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

Advertisements

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

Karmenu Vella and the plastic tax

Karmenu Vella, EU Commissioner for the Environment, is enthusiastic about the possibility of a plastic tax being introduced throughout the EU. In his view, this tax – if properly designed – could be one of a number of tools for delivering environmental objectives as well as providing budgetary income. Planet Earth is drowning in plastic.

Vella made these comments in an interview published on Euractive last week on the subject of the EU’s new plastics strategy.

We have been there before and maybe it is time to consider the matter once more in Malta. Some 10 years ago in Malta we had an environmental tax which was known as an “eco-contribution”. It was a valid proposal, badly designed and arrogantly implemented. The lessons learnt from that exercise could, if properly analysed, lead to the development of effective policy tools addressing the generation of waste in the Maltese islands. Policies should be well thought out and not developed as a result of panic – as is clearly the case with the current government incineration proposal.

Ten years ago, the eco-contribution tried to address the generation of plastic waste including “single-use plastic”. This is one of the primary targets of the EU plastics strategy published on the 16 January.

Its title is very clear : A European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy. Plastic is ubiquitous: it is present in all aspects of our economy and our daily lives. The plastics we use must be such that they can be re-used rather than thrown away. It is an important resource which can be put to good use rather than thrown away or incinerated.

It is for this purpose that the newly-published plastics 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 and more sustainable materials are developed and promoted”.

A plastics economy would definitely not send “waste plastic” to the incinerator to be converted into energy. Even Malta’s latest version of the Waste Management Strategy, approved in 2014, emphasises that our approach to waste must be one based on the sustainable use of resources and, in line with the EU waste hierarchy, gives priority to recycling over incineration.

In fairness, it has to be said that our government’s advisors on incineration have already sounded the alarm. Apparently this has not, as yet, been understood – either by the government or by the Opposition. It would be pertinent to point out that the Special Assignment Report by Jaspers dated 23 February 2017 on a Waste to Energy (WtE) project in Malta specifically emphasises that “it would be difficult to justify a WtE facility that is not based on low waste growth and high recycling”.

Rather than talking about incineration, it is about time we discussed in detail the implementation of our Waste Management Strategy in order to identify why it has not to date succeeded in increasing Malta’s recycling rates. What initiatives need to be taken in order that the waste generated in Malta is minimised?

Malta’s waste management strategy, now complemented by the EU’s Plastic Strategy, is definitely a much better roadmap than the documentation encouraging incineration. And what about our commitments to encourage a “circular economy” : gone with the wind?

Karmenu Vella’s plastics tax is food for thought.

It is about time that Wasteserve is managed properly. As a first step, it should stick to its brief and seek to implement carefully the Waste Management Strategy, which establishes the year 2050 as the year when we should achieve a “Zero Waste Target”. This target will not be achieved through the use of incineration but through a policy encouraging waste minimisation as well as recycling.

This is not just a task for the Minister responsible for the Environment. The Minister responsible for the Development of the Economy also has a very important role to play in achieving a successful implementation of the Waste Management Strategy.

Unfortunately he is apparently completely absent.

Zero waste municipalities in Europe are continuously indicating that an 80 to 90 per cent recycling rate is achievable. The fact that Malta’s recycling rate is, at best, estimated at around 12 per cent, is a clear indication that there is room for substantial improvement – with or without Karmenu Vella’s plastics tax.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday 28 January 2018