Lessons from nature

We are accustomed to the functioning of the linear economy. We extract the resources from the earth, we make use of them and subsequently when they are beyond their useful life, we throw them away.

Nature works quite differently. We can learn a lot from nature. As a matter of fact, if we try to imitate nature, we can solve many of the problems which we face.

Biomimicry is a relatively new branch of study which seeks ways in which we can learn from nature. Discarding our throwaway attitudes is one such basic lesson.

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.

This is how nature’s economy works. Mother nature functions on the basis of a cradle-to-cradle philosophy in contrast to our cradle-to-grave attitude. The natural economy is a circular one which does not throw anything away: it recycles everything. At the end of the useful life of any natural product this does not end in a landfill but it gives birth to another product, a new fruit. It is reintroduced into the natural cycle.

In their book Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the way we make things William McDonough and Michael Braungart focus specifically on this matter. They identify specific industrial and commercial initiatives which seek to dematerialise the economy as a result of which we can end up doing much more with less use of resources. The same or better level of service is achieved but, in the process, there are substantially fewer material inputs: practical resource efficiency.

In addition to saving on material costs as well as energy used, 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 practically and realistically contribute to making the world a better place to live in.

This week the Minister for the Environment gave an update on a national action plan to intensify efforts to align Malta to circular economy principles. This is positive even though we have heard this a multitude of times over the years.

The Honourable Minister outlined government’s plans on plastic bottle return machines which will be available all over the islands to facilitate their recycling. As a result of this initiative plastic bottles will be returned at which point a deposit paid on their purchase will be refunded.

It would be pertinent to point out that way back in 2004, or thereabouts, a proposal essentially very similar to this had been submitted to the then PN led government as an alternative to the eco-contribution scheme.  In fact, Farsons had then proposed the setting up of a deposit refund scheme for packaging waste on the basis of the Danish model. It was however unfortunately shot down instead of being developed and adapted to the local circumstances. Government instead opted for an eco-tax as emphasised by another powerful lobby which had a much easier access to Prime Minister Gonzi and his entourage. This is all documented.

Seventeen years down the line we are back at the original point of departure. Seventeen years have in the meantime been wasted. It is in everybody’s interest that the proposed scheme functions successfully. The objective is to achieve an 85 per cent recycling of the packaging waste generated on these islands. I believe that it is achievable now just as it was seventeen years ago. It puts back some sense in Malta’s waste management policy! Hopefully it will not be sabotaged once more.

I look forward to the implementation date.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 23 May 2021