Inċineratur? Le grazzi.

 

L-iskart hu riżors li għandna nutilizzawh flok ma narmuh. Biex nilħqu dan l-iskop irridu nibdlu l-attitudni tagħna u minn ekonomija lineari naqilbu għal waħda ċirkulari. L-istrateġija dwar l-iskart tistabilixxi s-sena 2050 biex sa dakinhar jintlaħaq l-oġġettiv ta’ skart zero fil-miżbliet. Biex dan l-oġġettiv ikun jista’ jintlaħaq hemm diversi għodda amministrattivi.

F’ekonomija lineari aħna nużaw (jew nikkonsmaw) prodott u wara li l-ħajja utli ta’ dan il-prodott tiġi fi tmiemha narmuh. L-ekonomija ċirkulari taħdem b’mod differenti b’mod li l-prodott użat (jew il-partijiet li jiffurmawh) jibqa’ jeżisti wara li jtemm il-ħajja utli tiegħu u dan billi jintuża biex jinħoloq prodott ġdid.

Hu possibli li nimmiraw għal tnaqqis fil-ġenerazzjoni tal-iskart (waste minimisation). Dan isir billi meta l-prodott ikun iddisinjat, min joħolqu iqis sewwa l-iskart li dan il-prodott jiġġenera matul il-perjodu kollu li jkun qed jiġi użat. Permezz ta’ eko-diżinn il-prodott jissaffa minn dawk l-elementi tiegħu li ma jkunux neċessarji u b’hekk jonqsu id-diffikultajiet li jkun riċiklat.

Nistgħu nnaqqsu l-iskart li niġġeneraw billi nassiguraw li nixtru biss dak li għandna bżonn u li dan nagħmluh fi kwantitajiet addattati għall-ħtiġijiet tagħna. Nistgħu, pereżempju nużaw prodotti fi qies kbir flok kwantita ferm ikbar tal-istess prodott f’qies iżgħar. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan aħna jirnexxielna nnaqqsu l-iskart li niġġeneraw u dan billi narmu numru inqas ta’ kontenituri jew pakkjeġġar.

L-iskart li xorta jkun iġġenerat minkejja politika li tfittex li tnaqqsu jista’ jkun irriċiklat. Fil-fatt nirriċiklaw il-karta, l-metall, il-plastik u l-ħġieġ. Nirriċiklaw ukoll l-apparat elettriku u elettroniku. F’xi lokalitajiet beda ukoll ir-riċiklaġġ tal-iskart organiku li niġġeneraw.

Sfortunatament madwar 12% biss tal-iskart li niġġeneraw hu rriċiklat, ferm inqas milli qed jirnexxilhom iwettqu l-parti l-kbira ta’ pajjiżi oħra. Dan hu falliment fl-implimentazzjoni tal-istrateġija dwar l-iskart. Biex jgħatti dan il-falliment, il-Ministru għall-Ambjent, għan-nom tal-Gvern, qed jipproponi li nibdew naħarqu l-iskart li niġġeneraw f’inċineratur. Il-mira hi li jinħaraq 40% tal-iskart tal-gżejjer Maltin. Il-Gvern qed jipproponi li flok ma nibgħatu l-iskart dan naħarquh f’inċineratur biex nevitaw il-ħtieġa ta’ iktar art għal iktar miżbliet.

L-inċinerazzjoni ma tinkoraġix lin-nies biex jagħtu kaz ta’ dak li jikkunsmaw. L-inċinerazzjoni tinkoraġixxi soċjetà li tarmi u twassal il-messaġġ li hemm ħaddieħor li qed jieħu ħsieb jerfa’ l-problemi li noħolqu bil-konsum tagħna.

Qed jinfurmawna li bl-inċinerazzjoni ser niġġeneraw l-enerġija mill-iskart. Studju li ġie ikkummissjonat mill-NGO internazzjonali Zero Waste Europe intitolat The Potential Contribution of Waste Management to a Low Carbon Economy jindika li meta nirriċiklaw l-iskart niffrankaw bil-bosta iktar enerġija milli tista’ tkun iġġenerata meta jinħaraq l-istess skart. Allura fejn hu l-benefiċċju ambjentali?

Hemm bżonn ninvestu sforz ferm ikbar fir-riċiklaġġ tal-iskart. Din l-industrija għandha l-potenzjal li tiżviluppa f’pilastru ewlieni tal-ekonomija l-ħadra b’kontribut sostanzjali lill-ekonomija inkluż bil-ħolqien ta’ numru ta’ impiegi. Il-proposta tal-Gvern favur l-inċineratur ser joħloq ostaklu sostanzjali biex dan l-element importanti tal-ekonomija ċirkulari ma jitħalliex jiżviluppa.

Ikun ferm iktar utli kieku flok ma jwaqqaf kumitati dwar deċiżjonijiet li jkun diġa ħa, l-Onorevoli Ministru tal-Ambjent jipprova jifhem ftit x’inhu mistenni minnu.

Il-ħruq tal-iskart permezz tal-inċinerazzjoni ser iservi biex ikompli jnaqqas l-impenn tal-ftit li qed jirriċiklaw. Hu meħtieġ li minflok ma naħarbu mill-problema tal-falliment tal-politika dwar l-immaniġġjar tal-iskart neżaminaw bir-reqqa ir-raġunijiet għal dan il-falliment.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : 24 ta’ Settembru 2017

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Incinerator? No thanks.

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

Malta’s waste management strategy identifies the year 2050 as the target for achieving zero waste going to landfill sites and in order to achieve this target, various policy tools are available.
In a linear economy, we use (or consume) a product and at the end of its useful life we throw it away. A circular economy functions differently in that at the end of its useful life, a product – or its constituent parts – remains in existence by being utilised to create another product.

Through waste minimisation, the waste we generate is reduced to the minimum possible. Life-cycle thinking is key to reducing waste throughout the useful life of a product and this is done when a product is still on the drawing board. Through the application of eco-design, the unnecessary constituent elements of a product are weeded out. In addition, these constituent elements are also examined to ensure that none of them impede eventual re-cycling 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, which will result in less packaging being sent to waste.

The waste that is generated, notwithstanding a waste prevention policy, can be dealt with in various ways. The preferred option is to recycle it, that is to seek alternative uses. We recycle paper, metal, plastics and glass. We also recycle electric and electronic equipment. Recycling of the organic part of the waste we generate is also in hand in various localities.

Unfortunately only around 12 per cent of our waste is being recycled, substantially less than in other countries. This is a failure in implementing the objectives of the Waste Management Strategy. To cover up this failure, the Environment Minister, on behalf of the government, has proposed to embark on a process of incineration, targeting a maximum of 40 per cent of the waste generated in the Maltese Islands. The government is proposing that, instead of sending waste to landfill, it should be incinerated –  thus eliminating the problem of identifying more sites for landfills.

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

We are being informed that incineration will generate energy from waste. 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. So where is the environmental benefit of incineration?

More effort needs to be invested in the 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.

Rather then setting up committees to consider half baked decisions, it would be more appropriate if the Honourable Minister for the Environment would attempt to master his brief.

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.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 24 September 2017

L-iskart għandu valur

si_zero_waste_large

Bħalissa diversi jitkellmu dwar ekonomija ċirkulari, imma bosta m’għandhomx idea din x’inhi.

L-ekonomija tagħna hi xi minn daqqiet deskritta bħala ekonomija lineari (jiġifieri linja dritta) u dan billi nieħdu l-materja prima mill-art, nipproduċu l-prodotti li neħtieġu u wara li nużawhom, narmuhom. F’kuntrast ma’ dan, l-ekonomija ċirkulari tfittex li flok ma jintrema dak li nkunu użajna, minnu niġġeneraw xi ħaġa oħra. B’dan il-mod, dak li nkunu ħadna mill-art, wara li jintuża, flok ma jintrema, iservi biex jiġġenera prodotti oħra.

Dan huwa proċess li ġie deskritt bħala ‘mill-benniena għall-benniena’ u jikkuntrasta mal-mod kif naħdmu llum fejn dak li nipproduċu jwassal ‘mill-benniena sal-qabar’, meta prodotti jintremew għax ma jibqgħux ta’ użu. Li dak li nużaw, ma narmuhx meta ma jibqgħalniex użu għalih jagħmel ħafna sens ambjentali. Imma jagħmel ukoll ħafna sens ekonomiku.

II-pjan ta’ Malta għall-immaniġjar tal-iskart jipponta f’din id-direzzjoni u fil-fatt jistabilixxi l-mira li sal-2050 ma niġġenerawx iktar skart: mira żero skart. Din il-mira trid tintlaħaq 33 sena oħra li għalkemm jidhru ftit ’il bogħod, fil-fatt jista’ jkun li m’hemmx biżżejjed żmien biex nibdlu l-mod kif naħsbu. Hemm ħafna xogħol x’isir.

Idealment l-ewwel miżura li għandna nieħdu dwar l-iskart hi li nippruvaw innaqqsu l-iskart li niġġeneraw. Dan kieku jkun ħafna aħjar milli nippruvaw naraw x’ser nagħmlu bih! F’xi każi, dan jista’ jsir b’faċilità. Per eżempju nistgħu nnaqqsu l-iskart organiku li narmu billi nippjanaw aħjar dwar dak li nieklu fi djarna. Nistgħu nnaqqsu wkoll ir-rimi tal-pakketti u l-laned li fihom ikun l-ikel billi nixtru u nieklu iktar ikel frisk, li ġeneralment ikun ikel li nipproduċu fil-pajjiż.

Ovvjament, ħafna minna m’għandniex il-ħin biex naħsbu dwar in-numru kbir ta’ deċiżjonijiet żgħar li nieħdu kuljum u li bħala riżultat tagħhom niġġeneraw ħafna skart. Il-konvenjenza tal-ikel fil-pakketti jew ta’ ikel ipproċessat li nixtru fil-laned kbar u żgħar, ħafna drabi tkun it-triq faċli, għax kulħadd għandu x’jagħmel u ħadd m’għandu ħin żejjed! Dan iwassal għal konsegwenza mhux biss ta’ skart li stajna nevitaw imma wkoll li nispiċċaw nieklu ikel li hu inqas sustanzjuż.

Bħalissa f’diversi lokalitajiet f’Malta u Għawdex għaddej proġett pilota dwar l-iskart organiku. Ilu ftit li beda, u għalkemm ma ħarġitx informazzjoni uffiċjali dwaru hu magħruf li kellu reazzjoni mħallta. Imma bil-mod il-mod qed ikollu suċċess.

Jekk il-ġbir tal-iskart organiku jsir sewwa, l-iskart li jispiċċa fil-borża s-sewda jista’ jonqos bin-nofs. Hemm ukoll il-vantaġġ li meta l-iskart organiku ma jibqax jintefa’ fil-miżbla, u minflok ikun iproċessat fl-impjant tal-iskart, il-gassijiet li jirriżutaw minnu meta jiddikomponi jservu biex nipproduċu l-elettriku minflok ma jikkontribwixxu għal gassijiet serra li huma l-kawża tat-tibdil fil-klima. Dan ċertament huwa għal vantaġġ ta’ kulħadd.

Hi politika tajba dik li biha nistgħu naslu biex innaqqsu ħamsin fil-mija tal-iskart fil-borża s-sewda. Imma biex naslu, hemm ħtieġa ta’ investiment sostanzjali fl-edukazzjoni ambjentali fil-lokalitajiet tagħna. Il-Wasteserv, li ultimament hi responsabbli għall-immaniġjar tal-iskart fil-gżejjer Maltin, diġà ħadet bosta inizjattivi. Imma hemm ħafna iktar x’isir. Qatt iżda ma tista’ tgħid li sar biżżejjed.

Għandna bżonn nifhmu li l-iskart jikkonsisti f’riżorsi li użajna. Dawn ukoll għandhom valur u l-ekonomija ċirkulari tipprova ssarraf dan il-valur. Għalhekk il-mira ta’ skart żero biex ma nibqgħux nipproduċu skart imma dak li ma jibqagħlux użu għalina xorta għandu valur.

ippubbblikat f’Illum, 29 ta’ Jannar 2017

Towards a zero waste target

 

The linear model of our economy follows a take-make-use-waste path as a result of which we extract resources from the earth which we use and subsequently throw away. In contrast to this cradle-to-grave trajectory, the circular economy seeks cyclical sustainability.

In a circular economy, the management of waste is paramount.  It seeks to retain the resources used in our products in the economic loop as it is considered that they can be re-used to form other products. William McDonough and Michael Braungart describe this as a cradle-to-cradle process in their seminal book Cradle to Cradle. Remaking the way we make things. This is in contrast to the throw-away society which follows a cradle-to-grave path.

This is not only makes environmental sense, it also makes economic sense. Malta’s Waste Management Plan for the period 2014-2020 tentatively points in this direction by establishing a zero waste target that is to be achieved by 2050. Thirty-three years may seem to be too far away but, in reality, it may be just enough to change our mindset. A lot of hard work is involved but, at the end of the day, it will also be rewarding.

It involves the application of what is known as the waste hierarchy to different waste streams. Waste minimisation or prevention is always the preferred option. Ideally we should aim to prevent the generation of waste and in a number of cases this can easily be done. For example, we can prevent the generation of a substantial portion of organic waste by giving more thought to the food intake in our homes. We can also reduce the amount of food packaging by opting for more fresh food which is generally local.

Obviously, most of us have very little time to think about the consequences of our large number of small decisions which end up generating a lot of waste. Convenience generally wins the day, as we often opt for packaged and processed food. As a result, we not only generate avoidable waste but also end up eating less healthy food.

A pilot project related to organic waste is currently under way in 8 localities in Malta and Gozo. It has been going on for some time and although information as to the manner in which the localities involved have reacted is not publicly available, it is known through the grapevine that this has been varied but is improving.

Collecting the organic waste part of domestic waste, if carried out successfully, may well reduce the amount going to landfill by around 50 percent. There is also an added benefit: when the organic part of our waste is processed in a waste recycling plant, the resulting gases are used to produce electricity instead of adding to greenhouse gas emissions. This is surely a win-win situation.

Reducing 50 percent of our waste through the responsible management of just one part of it is very good policy. However, this requires much more investment in environmental education in our localities. Wasteserve, being ultimately responsible for waste management in the Maltese Islands, has taken a lot of initiatives in this respect, but much more needs to be done.  It is never enough.

Waste is a collection of discarded resources and realising the value that we throw away is, in reality, what the circular economy is all about – hence the target of a zero waste society.

published in The Independent on Sunday : 29 January 2017

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

Nature provides solution

circular economy

 

 

The economy is a linear one. We extract the earth’s resources, make use of them and, subsequently, when they are beyond their useful life, we throw them away.

Clearly, the linear economy and its exponents assume that this pattern of behaviour can go on and on. However, in distinct contrast to this philosophy, the earth’s resources are limited and not infinite and consequently, a linear economy is unsustainable.

In contrast to the linear economy, the politics of sustainable development puts forward the circular economy alternative. This signifies that a product , instead of being thrown away and ending in its “grave” at the end of its useful life, gives birth to another product. This is the cradle-to-cradle philosophy, which Mother Earth has been using successfully for ages.

Nature in fact works in this manner. 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.

The circular economy is, hence, basically an imitation of nature. In environmental-speak we call this biomimicry.

Through the office of DG Environment, the European Commission, in August 2014, published a scoping study “to identify potential circular economy actions, priority sectors, material flows & value chains”.

The circular economy deals with much more than waste prevention and waste reduction. Eco-design is one particular area of action. Through eco-design the circular economy seeks to eliminate waste at the drawing board. When product ideas are still in the conceptual stage, eco-design is the tool through which such products can be planned in such a manner that they create less and less waste. This is done through subjecting the constitutive elements of the product being designed to a lifecycle assessment: that is from extraction up to end of life.

This assessment leads to the identification of all the environmental impacts of a product. Consequently the options that result in the least environmental impacts can be selected. In addition, a lifecycle assessment will also point to the best materials to be used, such that, at the end of its useful life, a product could be easily recycled.

 

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

In addition to saving on material costs as well as energy, 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 realistically contribute to making the world a better place to live in.

Since last May and ending next month, the European Commission is carrying out a public consultation to be in a position to present a circular economy strategy that would be more ambitious than the that put forward by the Barroso Commission.

In the EU Roadmap for a Circular Economy strategy, the clear focus is on innovation and job creation placed within the wider EU commitment to sustainable development. The EU wants to decouple the strategy from waste management and, as a result, to factor in other policies such as competitiveness, research and innovation, environment protection, job creation and economic growth as the practical objectives of a revised circular economy strategy.

Addressing the 2015 European Circular Economy Conference last March, European Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella emphasised that, in a circular economy, sustainability is inbuilt into the fabric of society.

I will go one further : the circular economy, if allowed to operate, will decrease the incompatibilities between the economy and nature. It will bring us closer to reality: that we live in an ecosystem which must be respected at all times and at all costs.

published in the Times of Malta : Thursday 13 July 2015

The politics of e-waste

WEEE Electrical and Electronic Waste

 

Last Monday’s budget has placed waste on the national agenda once more.  This time the focus is on waste generated by electric and electronic equipment. Put simply the issue is that there exists conflicting legislation on the Maltese statute book. On the one hand it is the applicability of the Eco-Contribution Act. On the other hand its the WEEE Directive of the EU which has been transposed into Maltese legislation as of 2007 (Legal Notice 63 of 2007 since replaced by Legal Notice 204 of 2014). WEEE meaning Waste from Electric and Electronic Equipment.

The Eco-Contribution Act of 2004 established the quantum of an eco-contribution to be paid on electric and electronic equipment. This eco-tax was added on to the price of the various electric and electronic equipment sold in local shops: fridges, ovens, telephones, computers, electronic games, calculators, vending machines ………………….  The  amount of tax payable ranging from 25 euro cents to €69.88.

Eco-contribution collected peaked in 2008 at slightly over €15.6 million. It is estimated that around €7.8 million will be collected in 2014 and another €6 million in 2015.

As of 2007 producers (and their representatives), in addition to being responsible for the payment of the eco-contribution, have also been responsible for implementing the WEEE Directive in Malta. This Directive forms part of a number of a set of EU Directives which address different waste streams with the objective of ensuring that waste is considered as a precious resource. Hence the need to recover this resource in order to reintegrate it into the economy.  This means the transformation of all waste into useable resources.

The Directive applied the principle of extended producer responsibility throughout the life of the equipment.  This signifies that producers of electric and electronic equipment, directly as well as through their representatives (the importers) and those dealing with such equipment at points of sale retain responsibility throughout the life cycle of the products. This life cycle thinking has its first impact on the drawing board as producers seek to minimise the use of resources not only cost-wise but also due to the fact that if they do so they will have less to recover. This encourages eco-design. Thereby designing and subsequently producing products whilst keeping in mind their impact throughout their life. It is much more that a cradle to grave view. In fact it is considered as a cradle to cradle approach as at the end of its useful life a product will through recovery of the materials of which it is made up give rise to new products.

What does it signify for us?

Producers and their representatives have the direct responsibility of recovering  electric and electronic waste. In terms of the Directive they will either recondition the equipment or else strip it into its component parts and recycle the resulting materials. This will be done at a cost.  Depending on the efficiency of the process the producers and their representatives will recover a proportion of their costs when they sell the recovered resources.  The unrecovered costs may, in terms of the Directive, be added on to the price of the products. Producers’ representatives in Malta maintain that it is possible for the quantum of the unrecovered costs to be much lower than  what is currently being paid as an eco-contribution. Hence the net impact could be not only environmentally beneficial but also of direct benefit to the consumer.

The budget has announced a transition period lasting up to the end of August 2015 when it is planned that the eco-contribution on electric and electronic equipment is removed and producers (through their local representatives) assume their full extended responsibilities.

Electric and Electronic waste is currently collected by local councils through their bulky refuse service. It is also collected at bring-in sites operated by Wasteserve.  Producers will seek to coordinate these existing collection services with their already operational recovery schemes.

Alternattiva Demokratika-The Green Party as well as GRTU and other producers representatives have been insisting for ages that this is the way forward. In order to achieve results everyone must however play his part.

The net result will be beneficial for both the environment as well as the economy.

 

published in The Independent on Sunday – 23 November 2014

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