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

Il-politika dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli

It-terminu “żvilupp sostenibbli” hu wieħed mill-iktar abbużat fil-lingwaġġ u d-diskorsi politiċi. Nazzarda ngħid li hu terminu abbużat iktar mill-kelma “demokrazija”. Jintuża f’kuntest żbaljat u bħala riżultat jitwassal messaġġ mhux korrett.

Żvilupp sostenibbli jfisser żvilupp li jħares fit-tul, jiġifieri jqis, jikkunsidra u jindirizza impatti fit-tul. B’mod partikolari jfisser żvilupp li jassigura illi r-riżorsi jintużaw bir-reqqa u li l-interessi tal-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri jkunu kkunsidrati. Dan mhux biss materja ta’ interess ambjentali. Imma li l-politika ambjentali, ekonomika, soċjali u kulturali jimxu id f’id. Ifisser li dak kollu li nagħmlu jrid iħares fit-tul u jkun kompatibbli simultanjament man-natura, mal-ekonomija, mal-iżvilupp uman kif ukoll mal-kultura.

L-iżvilupp sostenibbli jirrikjedi li nkunu f’armonija ma’ dak li hawn madwarna, f’kull ħin. Huwa dwar ħajja f’armonija kemm man-natura kif ukoll mal-bnedmin ta’ madwarna. Dan li hawn madwarna nqiesuh bħala parti mill-familja. Hi t-triq lejn iktar dinjità mmirata simultanjament lejn il-qerda tal-faqar u l-ħarsien tal-ambjent kollu madwarna. L-iżvilupp sostenibbli jirrikjedi li l-politika kulturali, soċjali, ambjentali u ekonomika jkunu sinkronizzati. Għax il-ħarsien tad-dinjità umana, l-apprezzament tal-kultura tagħna u l-ħarsien ambjentali huma essenzjali daqs l-iżvilupp ekonomiku.

L-iżvilupp sostenibbli hu fil-fatt żvilupp ibbilanċjat għax suppost li għandu perspettiva wiesgħa ħafna. Huwa għal dan l-iskop li sa mis-snin disgħin, meta għall-ewwel darba daħlet referenza għall-iżvilupp sostenibbli fil-liġijiet Maltin, ir-responsabbiltà politika għal dan il-qasam (fuq il-karta) kienet dejjem waħda diretta tal-prim ministru. Għax fil-prattika tfisser il-koordinazzjoni sħiħa tal-poltiika tal-Gvern u għandha tkun riflessa f’kull qasam, mit-trasport, sal-agrikultura u l-politika marittima.

Huwa minħabba li l-iżvilupp sostenibbli jidħol f’kull qasam ta’ politika li jeħtieġ li responsabbiltà għalih ikun f’idejn membru anzjan tal-Kabinett. Sfortunatament l-ebda wieħed mill-Prim Ministri li kellna ma żamm din ir-responsabbiltà f’idejh u b’mod jew ieħor kollha ddelegaw din ir-responsabbiltà lill-Ministru jew lis-Segretarju Parlamentari responsabbli għall-ambjent.

Ikkonsidra, per eżempju l-politika dwar it-trasport li dwarha ktibt b’mod estensiv tul dawn l-aħħar ġimgħat. Fuq il-karta għandna strateġija nazzjonali dwar it-trasport li tipprovdi kemm għal titjib fiżiku tax-xibka ta’ toroq fil-gżejjer Maltin kif ukoll li jittieħdu inizjattivi speċifiċi biex jonqsu l-karozzi mit-toroq tagħna. Hu ovvju li fejn it-toroq mhux qed jaqdu sewwa għandhom ikunu rranġati. Imma huwa daqstant ieħor ovvju li hemm limitu dwar id-daqs tat-toroq tagħna

Studji mad-dinja kollha juru li jekk il-konġestjoni tat-traffiku ikun indirizzat b’iktar żvilupp tal-infrastruttura tat-toroq, il-problema tkun effettivament posposta u tiċċaqlaq minn triq għal-oħra inkella tkun posposta għal data oħra.

Li nindirizzaw is-sostenibilità tal-politika tat-trasport ifisser li għandna nifhmu dak li hu bażiku għall-mobiltà: il-mobilità faċli minn post għall-ieħor f’kull ħin. Sfortunatament dan mhux qed isir. Dan hu rifless f’numru ta’ kontradizzjonijiet fil-politika tat-trasport. Uħud minnhom diġa iddiskutejthom f’dan l-artikli imma hemm oħrajn bħall-politika dwar l-elettrifikazzjoni u dik dwar il-pompi tal-fuel. Politika dwar it-trasport li tħares verament fit-tul mhiex kompatibbli ma’ policy li tmexxi l-quddiem l-iżvilupp il-pompi tal-fuel. Il-fatt li f’data fil-viċin suppost li nibdew il-proċess tal-elettrifikazzjoni tal-karozzi, mifrux fuq numru ta’ snin, iwassal għal konklużjoni loġika li f’data mhux il-bogħod in-numru ta’ pompi tal-fuel meħtieġa ser ikun wieħed insinifikanti. Ministeru tat-Trasport iggwidat minn prinċipji bażiċi ta’ sens komun kien jifhem dan u jaġixxi b’mod loġiku.

Il-politika dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli jeħtieġ li ssir parti integrali mill-istrutturi politiċi li jieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet. Jekk dan isir inkun f’posizzjoni ferm aħjar biex nindirizzaw il-kontradizzjonijiet u dan iwassal għal deċiżjonijiet aħjar fl-interess ta’ kulħadd.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 5 ta’ Mejju 2019

The politics of sustainable development

The term “sustainable development” is one of the most misused and abused in political discourse. I would dare say that it is as misused as much as the word “democracy”. It is generally used in the wrong context, and,  as a result, sends a wrong message.

Sustainable development refers to development which has a long-term view, that is a view that considers and addresses long-term impacts. In particular, it signifies development which ensures that resources are carefully used so that the interests of future generations are taken into consideration. This is not just a matter of environmental concern – it is an intertwining of environmental, economic, social and cultural policy. It means that our actions must take the long-term view and be simultaneously compatible with the forces of nature, the economy, human development and a respect for culture.

Sustainable development is about living in harmony with all that surrounds us, at all times. It is about being in harmony with Mother Earth, with nature and with our fellow human beings. It is treating our surroundings as part of our family. It is the path to dignity, aiming simultaneously at the eradication of poverty and the protection of the planet. Sustainable development requires the synchronisation of cultural, social, environmental and economic policy. Shielding human dignity, appreciating our culture and environmental protection are as essential as economic development.

Sustainable development is, in fact, a balanced approach to development, as its perspective is all-encompassing. It is for this reason that, since the 1990s, when sustainable development first made it into Malta’s statute book, it was retained (on paper) as a direct political responsibility of the Prime Minister. In practice, it involves coordinating all areas of policy and should be reflected in transport policy as much as in maritime or agricultural policy.

Sustainable development permeates all areas of policy and hence requires a senior politician in Cabinet to be in charge. Unfortunately, not even one of our prime ministers assumed direct political responsibility for the matter as, formally or informally, all of them delegated the matter to the Minister (or Parliamentary Secretary) responsible for the environment.

Consider, for example, transport policy – about which I have written extensively in recent weeks. On paper, it is described through the National Transport Masterplan which envisages both physical improvements to the road network as well as specific initiatives to limit cars on our roads. It is obvious that bottlenecks have to be addressed, but it is just as obvious that there is a practical limit to the size of our road network.

Studies all over the world have clearly shown that addressing traffic congestion through expanding the road network has only postponed the problem and has either moved it physically to another area, or else moved it in time.

Addressing the sustainability of transport policy means that we should get to grips with the basics of mobility issues: the movement with ease from one point to another at all times. Unfortunately, this is not being done. This is reflected in the large number of contradictions encountered in the various aspects of transport policy and ranges from the electrification policy to the policy on the development of fuel stations.

A long-term view of transport policy would have easily made short shrift of the fuel service station policy. The fact that the electrification of motor vehicles will shortly commence and will be spread over a number of years, makes it  pretty obvious to one and all that, at the end of the process, the number of fuel service stations required will be insignificant. A Transport Ministry guided by the basic principles of common sense would have easily understood this basic point and acted accordingly.

The politics of sustainable development still needs to be ingrained in the day-to-day policy-making structures. If this is done, we will be in a position to weed out glaring contradictions and, as a result, be in a position to produce policies which promote the interests of all.

Servizz Soċjali għall-iżviluppaturi

Iktar kmieni dan ix-xahar l-Assoċjazzjoni tal-Iżviluppaturi Maltin (MDA) permezz tal-President tagħha Sandro Chetcuti ħeġġet lill-Gvern biex jindirizza sewwa l-problema tal-iskart tal-kostruzzjoni.

Flok ma jaġixxi kif mitlub, il-Gvern għandu jitlob lill-Assoċjazzjoni tal-Iżviluppaturi bħala r-rappreżentant ta’ dawk li jipproduċu l-parti l-kbira ta’ dan l-iskart biex tassumi responsabbiltà diretta għall-iskart tal-kostruzzjoni ġġenerat mill-membri.

Il-lobby tal-iżviluppaturi kontinwament temfasizza li temmen bis-sħiħ fl-iżvilupp sostenibbli. Forsi wasal iż-żmien li jibdew jipprattikaw dak li jgħidu li jemmnu fih. Dan billi japplikaw il-prinċipji li (jgħidu li) jemmnu fihom biex isolvu l-problema tal-iskart tal-kostruzzjoni li jiġġeneraw u b’hekk inaqqsu l-impatti ambjentali tal-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni.

Hawn kunsens ġenerali li l-ġebla hi riżors skars. Imma ma hawn l-ebda sforz fis-seħħ biex l-iskart iġġenerat mill-kostruzzjoni jkun riċiklat, kollu inkella in parti. Il-gebla tifforma parti sostanzjali mill-iskart iġġenerat mill-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni.

Ir-riċiklaġġ ifakkarna fil-kontenituri kbar għall-karta, plastik, metall jew ħġieġ f’uħud mit-toroq tagħna. Illum ma dan ninkludu l-iskart organiku kif ukoll l-iskart elettriku u elettroniku.

Imma meta ser nibdew nindirizzaw il-problema tal-iskart tal-kostruzzjoni bis-serjetà u nirriċiklawh? Qatt kellek bżonn xi xorok tal-franka biex tibdel oħrajn li kienu maqsumin? Mhux qed nirreferi biss għal dawk ta’ daqs żgħir li nsibu f’uħud minn djarna imma ukoll għal dawk ferm ikbar fid-daqs li fl-industrija nirreferu għalihom bħala xorok tal-qasba li ħafna drabi ssibhom f’bini qadim, inkluż irziezet, u li għalihom tħallas minn imnieħrek.

Ma nafx jekk qatt rajtux reklami ta’ bejgħ ta’ garigor tal-ġebel żarmat li jkun ġie salvat minn bini, x’aktarx qadim, li jkun twaqqa’?

Għax bħala fatt ir-riċiklar ta’ dak li uħud iqisu bħala skart tal-kostruzzjoni diġa qiegħed isir, avolja fuq skala żgħira. Ir-realtà hi li dan hu mod prattiku kif tista’ tkun indirizzata din il-materja b’mod sostenibbli. Irridu nsibu użu għal dak kollu li llum inqiesuh bħala skart sostenibbli.

L-Istrateġija dwar l-Immaniġjar tal-Iskart għall-Gżejjer Maltin addottata fl-2014 għandha sotto-titlu li jemfasizza l-ħtieġa li din l-istrateġija twassal għall-immaniġjar aħjar tar-riżorsi. B’referenza għall-iskart tal-kostruzzjoni dan ifisser li titwal il-ħajja utli tar-riżorsi u bħala riżultat ta’ dan il-ġebla tintuża aħjar. Din hi opportunità biex nissalvagwardjaw ir-riżorsi limitati ta’ pajjiżna.

Li nżidu l-barrieri biex fihom jitqiegħed l-iskart tal-kostruzzjoni mhu ser isolvi xejn. It-tħabbira riċenti dwar il-ħlas miżjud ta’ €8 għal kull tunellata ta’ skart tal-kostruzzjoni li jinġabar fil-barrieri huwa baxx. Il-piz fuq il-pajjiz bħala riżultat tal-iskart tal-kostruzzjoni hu ferm iktar minn miżerja ta’ €8-il tunellata. Fil-prattika dan ifisser li l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni hi sussidjata.

Lura fl-2012 kien irrappurtat fil-medja lokali li l-Wasteserve kienet qed titlob ħlas ta’ €20 għal kull tunellata ta’ skart mingħand il-Gvern. Il-parti l-kbira ta’ dan il-ħlas dakinnhar kien sussidjat u mħallas minn fondi pubbliċi.

Flok rata ta’ €8-il tunellata l-iskart tal-kostruzzjoni għandu jkun soġġett għall-ħlas ferm għola ta’, ngħidu aħna €100-il tunellata: €8 jkunu ħlas għall-operaturi tal-barriera u l-bqija taxxa ambjentali. Dan jassigura li l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni tagħmel tajjeb għall-ħsara li qed tikkawża. Ħlas sostanzjali jkun ukoll xprun biex l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni tibda tipprattika r-riċiklaġġ fuq skala kbira.

Dak li illum inqiesuh skart tal-kostruzzjoni jista’ jistablu użu divers. Ikun ifisser imma li t-twaqqiegħ tal-bini, meta dan ikun neċessarju, isir b’mod ordnat li jassigura l-inqas ħsara possibli fl-elementi tal-bini li jkun ser jitwaqqa’ biex ikun assigurat l-użu mill-ġdid tagħhom. Għax il-parti l-kbira tal-materjali li nsibu fil-bini li jitwaqqa’ jista’ jerġa’ jintuża.

L-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni teħtieġ li taġixxi b’mod responsabbli u dan billi terfa’ b’mod dirett ir-responsabbiltà għall-impatti ambjentali tagħha. Huwa b’dan il-mod li nistgħu nindirizzaw bis-serjetà l-iskart tal-kostruzzjoni u mhux bis-“servizzi soċjali” għall-iżviluppaturi, permezz ta’ tariffi baxxi jew issussidjati.

ippubblikat fuq ILLUM : Il-Ħadd 17 ta’ Frar 2019

A social service for the developers

Earlier this month the Malta Developers Association (MDA) – through its President Sandro Chetcuti – urged the government to tackle the problem of construction waste.

Instead of acting as requested, the government should request that the MDA, being a representative of the major producers of this waste stream, should assume responsibility for the construction waste which is mostly generated by its members.

Time and again, development lobby has emphasised the fact that it strongly believes in sustainable development. How about putting its beliefs into practice and applying them to resolving the issue of the construction waste which it generates, thereby contributing to a reduction in the environmental footprint of the construction industry?

There is general agreement that stone is a scarce resource, yet no efforts are being made to divert construction waste – in whole or in part – to recycling, although stone forms a substantial part of the construction waste generated.

When we speak of recycling, the paper, plastic, metal and glass recycling bins come to mind. To these, nowadays, we include organic waste as well as electric and electronic waste. We are rightly told that we need to “sort it out”.

What about sorting out construction waste and recycling it? Can’t be done? You are joking! Ever been in need of a stone slab to replace a damaged one? I am not only referring to the small normal-sized ones, but the large ones – those we refer to in the building industry as “xorok tal-qasba” – which fetch a considerable price on the market.

Have you ever come across a dismantled stone spiral staircase put up for sale?

As a matter of fact, the recycling of what some consider to be “construction waste” is already in hand but it is carried out on a very small scale. In reality, this is the only practical and sustainable solution: finding a suitable use for what is now considered as being “construction waste”.

The Waste Management Strategy for the Maltese Islands, adopted in 2014, is sub-titled: A resource management approach. With reference to construction waste this entails “lengthening the life cycle of virgin resources” thereby maximising the limestone resource. It is an opportunity to safeguard the limited resources of our islands.

Opening up more landfills is no solution to addressing the issue of construction waste. The recently announced charge of €8 per tonne of construction waste is too little. Construction waste imposes much higher costs on the country than a mere €8 per tonne. In effect, this means that the construction industry is being subsidised.

Way back in 2012, it was reported in the local media that Wasteserve was charging the government €20 per tonne for waste deposited at its landfills. Most of these charges were then subsidised, they were paid out of public funds.

Instead of the €8 per tonne of construction waste, a high landfill charge – say €100 per tonne – should be charged: €8 being the landfill operational charges with the rest being an environmental tax. This would ensure that the construction industry internalises its costs, that is, it pays for them itself. It would also kick-start the construction industry into actively recycling on a large scale.

Many uses can be found for construction waste. It would certainly, however, signify that demolition work, where necessary, are carried out in a more orderly manner, with the aim of preserving stonework with the least amount of damage for possible re-use. Most recoverable materials can be recycled and re-used.

The construction industry needs to act responsibly: it must accept direct responsibility for its environmental footprints. This, rather than the introduction of “social services” for Sandro’s MDA in the form of low or subsidised landfill charges, is the only way to address the construction waste generated.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 17 February 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

L-Inċinerazzjoni: l-prezz akkumulat tal-inkompetenza

Il-Ministru Josè Herrera, f’isem il-Gvern, għadu kif ippubblika r-rapport intitolat Technical Report on the setting up of a Waste to Energy Facility in Malta. Qabel ma ntalab dan ir-rapport, il-Gvern kien diġá ħa d-deċiżjoni politika favur l-inċinerazzjoni. Fil-fatt, fid-daħla għar-rapport il-Ministru Herrera jgħid li din id-deċiżjoni kuraġġjuża (bold decision) ittieħdet mill-Gvern f’Lulju 2017.

Jiġifieri r-rapport ma jweġibx il-mistoqsija dwar jekk għandniex immorru għall-inċinerazzjoni: jiffoka dwar kif dan jista’ u għandu jsir.

Ma hemm l-ebda dubju li teżisti t-teknoloġija li tagħmilha possibli li l-impatti tal-inċinerazzjoni jkunu l-minimu possibli . Il-punt, imma, mhux dwar jekk l-inċinerazzjoni hiex possibli li ssir imma jekk hix l-għażla meħtieġa. Fl-opinjoni tiegħi mhix għażla addattata, imma l-alternattivi għaliha jeħtieġu ż-żmien biex ikunu żviluppati. Sfortunatament nafu li tul is-snin ma kien hemm l-ebda volontá politika biex dawn l-alternattivi jkunu żviluppati u jitħallew jaħdmu sewwa.

Il-Pjan għall-Immaniġjar tal-Iskart tal-gżejjer Maltin kien aġġornat fl-2014: dakinhar kien żviluppat pjan biex jitwettaq fuq medda ta’ sitt snin. Dan il-pjan tal-2014 jidentifika l-mod kif għandna nimmaniġjaw l-iskart li niġġeneraw. Fil-fatt jemfasizza li t-triq li għandna nimxu fiha hi dik li nieħdu ħsieb tar-riżorsi. Dan ifisser li l-pajjiż għandu jiffoka biex jirkupra r-riżorsi u mhux jiddistruġġihom biex jiġġenera l-enerġija minnhom. Għandna nżommu f’moħħna li l-enerġija meħtieġa biex dawn ir-riżorsi jinħadmu tiżboq bil-kbir l-enerġija ġġenerata meta dawn jinħarqu. Dan hu dokumentat fi studji li saru u jkunu aġġornati kontinwament.

Meta neżaminaw dan il-pjan li kien approvat mill-amministrazzjoni preżenti, imkien ma nsibu emfasi fuq l-inċinerazzjoni. Pjuttost li hemm emfasi fuq is-separazzjoni tal-iskart, r-riċiklaġġ u diversi miri dwar dan li jridu jintlaħqu. Flimkien ma dan hemm il-mira identifikata mill-Gvern li sas-sena 2050 l-ebda skart ma jintrema iktar fil-miżbliet. Is-sena 2050 hi s-sena ta’ skart żero.

Il-mistoqsija waħidha tiġi: x’mar ħażin bejn l-2014 (meta tfassal il-pjan u ġew identifikati l-miri) u l-2017 meta ittieħdet id-deċiżjoni favur l-inċinerazzjoni? It-tweġiba ċara hi li l-Wasteserve ma kienitx kapaċi tilħaq il-miri u bħala riżultat ta’ dan marret għas-soluzzjoni l-faċli: l-inċinerazzjoni. X’utilitá hemm li nippubblikaw dawn l-istrateġiji jekk ma l-ewwel diffikultá inwarrbuhom u narmuhom?

Id-“deċiżjoni kuraġġuża” li jirreferi għaliha l-Ministru Herrera, l-inċinerazzjoni, hi riżultat ta’ ippjanar imgerfex, ippjanar mil-lum għal-ghada. Hu ovvju li l-ispażju għall-miżbliet huwa limitat. Imma s-soluzzjonijiet prattiċi u realistiċi, imfassla b’mod ċar fil-Pjan għall-Immaniġjar tal-Iskart ġew injorati tul is-snin. L-għażla reali, la kienet u l-anqas ma hi, bejn iktar miżbliet u l-inċinerazzjoni, imma dwar kemm aħna kapaċi nilħqu l-miri tagħna stess dwar ir-riċiklaġġ u t-tnaqqis tal-iskart. Meta l-pjan dwar l-immaniġjar tal-iskart kien imfassal kien meqjus bħala l-għodda addattata biex nimmaniġjaw ir-riżorsi. Dan kollu in konsistenza mal-politika tal-Unjoni Ewropea dwar l-iskart, ir-riżorsi, l-ekonomija ċirkulari u dokumenti politiċi oħra tal-Kummissjoni Ewropea.

Mir-rapport tekniku li ppubblika l-Ministru Josè Herrera hu ċar li flimkien mal-inċinerazzjoni ser ikun hemm bżonn ukoll ta’ “kampanja aggressiva biex ikunu indirizzati l-miri ta’ riċiklaġġ stabiliti fid-Direttivi diversi tal-UE kif ukoll fil-Pjan għall-Imanigġjar tal-iskart tal-Gżejjer Maltin.” Din hi konferma bil-miktub li l-inċinerazzjoni hi l-prezz li rridu nħallsu għall-inkompetenza akkumulata fl-immaniġjar tal-iskart fil-gżejjer tagħna.

Imma minn dak li smajna fil-Parlament matul il-ġimgħa li għaddiet jidher li tul is-snin, il-Ministeru tal-Ambjent iktar kien interessat fl-impiegi ġġenerati mill-Wasteserve milli li jkunu onorati l-miri tar-riċiklaġġ. L-emails li ġemmgħet il-Wasteserve qieshom jindikaw li dan hu l-iktar importanti fost il-ħidmiet tagħha!

Ovvjament dejjem hemm l-inċinerazzjoni biex taħraq il-problemi akkumulati tal-iskart. Għax dik hi s-soluzzjoni l-faċli.

 

Ippubblikat f’Illum : Il-Ħadd 11 ta’ Marzu 2018

 

Incineration: the accumulated cost of incompetence

Minister Josè Herrera, on behalf of the government, has recently published the Technical Report on the setting up of a Waste to Energy facility in Malta. Prior to the commissioning of the report, the government had already taken the political decision that it should go for incineration.

In fact, Minister Herrera states in the introduction to the report that the “bold decision” was taken by government in July 2017.

As a consequence, the published report addresses the “how” and not the “if” question on incineration.

There is no doubt that the technology exists to ensure that the direct impacts of the incineration of waste are reduced to a minimum. The point at issue is, however, not on its possibility but on whether it is the desired option – and in my opinion it is not.  However, unfortunately the alternatives to incineration take time to be developed and there has been no political will over the years to implement the realistic identified alternatives.

The Waste Management Plan for the Maltese Islands was updated in 2014 and a six year roadmap was then plotted. This 2014 roadmap identified the preferred waste management options. The sub-title of this Waste Management Plan was “A Resource Management Approach”, which signifies that Malta’s waste management options should be focused on recovering resources from waste and not on destroying them to recover energy. It should be borne in mind that the energy required to manufacture the resources gobbled up by an incinerator is substantially more than that released when they are burned.

Going through this plan, approved by the current administration, one does not find any particular emphasis on incineration. Instead, there is an emphasis on waste separation, recycling and the identification of the related targets, to the extent that the year 2050 was identified by the government as a target by which to achieve zero waste to landfill.

The question to ask is: what went wrong between 2014 (when the targets were identified) and 2017 when the decision to go for incineration was taken? The clear, unequivocal answer is that Wasteserve was not capable of implementing its targets, and, as a result went for the easy solution: incineration. What is the use of publishing strategies of this sort if, when the first difficulties are encountered, they are dumped?

The “bold decision” referred to by Minister Herrera – the adoption of the incineration option – is the result of  management-by-crisis in the waste sector. Obviously, there is little available space for more landfills. However, the only practical and realistic options detailed in the Waste Management Plan were not followed adequately over the years.

The real choice was never between landfill or incineration but on whether we are capable of meeting our own recycling and waste reduction targets. When the waste management plan was drawn up it was viewed as a tool to achieve resource management. This is in line with various EU policies on waste, resource management, circular economy, and various other policy documents issued by the EU Commission.

It is clear from perusing the Technical Report published by Minister Josè Herrera that the incineration options being adopted must be “carried out in parallel with an aggressive campaign to address the targets for recycling, established in various EU Directives and the Waste Management Plan for the Maltese islands.” This is a written confirmation that the incineration option is the cost of an accumulated incompetence in the management of waste in our islands.

From what we have heard in Parliament during the past week it seems that, over the years, the Environment Ministry has been more interested in the employment posts generated by Wasteserve than in honouring recycling targets. The accumulated emails at Wasteserve seem to indicate that this is part of its mission statement!

Of course there is always incineration to burn our accumulated waste problems! It is an easy way out.

Published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 11 March 2018

Zero waste : a 2050 target

Malta’s Waste Management Strategy for 2014-20 establishes the year 2050 as the one by which our society should achieve a zero waste target. In fact the first of four principles of Malta’s national waste policy is specifically: “to reduce waste and to prevent waste occurring, with a view to achieving a zero-waste society by 2050” (page 14 of Malta’s strategy).

It is pertinent to point out that the Zero Waste International Alliance has defined zero waste as follows: “Zero Waste is a goal that is both pragmatic and visionary, to guide people to emulate sustainable natural cycles, where all discarded materials are resources for others to use. Zero Waste means designing and managing products and processes to reduce the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources and not burn or bury them. Implementing Zero Waste will eliminate all discharges to land, water, or air that may be a threat to planetary, human, animal or plant health.”

A Zero waste philosophy is thus a strategy and a set of practical tools seeking to eliminate waste and not just to manage it. The point at issue is how to go about reducing and eventually eliminating the waste that we generate.

This is basically a cultural change, waking up from our slumbers and realising that we live in a world where resources are finite. It is about time that we address our ecological deficit: from which there is no bale-out option.

There is one basic first step in the road towards zero waste which should be carefully planned and managed and this is a meticulous recycling strategy. 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, shows that there is room for substantial improvement: a seven-fold increase in Malta’s recycling rate.

How can this be brought about?

A first step would be to discard the apparently easy solutions which lead nowhere. Government’s proposed incineration policy, as a result of which 40 per cent of the waste generated will be burned, is a policy that seeks to manage waste and does away with the target of reducing and eventually eliminating its generation. The very fact that incineration is being proposed signifies a failure in the implementation of the waste management strategy just three years after its last revision, in 2014.

A second step would be to ensure consistency in waste policy. Malta’s Waste Management Strategy is aptly sub-titled ‘A Resource Management Approach’. By no stretch of the imagination can Malta’s proposed incineration policy be deemed to be consistent with such an approach. It is, in my view, just a panic reaction to the fact that there is no more space available for landfills.

The issue involved is very straightforward: can we deliver on our own target of a zero waste society by 2050? In planning to achieve this objective, each Minister has to be a Minister for the Environment, as each Ministry has a role in preventing or re-using the waste generated by the different economic activities. It is certainly a headache not only for Environment Minister José Herrera, but also for all the other Ministers, in particular Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi and Minister for the Economy Chris Cardona.

In analysing waste management strategy targets achieved to date, it is not only Wasteserve that should be in the dock. The Minister responsible for the Economy has a duty to give account as to what measures and initiatives are in hand to develop the circular economy. It is the point where the paths of environment policy and economic policy cross, and rhetoric has to give precedence to results achieved or in the pipeline to be achieved.

Likewise, it is about time the Tourism Ministry seriously addresses the waste generated by hotels, bars and restaurants. This is an area that has been neglected for several years and is creating considerable difficulties in various parts of the Maltese islands, especially those along the coastline.

It is about time we realised that the implementation of an environment policy is not to be restricted to the corridors of the Environment Ministry: it is an activity that should be carried out by each and every Ministry.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday: 26 November 2017