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

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

L-ekonomija l-ħadra

green new deal

Qed nirreferi għal dik il-ħidma ekonomika li titfassal jew titwettaq b’mod li tagħti każ tal-impatti ambjentali. Il-karatteristiċi ewlenin li jiddistingwu attivita’ meqjusa bħala li tappartjeni lill-ekonomija l-ħadra minn attivita oħra huma: tnaqqis fl-emmissjonijiet, tnaqqis fit-tniġġis, effiċjenza fl-użu tal-enerġija w ir-riżorsi, li tkun evitata t-telfa tal-bodiversita’ u l-ħarsien tas-servizzi li kontinwament tagħtina (b’xejn) l-ekosistema.

L-ekonomija l-ħadra taħdem flimkien man-natura, mhux kontra tagħha. Allura tfittex li tnaqqas l-impatti ambjentali tal-ħidma ekonomika f’kull qasam. Hi u tagħmel hekk toħloq ix-xogħol.

Toħloq ix-xogħol fil-ġenerazzjoni ta’ enerġija nadifa u alternattiva kif ukoll fil-ħidma biex tiżdied l-effiċjenza fl-użu tal-enerġija.

Ix-xogħol jinħoloq ukoll fil-proċess li jrid iwassalna sal-punt li ma niġġenerawx iktar skart. Dan ifisser li mhux biss irridu narmu inqas imma bħala pajjiż hu meħtieġ li nkunu kapaċi nirriċiklaw iktar dak li ma jkollniex iktar użu għalih. Ir-rimi tal-iskart hu rimi ta’ riżorsi prezzjużi li fil-parti l-kbira tal-każi nistgħu nsibu użu ieħor għalhom.

L-ekonomija l-ħadra toħloq ix-xogħol ukoll fil-qasam tat-trasport pubbliku. Nafu li trasport pubbliku effiċjenti (meta xi darba jkollna) jnaqqas b’mod sostanzjali t-tniġġis tal-arja fl-ibliet u l-irħula tagħna. Jnaqqas ukoll l-istorbju iġġenerat minn traffiku kontinwu. Dan iseħħ billi (meta jkun effiċjenti) t-trasport pubbliku jħajjar iktar persuni minna biex nagħmlu użu minnu flok ma nagħmlu użu mill-karozzi privati tagħna. Fuq perjodu ta’ żmien trasport pubbliku effiċjenti jista’ jikkonvinċina li wara kollox nistgħu ngħaddu mingħajr karozza privat. Ta’ l-inqas nitħajjru nnaqsu l-karozzi fil-familji. Dan nistgħu nagħmluh meta nkunu konvinti li jkun jaqbel li nagħmlu dan.

Din tkun sitwazzjoni li minnha jirbaħ kulħadd. Jirbaħ il-pajjiż kollu għax ikollna kwalita’ ta’ arja aħjar. Nirbħu aħna lkoll mhux biss għax ninqdew aħjar imma ukoll għax innaqqsu l-ispejjes biex ikollna l-karozzi privati.

Tirbaħ ukoll l-ekonomija tal-pajjiż għax bil-ħidma tal-ekonomija l–ħadra jkunu ġġenerati l-impiegi. Impiegi b’differenza. Impiegi ħodor (green jobs) li permezz tagħhom jinħoloq il-ġid mingħajr ma issir ħsara ambjentali.

ippubblikata fuq iNews it-Tnejn 16 ta’ Diċembru 2013

Tackling the green skills gap

green skills 3

Launching the public consultation on the Green Economy last month, Ministers Leo Brincat and Evarist Bartolo emphasised the need to address the green skills gap in the process leading to a Green Economy strategy and action plan.

It is estimated that 20 million jobs will be created in the Green Economy between now and 2020 within the European Union. Capacity building is the greatest challenge: ensuring that more working men and women are adequately equipped with green skills.

The Green Economy includes activities in different sectors. It is possible to go about activity in these sectors in a manner which reduces their environmental impacts, is socially inclusive and economically rewarding.

Various sectors have been identified as being of key importance in the transition to a Green Economy. The basic characteristics which distinguish the Green Economy are a reduction of carbon emissions, the reduction of all forms of pollution, energy and resource efficiency, prevention of biodiversity loss  and the protection of eco-system services.

The United Nations Environment Programme  has repeatedly emphasised that the transition to a Green Economy enables economic growth and investment while increasing environmental quality and social inclusiveness. A Green Economy is one which respects the eco-system and recognises that there are natural limits  which, if exceeded, endanger the earth’s ecological balance. In effect it means that the transition to a Green Economy signifies addressing all of our environmental impacts in all areas of activity. Addressing impacts in one area would still signify progress although this would be of limited benefit.

An agriculture which forms part of the Green Economy is one which works with nature, not against it. It uses water sustainably and does not contaminate it. Green agriculture does not seek to genetically modify any form of life nor to patent it.

Energy efficient buildings, clean and renewable energy together with the sustainable use of land are also basic building blocks of the Green Economy. We cannot speak of the Green Economy whilst simultaneously tolerating  large scale building construction. Having a stock of 72,000 vacant dwellings, (irrespective of the reasons for their being vacant) signifies that as a nation we have not yet understood that the limited size of the Maltese islands ought to lead to a different attitude. The green skills of politicians and their political appointees on MEPA is what’s lacking in this regard.

Maritime issues are of paramount economic importance to Malta’s economy. The depleted fish stock and the quality of sea water are obvious issues. But the impacts of organised crime through the dumping of toxic, hazardous and nuclear waste in the Mediterranean Sea is not to be underestimated as has been evidenced time and again in the exploits of the eco-mafia reign to our north.

Heavy industry is fortunately absent in Malta. New industries like the pharmaceutical industry are more eco-conscious. However we still require more inputs on resource efficiency and eco-design.

Greening tourism is essential in order to ensure that more of tourism’s environmental impacts are addressed.  The consumption of tourism is 50% more per capita than that registered for a resident, indicating that there is room for considerable improvements.

Public transport is still in shambles. The effects of this state of affairs is evident in the ever increasing number of passenger cars on our roads which have a major impact on air and noise pollution in our communities. Greening transport policies signifies that the mobility of all is ensured with the least possible impacts.  Still a long way to go.

Waste management has made substantial improvement over the years even though it is still way  behind EU targets. It is positive that the draft waste management strategy has established the attaining of a Zero Waste target by 2050. However we still await the specifics of how this is to be achieved. It is achievable but the commitment of all is essential.

Our water resources have been mismanaged, year in, year our. Discharging millions of litres of treated sewage effluent into the sea is just the cherry on the cake. The contaminated and depleted water table which still contributes around 40% to Malta’s potable water supply is in danger of being  completely lost for future generations if we do not act fast.

All the above have been dealt with in various policy documents. One such document is the National Sustainable Development Strategy which establishes the parameters for the action required. Implementing the National Sustainable Development Strategy is the obvious first step in establishing a Green Economy.  It is here where the real green skill gap exists. Decision makers lack green skills. This skill gap exists at the level of Cabinet, Parliament, the top echelons of the civil service and in the ranks of the political appointees to Boards and Authorities where decisions are taken and strategies implemented.

When this skill gap is addressed, the rest will follow and we will be on the way to establishing  a green economy.

published in The Times of Malta, Saturday 14 December 2013

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