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


Green gaps in the Budget

The green gaps in the Budget speech cannot be patched up with the millions of euros spread in the pockets of both those in need as well as those who are well off.

Edward Scicluna’s Budget speech last Monday was far too long. Yet in its over 100 pages it missed addressing a number of environmental issues on which different government spokespersons pontificate throughout the rest of the year: confirming that they just pay lip-service to the issues.

The lack of good environmental governance has considerable economic and social impact as is evident to one and all.

While the Budget proposals strengthen the social safety net, it is to be underlined that quality of life is not measured solely in terms of financial metrics. Throwing euros at problems does not lead to any solutions.

The budget speech correctly emphasises the necessity of waste recycling. Unfortunately, the Minister for Finance did not explain how this effort should be integrated into a circular economy, even though the Environment Minister repeatedly boasts of how supposedly the move towards a circular economy is a priority for government. In the entire speech, the circular economy is not mentioned once. Nor does the Economic Survey dwell on the matter or even faintly refer to the matter.

This raises the suspicion that government has lost the plot and does not have any policy ideas on such an important aspect of the economy with its social, economic and environmental effects.

The Budget speech emphasises the energy generation potential from waste incineration which requires large volumes of waste in order to be viable. But the budget speech is silent on how this fits in with the stated commitment to actually reduce the volume of waste.

The government is trying to square the circle; on the one hand it wants to reduce waste but on the other hand it needs more and more waste to make its huge incinerator viable.
The Budget speech also gives the impression that it addresses important aspects which impact the quality of life when in fact offers only half-baked and token solutions.

Among them is the point on water policy. The speech mentions incentives to encourage repairs of existing wells but then it avoids altogether a real and focused effort to address the acute issue of dwellings built without water cisterns, with the consequence that water ends up in the public sewers or flooding our streets.

Developers are let of the hook even when roads are flooded and sewers are overflowing, not to mention the sheer waste of perfectly good water.

The same can be said of the supposed solutions to traffic congestion. The Budget speech refers to the financial incentives available to encourage the use of alternative modes of transport, but here again it ignores the roots of the problem. The government spending of millions of euros for the development of the road infrastructure will only increase traffic congestion, thereby squeezing users of alternative means of transport off the roads.

It is useless to incentivize the purchase of bicycles and pedelecs when there is no investment in adequate infrastructure to ensure that people can commute safely using these important alternative means of transport, which actually help to decrease congestion in our roads.

Over one year ago the Prime Minister had taken a leaf from Alternattiva Demokratika’s electoral manifesto and declared that the government will determine a cut-off date by which new cars will need to be electrically driven or possibly of a hybrid nature.

This declaration had heralded the issue of electrification of transport on our roads addressing two major issues: the quality of air and the contribution of transport emissions to climate change. This, once implemented, would be a substantial contribution to the decarbonisation of the Maltese economy. We are none the wiser on government plans after listening to or reading the budget speech.

Clearly financial parameters are not the only indicators of our quality of life. The green gaps in the budget speech need plugging at the soonest.

published in The Sunday Times of Malta : Sunday 28 October 2018

Nirriċiklaw l-iskart organiku

Kulma narmu għandu użu: anke ż-żibel hu utli. Is-separazzjoni tal-iskart, illum, hi parti essenzjali mir-rutina tal-ħajja tagħna. Nisseparaw il-karta, il-ħġieg, il-metall u l-plastic. Dan huwa kollu materjal li jista’ jerġa’ jintuża’. Ifisser ukoll li jkun hemm bżonn ferm inqas enerġija biex ikun hemm produzzjoni ta’ iktar karta, ħġieġ, metalli u plastic mill-prodotti li nirriċiklaw. Dawn flok ma jintremew fil-miżbla jibqgħu jiċċirkulaw fl-ekonomija. Dab hu l-bażi tal-ekonomija ċirkulari. Hu l-futur.

Nirriċiklaw ukoll l-apparat elettriku u elettroniku. It-TV, il-fridge, ir-radju, il–komputer jew il-laptop. Flok ma jintremew, illum il-ġurnata jżarmawhom biċċa biċċa u l-partijiet kollha tagħhom jerġgħu jagħmlu użu minnhom. Uħud minn dan l-apparat ikollu materjali rari: hu iktar utli għal kulħadd li minflok dawn ma jintremew jiġu utilizzati mill-ġdid.

Nirriċikaw ukoll il-batteriji għax meta dawn jintremew fil-miżbliet, biż-żmien, iniġġsu kull m’hemm u jagħmlu ħsara kbira ambjentali.

Tlett snin ilu l-Wasteserve tat bidu għal proġett pilota li ffoka fuq is-separazzjoni tal-iskart organiku. Kien proġett limitat għal numru żgħir ta’ lokalitajiet imma bl-intenzjoni li jqiegħed il-pedamenti biex is-separazzjoni tal-iskart organiku tkun prattika li tinfirex mal-pajjiż kollu. Dan fil-fatt ser jibda jseħħ minn nhar l-Erbgħa 31 t’Ottubru.

Dan l-iskart organiku jammonta għal madwar 50% tal-iskart li sal-lum inpoġġu fil-borża s-sewda li tinġabar minn wara l-bibien ta’ djarna. L-iskart organiku ser jibda jinġabar għalih f’borza bajda. F’kull residenza qed jitqassmu boroż bojod u bins apposta u ġie spjegat lilhom x’għandhom jagħmlu biex ikun jista’ jinġabar l-iskart organiku li huma jiġġeneraw.

Fil-borza l-bajda tal-iskart organiku tista’ titfa’ l-fdailjiet tal-ikel, nej jew imsajjar, ħaxix, ħut u frott, qxur tal-frott u tal-ħaxix, ħobż, teabags u kafè midħun, qxur tal-bajd, paper napkins u karti maħmuġin, weraq u fjuri. Lista twila ħafna.

L-iskart organiku fil-borża l-bajda jinġabar minn wara l-bibien tad-djar tagħna u jittieħed fl-impjant ta’ Sant Antnin f’Marsaskala fejn wara li issir verifika li fil-fatt fil-borża hemm biss skart organiku jitqiegħed f’apparat imsejjaħ waste digester fejn dan l-iskart jiddikomponi u minnu jinġabar gass li iktar tard jinħaraq biex jipproduċi l-elettriku. Minbarra l-elettriku tkun ukoll prodotta sħana li permezz tagħha, fost oħrajn, ser jissaħħan is-swimming pool tal-Fondazzjoni Inspire f’Marsaskala liema swimming pool jintuża bħala parti mill-għajnuna terrapewtika lill-komunità b’diżabilità. Dak li jibqa’, imbagħad, jintuża bħala compost. Għax fil-fatt, mill-iskart organiku, ma jintrema xejn.

Għalhekk huwa importanti li nirriċiklaw. Għax dak li, sal-lum, kull wieħed minna jarmi għandu użu. Meta nirriċiklaw nevitaw jew innaqqsu ħafna ħsara ambjentali u nagħtu kontribut biex ilkoll ngħixu ħajja aħjar.

Ir-riżultati li nkisbu mill-proġett pilota dwar is-separazzjoni tal-iskart organiku li inbeda tlett snin ilu għad m’humiex magħrufa pubblikament. Dan jeħtieġ li jsir biex ikun possibli li jsir skrutinju pubbliku adegwat. Kulħadd japprezza l-preparazzjoni estensiva biex ikun assigurat li fl-aħħar t’Ottubru l-ġbir tal-parti organika tal-iskart li niġġeneraw jimxi sewwa. Imma hemm bżonn li jkun hemm iktar informazzjoni dwar dak li sar s’issa.

Ippubblikat f’Illum: il-Ħadd 7 t’Ottubru 2018

Recycling our organic waste

Everything we throw away has value: all our rubbish can be put to good use. Today, waste separation is an essential part of our daily chores – or it should be. We already separate paper, glass, metal and plastics from our waste. Instead of going to landfill, these resources are recirculated in the economy by being used again and again: as many times as is technically possible. This is a basic building block of the circular economy that is in the process of being established. It is the future.

We also recycle electric and electronic waste. Instead of being thrown away, televisions, refrigerators, radios, computers and laptops are disassembled with most parts being reused. The circular economy should ensure, over time, that more manufactured products are made of parts that are fully reusable. This will regenerate the constituent parts of these products when their useful life comes to an end. Most electronic goods contain rare metals that we need to preserve for future use and recycling ensures that what nature has provided is put to good use.

Three years ago, Wasteserve launched a pilot project focusing on the separation of organic waste. Limited to a small number of localities, this pilot project sought to lay the foundations for a nation-wide exercise aimed at separating organic waste and this nation-wide exercise is due to be launched on Wednesday 31 October.

Organic waste accounts for approximately 50 per cent of the waste we dispose of every day in the black bag which is collected on a door-to-door basis all over the Maltese islands. Appropriate bins and white bags are now being distributed to all households, together with information on how the collection of organic waste will take place. In the white bag for organic waste we should place food left-overs, raw or cooked, as well as used teabags, used paper napkins and similar items.

Organic waste in the white bag will be collected from our doorsteps and will be taken to  the Sant Antnin Waste Treatment Plant at Marsaskala. Here, after being checked, it will be placed in a waste digester where it decomposes and produces methane gas which is utilised to produce electricity. Other important by-products produced from organic waste are heat and compost. I am informed that, during the pilot project, the heat produced was used to heat up the water in the swimming pool of the Inspire Foundation at Marsaskala which swimming pool is utilised for therapeutic swimming.

Our organic waste is, in fact, a very useful resource – and clearly shows why it is important to recycle. All our waste can be put to good use. When we recycle we avoid, or reduce, negative environmental impacts and contribute towards a better quality of life for everyone.

The results of the pilot project on organic waste, initiated three years ago, are not available for public scrutiny. We undoubtedly welcome the extensive preparations in hand to ensure that, come 31 October, the collection of the organic part of our waste proceeds as planned. However, more information is required regarding the actual results achieved so far.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 7 October 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


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

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

L-iskart għandu valur


Bħalissa diversi jitkellmu dwar ekonomija ċirkulari, imma bosta m’għandhomx idea din x’inhi.

L-ekonomija tagħna hi xi minn daqqiet deskritta bħala ekonomija lineari (jiġifieri linja dritta) u dan billi nieħdu l-materja prima mill-art, nipproduċu l-prodotti li neħtieġu u wara li nużawhom, narmuhom. F’kuntrast ma’ dan, l-ekonomija ċirkulari tfittex li flok ma jintrema dak li nkunu użajna, minnu niġġeneraw xi ħaġa oħra. B’dan il-mod, dak li nkunu ħadna mill-art, wara li jintuża, flok ma jintrema, iservi biex jiġġenera prodotti oħra.

Dan huwa proċess li ġie deskritt bħala ‘mill-benniena għall-benniena’ u jikkuntrasta mal-mod kif naħdmu llum fejn dak li nipproduċu jwassal ‘mill-benniena sal-qabar’, meta prodotti jintremew għax ma jibqgħux ta’ użu. Li dak li nużaw, ma narmuhx meta ma jibqgħalniex użu għalih jagħmel ħafna sens ambjentali. Imma jagħmel ukoll ħafna sens ekonomiku.

II-pjan ta’ Malta għall-immaniġjar tal-iskart jipponta f’din id-direzzjoni u fil-fatt jistabilixxi l-mira li sal-2050 ma niġġenerawx iktar skart: mira żero skart. Din il-mira trid tintlaħaq 33 sena oħra li għalkemm jidhru ftit ’il bogħod, fil-fatt jista’ jkun li m’hemmx biżżejjed żmien biex nibdlu l-mod kif naħsbu. Hemm ħafna xogħol x’isir.

Idealment l-ewwel miżura li għandna nieħdu dwar l-iskart hi li nippruvaw innaqqsu l-iskart li niġġeneraw. Dan kieku jkun ħafna aħjar milli nippruvaw naraw x’ser nagħmlu bih! F’xi każi, dan jista’ jsir b’faċilità. Per eżempju nistgħu nnaqqsu l-iskart organiku li narmu billi nippjanaw aħjar dwar dak li nieklu fi djarna. Nistgħu nnaqqsu wkoll ir-rimi tal-pakketti u l-laned li fihom ikun l-ikel billi nixtru u nieklu iktar ikel frisk, li ġeneralment ikun ikel li nipproduċu fil-pajjiż.

Ovvjament, ħafna minna m’għandniex il-ħin biex naħsbu dwar in-numru kbir ta’ deċiżjonijiet żgħar li nieħdu kuljum u li bħala riżultat tagħhom niġġeneraw ħafna skart. Il-konvenjenza tal-ikel fil-pakketti jew ta’ ikel ipproċessat li nixtru fil-laned kbar u żgħar, ħafna drabi tkun it-triq faċli, għax kulħadd għandu x’jagħmel u ħadd m’għandu ħin żejjed! Dan iwassal għal konsegwenza mhux biss ta’ skart li stajna nevitaw imma wkoll li nispiċċaw nieklu ikel li hu inqas sustanzjuż.

Bħalissa f’diversi lokalitajiet f’Malta u Għawdex għaddej proġett pilota dwar l-iskart organiku. Ilu ftit li beda, u għalkemm ma ħarġitx informazzjoni uffiċjali dwaru hu magħruf li kellu reazzjoni mħallta. Imma bil-mod il-mod qed ikollu suċċess.

Jekk il-ġbir tal-iskart organiku jsir sewwa, l-iskart li jispiċċa fil-borża s-sewda jista’ jonqos bin-nofs. Hemm ukoll il-vantaġġ li meta l-iskart organiku ma jibqax jintefa’ fil-miżbla, u minflok ikun iproċessat fl-impjant tal-iskart, il-gassijiet li jirriżutaw minnu meta jiddikomponi jservu biex nipproduċu l-elettriku minflok ma jikkontribwixxu għal gassijiet serra li huma l-kawża tat-tibdil fil-klima. Dan ċertament huwa għal vantaġġ ta’ kulħadd.

Hi politika tajba dik li biha nistgħu naslu biex innaqqsu ħamsin fil-mija tal-iskart fil-borża s-sewda. Imma biex naslu, hemm ħtieġa ta’ investiment sostanzjali fl-edukazzjoni ambjentali fil-lokalitajiet tagħna. Il-Wasteserv, li ultimament hi responsabbli għall-immaniġjar tal-iskart fil-gżejjer Maltin, diġà ħadet bosta inizjattivi. Imma hemm ħafna iktar x’isir. Qatt iżda ma tista’ tgħid li sar biżżejjed.

Għandna bżonn nifhmu li l-iskart jikkonsisti f’riżorsi li użajna. Dawn ukoll għandhom valur u l-ekonomija ċirkulari tipprova ssarraf dan il-valur. Għalhekk il-mira ta’ skart żero biex ma nibqgħux nipproduċu skart imma dak li ma jibqagħlux użu għalina xorta għandu valur.

ippubbblikat f’Illum, 29 ta’ Jannar 2017

Towards a zero waste target


The linear model of our economy follows a take-make-use-waste path as a result of which we extract resources from the earth which we use and subsequently throw away. In contrast to this cradle-to-grave trajectory, the circular economy seeks cyclical sustainability.

In a circular economy, the management of waste is paramount.  It seeks to retain the resources used in our products in the economic loop as it is considered that they can be re-used to form other products. William McDonough and Michael Braungart describe this as a cradle-to-cradle process in their seminal book Cradle to Cradle. Remaking the way we make things. This is in contrast to the throw-away society which follows a cradle-to-grave path.

This is not only makes environmental sense, it also makes economic sense. Malta’s Waste Management Plan for the period 2014-2020 tentatively points in this direction by establishing a zero waste target that is to be achieved by 2050. Thirty-three years may seem to be too far away but, in reality, it may be just enough to change our mindset. A lot of hard work is involved but, at the end of the day, it will also be rewarding.

It involves the application of what is known as the waste hierarchy to different waste streams. Waste minimisation or prevention is always the preferred option. Ideally we should aim to prevent the generation of waste and in a number of cases this can easily be done. For example, we can prevent the generation of a substantial portion of organic waste by giving more thought to the food intake in our homes. We can also reduce the amount of food packaging by opting for more fresh food which is generally local.

Obviously, most of us have very little time to think about the consequences of our large number of small decisions which end up generating a lot of waste. Convenience generally wins the day, as we often opt for packaged and processed food. As a result, we not only generate avoidable waste but also end up eating less healthy food.

A pilot project related to organic waste is currently under way in 8 localities in Malta and Gozo. It has been going on for some time and although information as to the manner in which the localities involved have reacted is not publicly available, it is known through the grapevine that this has been varied but is improving.

Collecting the organic waste part of domestic waste, if carried out successfully, may well reduce the amount going to landfill by around 50 percent. There is also an added benefit: when the organic part of our waste is processed in a waste recycling plant, the resulting gases are used to produce electricity instead of adding to greenhouse gas emissions. This is surely a win-win situation.

Reducing 50 percent of our waste through the responsible management of just one part of it is very good policy. However, this requires much more investment in environmental education in our localities. Wasteserve, being ultimately responsible for waste management in the Maltese Islands, has taken a lot of initiatives in this respect, but much more needs to be done.  It is never enough.

Waste is a collection of discarded resources and realising the value that we throw away is, in reality, what the circular economy is all about – hence the target of a zero waste society.

published in The Independent on Sunday : 29 January 2017