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

Managing our waste

bring-in site

Malta’s waste management strategy establishes the attainment of a zero waste target by the year 2050. An ambitious target, but also an achievable one.  How will we get there in thirty five years time?

The waste management strategy was updated in January 2014 through the publication of a waste management plan aptly subtitled ‘A resource management approach’. It has a seven-year lifespan (2014-2020).

Waste is considered a resource which should be utilised instead of being thrown away.  For this to be achieved, we need to change gear and shift from a linear to a circular economy.

In the linear economy, we consume (or use) a product and at the end of its useful life we throw it away. On the other hand, the circular economy functions such that a product (or its constituent parts), at the end of its useful life, remains in existence by being utilised to create another product.

In line with the EU waste hierarchy, Malta’s waste management strategy rightly places waste prevention as a first step.

Waste prevention, or waste minimisation, signifies the reduction of generated waste to a minimum.  Life cycle thinking is key to reducing waste throughout the useful life of a product. This is done when a product is still being designed. Applying eco-design weeds out the unnecessary constituent elements of a product. In addition, these constituent elements are also examined, such that it is ensured that none of them impede the eventual recycling at the end of the product’s useful life.

We can also minimise waste by ensuring that we purchase and use only that which is required in appropriate quantities. We can do this, for example, by using products in large sizes instead of similar multiple products in small sizes, as a result sending less packaging to waste.

The next level of the waste hierarchy is the recycling of products at the end of their useful life. We already recycle glass, metal, paper and plastics but we need to substantially improve our recycling performance as a nation. We need to acknowledge that we had a very late start in recycling. The first attempts at recycling were carried out in the mid-1990s under the watch of then Parliamentary Secretary Stanley Zammit. Unfortunately, Dr Zammit received very little support in his endeavours. 2013 statistics indicate that in Malta only six per cent of domestic waste is recycled, with another five per cent being composted. This 11 per cent of Malta’s domestic waste, which does not go to landfill, is in striking contrast to that for Germany (65%), Slovenia (61%), Austria (59%), Belgium (55%) and many other countries.

Statistics for 2014 and 2015 may eventually show a slight improvement, but we still have quite a long way to go.

Wasteserv will shortly be commencing a pilot project to collect organic waste separately from domestic households. Organic waste can be converted into energy. It can also be used to produce compost. In addition, if the collection of organic waste is carried out successfully from all households, it may reduce the contents of the black garbage bag by as much as 50%, signifying a substantial reduction of domestic waste going to landfill. (If catering establishments were to take similar initiatives, the achievable results would be much more significant.)

A proper implementation of rules regulating the waste arising from electric and electronic equipment should hopefully be in place in the coming weeks when responsibility for this waste stream is definitely transferred to the private sector in terms of the extended producer responsibility specified in the EU’s WEEE Directive (WEEE meaning waste from electric and electronic equipment).

It is also essential to address the operation of scrap yards, which are an affront to Malta’s environmental obligations. They are mostly an eyesore, generally a blot on the landscape, as well as being the cause of negative environmental impacts.

Recycling scrap metal (and other materials) is an important economic activity which ensures that resources originally extracted from the earth are kept in use and not discarded as waste. Recycling activity, if properly managed, is an important economic activity which is environmentally friendly.

Managing properly the waste which we generate reduces our environmental impacts and improves our quality of life. In addition, the employment opportunities created are an important source of green jobs.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 20 September 2015

L-ekonomija l-ħadra

green new deal

Qed nirreferi għal dik il-ħidma ekonomika li titfassal jew titwettaq b’mod li tagħti każ tal-impatti ambjentali. Il-karatteristiċi ewlenin li jiddistingwu attivita’ meqjusa bħala li tappartjeni lill-ekonomija l-ħadra minn attivita oħra huma: tnaqqis fl-emmissjonijiet, tnaqqis fit-tniġġis, effiċjenza fl-użu tal-enerġija w ir-riżorsi, li tkun evitata t-telfa tal-bodiversita’ u l-ħarsien tas-servizzi li kontinwament tagħtina (b’xejn) l-ekosistema.

L-ekonomija l-ħadra taħdem flimkien man-natura, mhux kontra tagħha. Allura tfittex li tnaqqas l-impatti ambjentali tal-ħidma ekonomika f’kull qasam. Hi u tagħmel hekk toħloq ix-xogħol.

Toħloq ix-xogħol fil-ġenerazzjoni ta’ enerġija nadifa u alternattiva kif ukoll fil-ħidma biex tiżdied l-effiċjenza fl-użu tal-enerġija.

Ix-xogħol jinħoloq ukoll fil-proċess li jrid iwassalna sal-punt li ma niġġenerawx iktar skart. Dan ifisser li mhux biss irridu narmu inqas imma bħala pajjiż hu meħtieġ li nkunu kapaċi nirriċiklaw iktar dak li ma jkollniex iktar użu għalih. Ir-rimi tal-iskart hu rimi ta’ riżorsi prezzjużi li fil-parti l-kbira tal-każi nistgħu nsibu użu ieħor għalhom.

L-ekonomija l-ħadra toħloq ix-xogħol ukoll fil-qasam tat-trasport pubbliku. Nafu li trasport pubbliku effiċjenti (meta xi darba jkollna) jnaqqas b’mod sostanzjali t-tniġġis tal-arja fl-ibliet u l-irħula tagħna. Jnaqqas ukoll l-istorbju iġġenerat minn traffiku kontinwu. Dan iseħħ billi (meta jkun effiċjenti) t-trasport pubbliku jħajjar iktar persuni minna biex nagħmlu użu minnu flok ma nagħmlu użu mill-karozzi privati tagħna. Fuq perjodu ta’ żmien trasport pubbliku effiċjenti jista’ jikkonvinċina li wara kollox nistgħu ngħaddu mingħajr karozza privat. Ta’ l-inqas nitħajjru nnaqsu l-karozzi fil-familji. Dan nistgħu nagħmluh meta nkunu konvinti li jkun jaqbel li nagħmlu dan.

Din tkun sitwazzjoni li minnha jirbaħ kulħadd. Jirbaħ il-pajjiż kollu għax ikollna kwalita’ ta’ arja aħjar. Nirbħu aħna lkoll mhux biss għax ninqdew aħjar imma ukoll għax innaqqsu l-ispejjes biex ikollna l-karozzi privati.

Tirbaħ ukoll l-ekonomija tal-pajjiż għax bil-ħidma tal-ekonomija l–ħadra jkunu ġġenerati l-impiegi. Impiegi b’differenza. Impiegi ħodor (green jobs) li permezz tagħhom jinħoloq il-ġid mingħajr ma issir ħsara ambjentali.

ippubblikata fuq iNews it-Tnejn 16 ta’ Diċembru 2013

Towards a Circular Economy

circular economy

In a recent interview EU Environment Commissioner Januz Potočnik stated that the European Union is en route to the circular economy. A step which he described as being essential in ensuring the EU’s competitiveness.

The circular economy, in contrast to the linear economy is one which respects nature and seeks to utilise the earth’s resources in a sustainable manner.

The linear economy is based on a take-make-waste model, extracting raw materials from the earth and dumping the resulting waste after use.  This is a cradle to grave path for raw materials. The EU’s waste management strategy in conjunction with its Roadmap to a Resources Efficient Europe seeks to decouple the generation of waste from economic growth thus nudging the EU towards a new path: one of green growth.

This is also the basic philosophy of the Waste Management Strategy proposed by the Environment Ministry in Malta and currently subject to public consultation.

Malta’s proposed Waste Management Strategy advocates a policy of waste minimisation, that is, we must make an effort to avoid use of resources whenever possible. In addition it then advocates recycling the waste which is generated. This is done by tackling different waste streams in a manner most appropriate to the materials used in that specific stream. 2050 is the Malta target for achieving a Zero Waste society. An achievable target only if we get down to business immediately.

Waste separation is  an essential prerequisite in order to ensure that effective recycling takes place.   As a result of recycling, the waste from a specific product or process feeds a separate process. This is the manner in which nature functions. Have you ever noted how a tree sheds its leaves? How these leaves slowly decompose and nourish the soil, micro-organisms, insects and plants and actually feed the surrounding eco-system?

We have a lot to learn from nature. Biomimicry, imitating nature, is in fact a branch of study which seeks to apply nature’s lessons to solve many modern day problems. Discarding our throwaway attitudes is one such basic lesson.

Modern manufacturing is characterised by a cradle to grave design. It is the result of a society accustomed to throw away products once their useful life ends.

Applying nature’s lessons hence signifies manufacturing products whose life cycle is no longer one which leads from the cradle (production) to their grave (disposal). Instead of being discarded at the end of its useful life a product gives birth to something else through recycling. Just like nature does when dealing with the tree’s leaves. The cradle to grave cycle needs to be transformed into a cradle to cradle cycle.

This obviously has an impact on the manner in which products are designed.  In their  book  Cradle to Cradle, remaking the way we make things, American Architect William McDonough and German Chemist Michael Braungart explain that life cycle thinking, instead of filtering out the undesirable substances and toxins in a product at the end of the manufacturing process filter them out at the beginning, that is on the drawing board.

A waste management strategy which is based on a resource management approach is linked to these long term aims. It is a long process but one which is finally rewarding.

By separating our waste we facilitate its recycling. When recycling takes place we reduce the take-up of the earth’s resources and consequently avoid using the energy required to extract more resources from the earth.

All this shifts the focus from economic growth linked to activities which harm our surroundings to economic activity which enhances them. This leads to the creation of  green jobs.  It shifts our thinking to one which links prosperity with environment protection.

Resource efficiency is at the core of Europe’s 2020 strategy. It does not only mean doing more with less, that is, being eco-efficient. It requires also being eco-effective, that is ensuring that the consideration of long term impacts features in all our decisions. That means designing the present with the future in mind.

A waste management policy based on resource efficiency is an essential tool in this respect. This is just one example. Plenty of other examples can be found in appropriate policies to manage our water resources, our land use, our heritage.

All this leads back to the circular economy which is not just a green way of organising our economy.  It is a different way of life. A way of life which is not antagonistic to our surroundings but one which is in harmony with them.

This is what sustainable development is all about. It seeks to redimension the manner we think.. Having just one Earth we must realise that we cannot have another try if we succeed in ruining the present one.  There is no Plan B.

The circular economy is an adequate tool which can set us back on track.

published in The Times, Saturday November 2, 2013

Budget 2013 – AD offers its cooperation

sciclunabagit 2013
Budget 2013 – AD offers its cooperation

AD – The Green Party joins Government and the Opposition in emphasising that at this difficult hour Malta needs to underline the need for economic and financial stability.

This was stated by Carmel Cacopardo, Acting Chairman of AD – The Green Party when commenting on the budget presented tonight for Parliament’s approval. AD, added Cacopardo, is making this point, notwithstanding that it believes that in the present economic circumstances as a result of which Malta faces a deficit which has exceeded 3.3% of GDP it is not the right time to reduce income tax.

AD – The Green Party reluctantly accepts the decision as it understands the message which Parliament wishes to convey that certainty and stability  are essential values in this critical moment.

The reduction of income tax payable by those whose income is at minimum wage level is a welcome measure about which AD congratulates Government for its introduction. AD has also noted and applauds measures buttressing the creation of work opportunities, education and training.

Ralph Cassar, AD Secretary General added that Government has not yet announced any new incentives for those installing alternative energy sytems such as Photovoltaic panels an area in which Malta lags far behind other countries. AD also appeals to government to announce its plans on The Green Economy. It is the opportune moment to tackle the creation of green jobs with reasonable working conditions. Government’s plans in this respect are awaited.”

AD-The Green Party has noted the proposal of a number of infrastructural projects in respect of which it will comment when the relative details are known.

Cacopardo concluded by stating that in this first political message after the general election AD-The Green Party wants to affirm that it is committed in favour of its political programme emphasising civil rights, environmental protection and social justice.  With this in mind it offers its commitment to a critical cooperation to the political and social forces in the country.

Budget 2013 – Alternattiva toffri l-id ta’ kooperazzjoni

Alternattiva Demokratika tinghaqad mal-Gvern u l-Opposizzjoni biex temfasizza li f’din is-siegha ta’ diffikulta’ f’pajjizna hemm bzonn il-htiega li tkun sottolineata l-istabilita ekonomika u finanzjarja.

Dan qalu Carmel Cacopardo, Agent Chairman ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika huwa u jikkummenta dwar il-budget imressaq il-lejla ghall-approvazzjoni tal-Parlament. Alternattiva Demokratika qed taghmel dan, zied jghid Cacopardo, minkejja li temmen li fic-cirkustanzi ekonomici prezenti tal-pajjiz ta’ deficit finanzjarju li tela ghal 3.3% tal-Prodott Gross Nazzjonali m’huwiex il-mument opportun li jkun hemm tnaqqis fit-taxxa tad-dhul.

Alternattiva Demokratika tbaxxi rasha ghax tifhem il-messagg li jrid jaghti l-Parlament li c-certezza u l-istabilita tal-pajjiz huma valuri mehtieg f’dan il-mument kritiku.

It-tnaqqis tat-taxxa tad-dhul ghal min qieghed fuq paga minima hi mizura f’waqtha li dwarha Alternattiva Demokratika issellem lill-Gvern li ser jintroduci b’dan il-budget. Alternattiva tosserva u tapplawdi ukoll  l-mizuri li qed jigu emfasizzati favur il-holqien tax-xoghol, it-taghlim u t-tahrig.

Ralph Cassar, Segretarju Generali, zied li hemm settur ekonomiku li qed jiffaccja problemi ghax il-Gvern ghadu ma habbar l-ebda incentivi godda ghal min jinstalla sostemi ta’ energija alternattiva bhal pannelli fotovoltajici. Malta ghadha lura ferm f’dal-qasam. AD tappella lill-Gvern biex ihabbar il-pjanijiet tueghu dwar l-ekonomija l-hadra. AD temmen bis-shih fis-settur importanti tal-‘green jobs’, b’kundizzjonijiet xierqa ghall-haddiema.”

Alternattiva Demokratika innotat il-proposta ta’ numru ta’ progetti infrastrutturali li dwarhom tikkummenta meta tkun taf id-dettalji relattivi.

Cacopardo temm jghid li b’dan l-ewwel messagg politiku wara l-elezzjoni generali Alternattiva Demokratika tafferma li ser tibqa’ impenjata favur hidma bla waqfien fuq il-programm politiku taghha favur drittijiet civili, harsien ambjentali u gustizzja socjali. Ghal dan l-iskop toffri l-id tal-kooperazzjoni kritika lill-forzi politici u socjali fil-pajjiz.