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

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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

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

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

Tall Buildings : the advice ignored by the Maltese authorities

Ali report

 

“Tall buildings cannot be avoided in our times. The choice we have is whether to control them or else whether to put up with their future growth.” These were the concluding comments of a report drawn up by Professor Mir Ali from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign USA after a visit to Malta in 2008 during which he met with and advised MEPA on the future of tall buildings in Malta.The report is entitled Urban Design Strategy Report on Tall Buildings in Malta.

Professor Ali’s report contains recommendations most of which are as relevant today as when they were originally drafted. Central to these recommendations, way back in 2008, was the need to draw a master plan addressing tall buildings and their impacts. “Lack of a master plan,”  Professor Ali stated, “results in uncontrolled developments and unpredictable impacts on urban life.”  The developed master plan,  Prof. Ali emphasised, should be “for Malta as a whole and for the selected sites for tall buildings, individually.”  Drawing up such a master plan with a reasonable level of detail will take time to carry out, a considerable portion of which should be utilised in consultation, primarily with the residents to be impacted. Certainly much more time would be required than the November 2016 target indicated by the government earlier this week.  A moratorium on the issuing of any development permit for high-rises until such time that a master plan has been discussed and approved would be a very reasonable course of action.

Professor Ali considered six sites, which were indicated to him by MEPA, as having the potential of hosting high-rise development. He proposed the following rank order : Qawra, Gżira, Tignè, Paceville, Pembroke and Marsa.  Such a ranking order by Prof. Ali is qualified by an emphasis on the substantial infusion of public monies which is required. Prof. Ali commented that if the number of sites are reduced to less than six it would be much better for Malta.

Professor Ali made a number of incisive remarks.

There is a need for an objective market and feasibility study for each project, which study should include the life cycle cost of the project. In view of the high vacancy rate of existing residential units, Prof. Ali queried the kind of occupancy expected of high-rises. Failure of high-rises will impact the economy of the whole of Malta which has no safety valve because of its size and lack of adequate elasticity, he stressed.

An efficient public transport is a fundamental requirement for the Maltese islands irrespective of whether high-rises are developed or not. But for the success of tall buildings “an integrated sustainable public transport system” is absolutely necessary. Yet, surprise, surprise, Professor Ali observed that “there is no efficient public transport system that is efficient and that covers the whole of Malta”

Sounds like familiar territory!

Infrastructural deficiencies must be addressed. If the existing infrastructure is inadequate or in a state of disrepair it must be upgraded and expanded to meet future needs. Tignè residents in Sliema have much to say about the matter, not just with reference to the state of the roads in the area but more on the present state of the public sewers! Residents of the Tignè peninsula are not the only ones who urgently require an upgrade of their infrastructural services. Residents in many other localities have similar requirements.

Social and environmental impacts of tall buildings must be considered thoroughly at the design stage. However Maltese authorities have developed the habit of ignoring the social impacts of development projects. In addition, it is very worrying that, as reported in the press earlier during this week,  Prime Minister Joseph Muscat does not seem to be losing any sleep over the matter.

People living in a low-rise environment consider high-rises as intrusive. Unless public participation is factored in at a very early stage through planned beneficial impacts on the community in terms of economic benefits, upgrade of services and the general benefits of the redevelopment of the surroundings, such projects do not have a future.

The upkeep of high-rises is quite a challenge which requires skills that are different from low-rise buildings. Notwithstanding changes to the relevant provisions of the law, there already exist serious difficulties in bringing together owners of low-rise multi-owned properties in order that they can ensure that maintenance of such properties is addressed. The challenge of high-rises is exponentially more complex.

The above is a snap-shot of Prof. Ali’s report. From what I’ve heard from a number  of people who met Professor Ali, he was more vociferous in his verbal utterances. Unfortunately,  his advice has been largely ignored.

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 26 June 2016

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