It-tnaqqis tal-iskart iġġenerat, jipproteġi l-art agrikola

Ir-residenti ta’ Birżebbuġa jilmentaw dwar it-tniġġiż mill-ħsejjes iġġenerati mill-Port Ħieles. Ir-residenti tal-Furjana jilmentaw dwar l-impatti tal-cruise liners fuq il-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħhom, kemm minħabba t-tniġġiż tal-arja kif ukoll minħabba t-tniġġiż akustiku. Ir-residenti tal-Gudja, Ħal-Luqa, Ħal-Kirkop u tal-irħula tal-madwar huma effettwati mill-operat tal-uniku ajruport li għandna. L-impjant ta’ Sant Antnin għat-Trattament tal-iskart qatt ma tqies ġar eżemplari mir-residenti ta’ Wied il-Għajn.

Ħadd ma jixtieq miżbla wara biebu. Miżbla jew faċilità għall-immaniġjar tal-iskart wara l-bieb, tfisser iktar minn impatti negattivi jekk teħodlok ukoll l-għodda ewliena tal-għixien tiegħek inkella teqridlek darek. Dan hu l-każ tal–bdiewa u r-residenti tal-Magħtab.

Il-miżbla tal-Magħtab ilha topera mill-1977, meta l-miżbla f’Wied Fulija (Iż-Żurrieq) kienet qed toqrob li timtela.

Il-bdiewa tal-Magħtab ilhom jaqilgħu fuq rashom żmien. Wieħed mill-bdiewa li ltqajt miegħu l-ġimgħa l-oħra spjegali li lill-familja tiegħu, fl-1975 kienu ħadulhom 75 tomna raba’ li kienet tinħadem, ftit iktar minn 84,000 metru kwadru, biex jiffurmaw parti mill-miżbla li nħolqot dakinnhar. Illum ser jeħdulhom 25 tomna oħra biex ikabbru madwar 28,000 metru kwadru.

Kif nistgħu nevitaw li l-kumpless tal-iskart fil-Magħtab ikompli jikber billi jibla’ 254,144 metru kwadru ta’ art, primarjament raba’ li tinħadem, kif qed tipproponi l-Wasteserv?

X’ġustizzja hi li sezzjoni waħda tal-popolazzjoni tkun mistennija li ġġorr waħedha l-piż tal-impatti li lkoll kemm aħna nikkontribwixxu għalihom? Ma jkunx iktar ġust li l-piż jinqasam? Fejn ser niġbdu linja?

Jekk nillimita ruħi għall-materja presentment taħt il-lenti, dik tal-immaniġjar tal-iskart, neħtieġu ppjanar sew u dan fil-kuntest tal-għodda ta’ politika kurrenti li tikkonċerna l-iskart. Imma jeħtieġilna li nimxu mal-miri ta’ ħidma stabiliti, għax inkella ma naslu qatt.
It-tnaqqis tal-ħolqien tal-iskart, li dan jintagħżel (is-separazzjoni) u li jkun riċiklat huma tlett għodod bażiċi fil-ħidma li ssir biex l-iskart ikun immaniġjat. Jekk dan isir sewwa l-ammont ta’ skart li jispiċċa fil-miżbla għandu jonqos b’mod sostanzjali. B’riżultat ta’ hekk jkun hemm inqas ħtieġa ta’ art biex tkun kkonvertita f’miżbla. Dan hu l-iskop tal-leġislazzjoni ambjentali tal-Unjoni Ewropeja li suppost li ilna nsegwu sa minn meta fl-2004 isseħibna fl-Unjoni Ewropea.

Il-politika dwar it-tnaqqis tal-ħolqien tal-iskart tfisser tnaqqis ippjanat tal-iskart iġġenerat. Inizjattivi dwar amminsitrazzjoni elettronika huma passi posittivi f’din id-direzzjoni. L-amministrazzoni elettronika hi waħda bla karti, avolja xi kultant din twassal sempliċiment biex tnaqqas l-użu tal-karta minn uffiċċju u żżidu f’ieħor. Anke it-tnaqqis fl-iskart li joriġina mill-ippakkeġġjar ukoll jikkontribwixxi b’mod sostanzjali għall-iskart iġġenerat. Fi djarna hu possibli ukoll li nnaqqsu l-iskart li nipproduċu. F’dan il-kuntest kampanji ta’ informazzjoni u edukazzjoni għandhom rwol importanti.

Imma hemm kontradizzjoni fil-politika tal-Gvern f’dan ir-rigward. Id-deċiżjoni li jkollna inċineratur tirrikjedi ammont kontinwu ta’ skart biex jitma lill-inċineratur. Filwaqt li suppost li qed ninkoraġixxu t-tnaqqis tal-ġenerazzjoni tal-iskart, l-inċineratur jirrikjedi l-oppost: il-ġenerazzjoni kontinwa ta’ ammont sostanzjali ta’ skart. Mingħajru l-inċineratur ikollu jagħmel id-dieta.

Is-separazzjoni tal-iskart tinvolvi l-għażla ta’ tipi differenti ta’ skart. Dan jiffaċilita li l-iskart li jkun intagħżel ikun użat u mhux mormi. Is-separazzjoni tal-iskart organiku, per eżempju, jiffaċilita it-trattament ta’ dan l-iskart biex minnu jkun prodott kemm l-elettriku kif ukoll il-kompost. L-iskart organiku jammonta għal madwar 50% tal-iskart iġġenerat fid-djar. Imma fl-industrija tal-catering l-iskart organiku jammonta għal porzjon ferm ikbar mill-iskart iġġenerat f’dik l-industrija.

Skond il-Wastserv, 27,000 tunellata ta’ skart organiku inġabru mid-djar matul l-2019. Dan jista’ jiżdied għal 70,000 tunellata fis-sena jekk f’kull dar nagħmlu sforz ikbar biex l-iskart organiku jkun separat. Il-Wasteserv ma tipprovdix informazzjoni dwar l-iskart miġbur mill-istabilimenti tal-ikel. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan in-nuqqas ta’ informazzjoni l-Wasteserve qed tindika li ma tafx x’qed jiġri f’dan il-qasam. Lanqas ma hu ċar jekk l-iskart organiku mhux ipproċessat li dan l-aħħar deher imħallat ma skart ieħor f’ritratti u filmati dwar l-operat tal-miżbla tal-Magħtab hux inkluż fl-informazzjoni ippubblikata mill-Wasteserv.

Li niġbru l-iskart organiku b’mod separt u li nipproċessawh ma jfissirx biss li jkun hemm inqas skart li jmur fil-miżbla: ifisser tnaqqis mhux żgħir fil-gassijiet serra (greenhouse gases) attribwibbli lil Malta u allura tnaqqis tal-impatt Malti fuq it-tibdil fil-klima.

Ir-riċiklaġġ tal-iskart f’Malta għadu lura meta mqabbel ma dak mistenni minna. L-unika qasam li qabad huwa dak li jirrigwarda l-iskart tal-ippakkeġġjar. Iż-żieda meħtieġa fir-riċiklar ukoll tnaqqas l-iskart li jinġabar fil-miżbla u għaldaqstant meta naslu biex inżidu r-rata tar-riċiklar il-Wasteserv ikollha inqas ħtieġa li tuża’ art agrikola biex testendi l-miżbla tal-Magħtab.

L-għajnuna li nistgħu nagħtu lill-bdiewa tal-Magħtab biex ikunu jistgħu jibqgħu jaħdmu ir-raba’ tista’ timmaterjalizza biss jekk inkunu kapaċi innaqqsu bil-kbir l-iskart li nibgħatu fil-miżbla. Għandna niftakru li l-istrateġija kurrenti għall-immaniġjar tal-iskart fil-gżejjer Maltin għandha l-mira ta’ skart zero sas-sena 2050. Għadna lura biex naslu!

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 1 ta’ Marzu 2020

Reducing waste generation protects agricultural land

Birżebbuġa residents complain about the noise generated by the Freeport. Floriana residents complain about the impact of cruise liners on their lives through depleted air quality, as well as acoustic pollution. The residents of Gudja, Luqa, Kirkop and other villages in the area are affected by the operations of our only airport. The Sant’ Antnin Waste Treatment Plant has never been considered a good neighbour by the residents of Marsaskala.

Understandably, no one wants a landfill on his doorstep. In addition to bad neighbourliness, matters are even worse if the projected landfill (or a waste management facility) takes over your means of making a living. This is the case that the Magħtab residents and farmers are emphasising.

The Magħtab landfill has been in operation since 1977, when use of the landfill at Wied Fulija (Iż-Żurrieq) was being scaled down.

The Magħtab farmers have been at the receiving end for quite some time. One particular farmer, whom I met last week, told me – way back in 1975 – his family was dispossessed of 75 tumoli (over 84,000 square metres) of agricultural land that was taken over for the then proposed landfill. Today, another 25 tumoli (around 28,000 square metres) of agricultural land worked by the same family will also be taken up.

The point at issue is whether the proposed take-over of 254,144 square metres of additional land, mostly agricultural, to be absorbed into the Magħtab landfill complex, can be avoided, in whole or in part.

Futhermore, is it fair – or even ethical – for one section of the population to be expected to bear the brunt of impacts to which each one of us contributes? Should the burden not be spread, thereby ensuring that all communities shoulder part of it?

Where do we draw the line?

Limiting myself to the current issues of waste management, the problems to be faced have to be first resolved on the drawing board, on the basis of the policy options available. Subsequently, we need to ensure that the established targets are scrupulously observed in practice.

Waste minimisation, waste separation and waste recycling are three basic waste-management tools which should be used properly. Adequate use of such tools would reduce substantially the amount of waste going to landfill. As a result, if properly utilised, these policy tools would lead to a substantially reduced demand for land to be used as a landfill. This is the objective of the EU acquis which we ought to have followed since 2004 on EU accession.

A policy of waste minimisation involves a planned reduction of waste generation and initiatives relating to electronic government are a positive step in this direction. Paperless administrative processes reduce paper waste, for example, although sometimes they just shift the generation of the waste from one user to another. Reducing packaging waste also contributes substantially to waste minimisation. Even in our homes we can ensure that we minimise the waste that we generate: educational campaigns play a much important role in this respect.

There is, however, a contradiction in government policy in this regard: the decision to develop an incinerator requires a steady flow of waste to feed it. While we should be encouraging waste minimisation, the incinerator would require the opposite, waste maximisation – otherwise it would have to go on a diet.

Waste separation at source involves identifying and separating different streams of waste. This facilitates dealing appropriately with such waste. The separation of organic waste, for example, makes it possible to treat such waste in an appropriate digestor, thereby producing electricity and compost. Organic waste accounts for approximately 50 per cent of domestic waste. It does, however, account for a much larger portion of the waste generated by the catering industry.

Having a separate collection of organic waste has, according to Wastserv, resulted in a substantial amount of organic waste being collected from domestic households: 27,000 tonnes during 2019. This has the potential to grow to around 70,000 tonnes annually, if every household makes an effort in the separate disposal of organic waste. Wasteserv, however, does not provide data regarding organic waste collected from catering establishments, thereby indicating that this is not of any significance. Nor is it clear whether the unprocessed organic waste seen mixed with other general waste at the Magħtab landfill is included in Wasteserv’s published statistics on collected organic waste.

The separate collection of organic waste not only contributes to a substantial reduction in the amount of waste going to landfill: it also contributes to a reduction in released greenhouse gases, thereby reducing Malta’s contribution to climate change.

Waste recycling in Malta is still far behind what is expected. Malta’s recycling rates are still very low, except in the area of packaging waste. Adequate recycling would substantially reduce the amount of waste going to landfills, as a result reducing the uptake by Wasteserv of agricultural land for use for this purpose.

We can only help our farmers keep their agricultural land if we reduce – and eventually eliminate – waste going to landfills. We should remember that the current Waste Management Strategy for the Maltese Islands has targeted the attainment of a zero-waste objective by 2050.

Our performance to date is not encouraging.

Published in the Independent on Sunday : 1 March 2020

Malta’s finch-trapping at the European Court of Justice

goldfinches and linnets

 

On May 1, 2013, Roderick Galdes, Parliamentary Secretary responsible for Hunting and Trapping announced that a technical loophole had been found “that would allow the Government to present proposals to the European Union to allow bird-trapping in autumn.” The European Commission has not been impressed and the loophole referred to by Roderick Galdes will shortly be examined by the European Court of Justice.

During the negotiations leading to Malta’s accession to the European Union, bird-trapping had been one of the areas referred to in the treaty itself. In fact, the Treaty of Adhesion provided for a transition period at the end of which bird- trapping in Malta was to cease permanently. The cut-off date was 31 December 2008.

This limited concession was subject to a number of conditions relative to the setting-up of a captive bird  breeding programme which was to be introduced by 30 June 2005 as well as to carry out various studies intended to establish the numbers and types of species held and bred in aviaries as well as their mortality rate and their replenishment to sustain the genetic diversity of the captive species.

All this was ignored, notwithstanding the fact that, way back in 2004, the authorities had  detailed advice as to how this was to be implemented.

This is the current state of play: the interpretation of the rules as accepted on the date of Malta’s EU adhesion.

 

Earlier this week, the Commission of the European Union decided to refer Malta to the European Court of Justice because Malta is not committed to end finch- trapping. The following was stated by the Commission in an explanatory press release:

“The case concerns Malta’s decision to allow the live capture (i.e. trapping) of seven species of wild finches as of 2014. In the EU, the capture and keeping of bird species like finches is generally prohibited. However, member states may derogate from the strict protection requirement if there is no other satisfactory solution, and if the derogation is used judiciously, with small numbers and strict supervision. As these conditions have not been met in this case, the Commission sent a letter of formal notice in October 2014, urging Malta to refrain from allowing finch-trapping. Despite this warning, Malta went ahead as planned with the opening of a finch-trapping season in 2014. In response, the Commission sent a reasoned opinion to Malta in May 2015, urging Malta to end the practice. Malta has replied, contesting the Commission’s analysis. Since Malta has not committed to end finch-trapping, the Commission has therefore decided to refer Malta to the Court of Justice of the EU.”

In a background note the Commission further noted:

“In Europe, many species of wild birds are in decline, and markedly so in some cases. This decline disturbs the biological balance and is a serious threat to the natural environment.The EU Directive on the conservation of wild birds aims to protect all species of wild birds that occur naturally in the Union. The Directive bans activities that directly threaten birds such as deliberate killing or capture, destruction of nests and removal of eggs, and associated activities such as trading in live or dead birds, with a few exceptions. It also places great emphasis on the protection of habitats for endangered and migratory species, especially through the establishment of a network of Special Protection Areas (SPAs).

Article 9 of the directive provides limited scope for derogations from the requirement of strict protection where there is no other satisfactory solution, for instance, in the interests of public health and safety or air safety, to prevent serious damage to crops, livestock, forests, fisheries and water, and for the protection of flora and fauna. Derogations may also be permitted for the purposes of research and teaching, repopulation, reintroduction and for the breeding necessary for these purposes.

Malta was allowed a transitional arrangement in the Accession Treaty to phase out the trapping of finches, taking into account the time required to establish a captive breeding programme. The transitional arrangement expired in 2008.

The case concerns the live capture of seven species: chaffinch, linnet, goldfinch, greenfinch, hawfinch, serin and siskin.”

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 27 September 2015

The elephant in the room

elephant-in-the-room

 

When Malta’s EU accession negotiations approached the final stages, a merger of the then Planning Authority and the Department for the Environment was announced.

While the merger was the right thing to do, it was done in a hurry and as a result, an organised Planning Directorate overshadowed an understaffed Environment Directorate.  A number of  civil servants employed in the former Environment Department had refused to go along to MEPA, thus further diluting the newly established Environment Directorate. This was further exacerbated by long spells during which the post of Environment Director was vacant. This did not involve weeks, but years. Currently, in fact, there is no Environment Director in place- the post having been vacated around two years ago.

The Environment Department was then one of the youngest departments in the civil service which, overnight, as a result of EU accession had to shoulder responsibility for a substantial portion of the EU acquis for which it was largely not equipped. The situation has slightly improved over the years. The previous administration declared many times that it would bridge the gap in human resources, but, unfortunately, it never lived up to its declarations. As a result, the Environment Directorate was, and still is, overshadowed. In addition, to make matters worse, the consolidated authority was (and still is) led by a Board in which environmental knowledge  was (very) scarce. This was the perfect recipe for a good initiative not to yield any results by design.

Malta requires more consolidation of environmental governance, not its fragmentation. Further consolidation will increase the chances of being more effective in coordinating related areas of policy: land-use planning and environment protection are two such areas. Fragmentation, on the other hand, increases ineffectiveness. However, mergers require commitment and resources – both of which have been manifestly lacking.

The potential fruits of the merger would only have been reaped if the consolidated MEPA had been led by an Environment Directorate. Unfortunately, it was designed differently: a combination of bad design and an absence of good faith.

The solution to this problem is not to reverse the merger but rather to reverse the roles of land-use planning and environment protection in a consolidated MEPA, meaning that land-use planning should be subjected to rigorous environmental control. Unfortunately, this was never on the cards, nor is it contemplated in the de-merger bills. The agenda of the parliamentary political parties has always been very clear: to ensure that land-use planning is subject to the least possible environmental controls in the interests of the development lobby.

This is the elephant in the room. The PN in government implemented this objective by a merger of a highly organised Planning Directorate with a weak but dedicated Environment Department. Labour has opted to achieve the same objective through fragmentation.

At the end of the day, the government’s misguided de-merger will not  cause additional damage: it will be more of the same, as we have been accustomed to throughout the years. The attainment of the full potential of the newly-created authorities will be postponed until such time as they are inevitably reunited under the leadership of a revamped Environment Directorate.

In the meantime, other important issues in the projected legislation can be focused upon. The manner of appointment of boards and top officers of the newly created authorities is one such issue.

Having the Minister’s trust is not a sufficient requirement justifying appointments to boards and authorities – and this not just with reference to appointments of an environmental nature. It would be appropriate if the competence of those selected for office is scrutinised in public. Other democracies, the United States of America for example, regularly use public hearings as an instrument for carrying out such  public scrutiny for a number of appointments of national importance.

In its 2013 election manifesto, Alternattiva Demokratika  specifically proposed the adoption of this method in order to examine the government’s nominees to public bodies. In particular, AD proposed  that government nominees to land-use planning, environment and resource-management boards (including directors and CEOs) should not take up their post until Parliament’s Environment and Land Use Planning Committee had examined such nominations in public and signified its consent thereto. Such a public hearing  should be carried out to establish whether the nominees are suitable for the posts to which they have been nominated.

Were nominees  required to subject themselves to such a public hearing, Malta would  definitely have a much better crop of administrators than that which it has been accustomed over the years. This would also reinforce the notion that administrators of public authorities are, at the end of the day, accountable to the whole country and not just to the government Minister who nominates them for the post.

The merger of land-use planning and environment protection at MEPA should be strengthened by ensuring that the Environment Directorate calls the shots. It is, however, equally important to ensure that those nominated to lead the authority (irrespective of whether we have one or more) are suitable for running the show.  Parliament should thus reclaim back its powers and vet the government’s nominees in public. When this has been done, we will be able to state that we have commenced down the path to improving environmental governance. Otherwise, it will be more of the same for many years to come.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 12 July 2015