as an alternative to the introduction of the eco-contribution. The proposal was unfortunately shot down by representatives of retailers as they did not want to deal with waste.

Less bickering in the past would have placed the country in a much better position to address plastic waste today. Fifteen years of productive work have been lost as the then government did not have the will to proceed.

The EU plastics strategy goes much further than addressing the plastic waste stream. We require a clear vision on the role of plastics in the circular economy, a point which is missed by the local strategy. Challenges must be transformed into opportunities through which the use of resources is maximised.

Take a look at nature. It does not waste anything. The leaves which a tree sheds are taken up by the soil as a source of nutrition and recycled. The basic idea of the circular economy is modelled on nature, which works in a cyclical manner.

This ought to be the way forward. We need a strategic vision not just on how to deal with plastic waste, but more on how the use of plastic could contribute to the circular economy.

 

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 9th June 2019

From plastic to seaweed: having nature as an industrial partner

The EU Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy was adopted in January. The strategy addresses the challenges posed by the use of plastics throughout their life cycle: that is, from the initial stages of production until the end of their useful life. This strategy lays the foundations for a new plastics economy, where the design and production of plastics and plastic products fully respect reuse, repair and recycling needs, resulting in more sustainable materials being developed and promoted.

One of the problem areas is that of single use plastics, that is plastic products which are thrown away after being used just once, increasing the amount of the waste generated and going to landfill exponentially.

In those countries which appreciate the value of research, efforts are under way to encourage the identification of alternative sustainable materials. In this respect, being sustainable signifies not only reducing the waste produced and thrown away but also ensuring that the waste generated by the alternatives identified is minimised and possibly eliminated. Wishful thinking?

One such alternative material being currently researched is seaweed. A start-up company based in London is pioneering the use of natural materials extracted from plants and seaweed, thereby aiming at creating packaging with a very low environmental impact. The use of seaweed as a raw material could possibly create waste-free alternatives to plastic bottles, cups, plates, knives, forks ……….

Bio-based news quotes the researcher thus: “You use a coffee cup for half an hour maximum and then it’s going to be in the environment for probably 700 years. That’s a big mismatch in terms of use and shelf life”.

The coffee cups we use are lined with oil-based waxes in order to prevent liquids from seeping out. This creates difficulties when the cups are thrown away as they take a long time to decompose. Using a seaweed-based extract creates a sustainable alternative as it can decompose in about four to six weeks: compare this to 700 years! Moreover, seaweed is cheap and easy to harvest. It is also easily available along and not far from our coastline. In addition, it is one of the fastest growing organisms on earth. Some types of seaweed can grow up to fifty centimetres per day!

What are we waiting for? Some apparently are not aware that we have an abundance of seaweed in Maltese waters!

Isn’t it about time that we have a sustainable industrial policy? That is, an industrial policy which encourages the environmentally friendly production of goods.

Our industrial policy should work in tandem and be synchronised with a sustainable development strategy seeking to create wealth hand in hand with the protection of nature. This article focuses on one tiny example which, if properly dealt with, could have considerable impacts. I list a basic three: a sustainable use of our natural resources, addressing plastic waste in particular single use plastic, laying the foundation for a sustainable industrial policy.

Unfortunately, the politics of sustainable development is being ignored. Cabinet Ministers do not have an idea of the dormant potential of nature. Is it not about time that our economic activity works in tandem with nature instead of against it? What is the use of having interminable speeches on the circular economy, the blue economy and sustainable development if we cannot translate words into action? Nature is our industrial partner kept waiting at the doors of opportunity.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 25 November 2018

Green gaps in the Budget

The green gaps in the Budget speech cannot be patched up with the millions of euros spread in the pockets of both those in need as well as those who are well off.

Edward Scicluna’s Budget speech last Monday was far too long. Yet in its over 100 pages it missed addressing a number of environmental issues on which different government spokespersons pontificate throughout the rest of the year: confirming that they just pay lip-service to the issues.

The lack of good environmental governance has considerable economic and social impact as is evident to one and all.

While the Budget proposals strengthen the social safety net, it is to be underlined that quality of life is not measured solely in terms of financial metrics. Throwing euros at problems does not lead to any solutions.

The budget speech correctly emphasises the necessity of waste recycling. Unfortunately, the Minister for Finance did not explain how this effort should be integrated into a circular economy, even though the Environment Minister repeatedly boasts of how supposedly the move towards a circular economy is a priority for government. In the entire speech, the circular economy is not mentioned once. Nor does the Economic Survey dwell on the matter or even faintly refer to the matter.

This raises the suspicion that government has lost the plot and does not have any policy ideas on such an important aspect of the economy with its social, economic and environmental effects.

The Budget speech emphasises the energy generation potential from waste incineration which requires large volumes of waste in order to be viable. But the budget speech is silent on how this fits in with the stated commitment to actually reduce the volume of waste.

The government is trying to square the circle; on the one hand it wants to reduce waste but on the other hand it needs more and more waste to make its huge incinerator viable.
The Budget speech also gives the impression that it addresses important aspects which impact the quality of life when in fact offers only half-baked and token solutions.

Among them is the point on water policy. The speech mentions incentives to encourage repairs of existing wells but then it avoids altogether a real and focused effort to address the acute issue of dwellings built without water cisterns, with the consequence that water ends up in the public sewers or flooding our streets.

Developers are let of the hook even when roads are flooded and sewers are overflowing, not to mention the sheer waste of perfectly good water.

The same can be said of the supposed solutions to traffic congestion. The Budget speech refers to the financial incentives available to encourage the use of alternative modes of transport, but here again it ignores the roots of the problem. The government spending of millions of euros for the development of the road infrastructure will only increase traffic congestion, thereby squeezing users of alternative means of transport off the roads.

It is useless to incentivize the purchase of bicycles and pedelecs when there is no investment in adequate infrastructure to ensure that people can commute safely using these important alternative means of transport, which actually help to decrease congestion in our roads.

Over one year ago the Prime Minister had taken a leaf from Alternattiva Demokratika’s electoral manifesto and declared that the government will determine a cut-off date by which new cars will need to be electrically driven or possibly of a hybrid nature.

This declaration had heralded the issue of electrification of transport on our roads addressing two major issues: the quality of air and the contribution of transport emissions to climate change. This, once implemented, would be a substantial contribution to the decarbonisation of the Maltese economy. We are none the wiser on government plans after listening to or reading the budget speech.

Clearly financial parameters are not the only indicators of our quality of life. The green gaps in the budget speech need plugging at the soonest.

published in The Sunday Times of Malta : Sunday 28 October 2018