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

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L-ambjent u l-ġustizzja soċjali

e-waste-africa

Il-ħsara ambjentali teffettwa lil kulħadd, imma b’mod speċjali tolqot iktar lil dawk li huma vulnerabbli. L-esperjenza tal-ħajja ta’ kuljum, imsaħħa bir-riċerka turi li l-agħar effetti tal-ħsara ambjentali jġarrbuhom l-aktar nies foqra. Per eżempju, n-nuqqas jew it-tniġġis tal-ilma jolqot l-iżjed lil dawk li huma l-aktar foqra, li għalihom ix-xiri ta’ flixkun ilma ħafna drabi hi spiża żejda. U meta f’diversi pajjiżi għola l-livell tal-baħar dan laqat l-ewwel lill-foqra li kienu qed jgħixu fi griebeġ mal-kosta, u li ma kellhomx iktar fejn imorru.

M’aħniex konxji biżżejjed tal-problemi li jolqtu lil dawk li huma mwarrba mis-soċjetà. Illum ma nistgħux ma nagħrfux li l-impenn ambjentali irid jieħu ukoll dimensjoni soċjali. Dan għandu jdaħħal diskors dwar il-ġustizzja fid-diskussjonijiet dwar l-ambjent, biex nifhmu dejjem iktar li l-karba tal-art hi ukoll il-karba tal-fqir. Il-ħsara ambjentali hi l-kawża ta’ inġustizzja soċjali.

Flok jindirzzaw il-problemi tal-foqra uħud iwaħħlu fiż-żieda fil-popolazzjoni u jippruvaw ma jagħtux importanza lill-konsumiżmu estrem u selettiv tas-soċjetà moderna. B’hekk jippretendu li jilleġittimizzaw il-mudell ta’ distribuzzjoni tar-riżorsi li għandna llum, fejn hemm minoranza li temmen li għandha dritt tikkonsma fi proporzjon li qatt ma jista’ jiġi applikat fuq livell universali, għax il-pjaneta bilkemm l-iskart ta’ konsum bħal dan ma tkun kapaċi żżomm.

Iktar minn hekk, terz tal-ikel li nipproduċu qed jinħela: l-ikel li jintrema qed jinsteraq minn fuq il-mejda tal-fqir. Iż-żieda fil-konsum taf twassal għat-tlaqqigħ flimkien ta’ problemi marbuta mat-tinġis ambjentali, il-mezzi ta’ trasport, it-trattament tal-iskart, il-qerda ta’ riżorsi, u l-kwalità tal-ħajja.

Jeżisti “dejn ekoloġiku” bejn il-pajjiżi żviluppati u dawk inqas żviluppati. Dan id-“dejn ekoloġiku” hu marbut ma’ żbilanċ fil-kummerċ b’konsegwenzi fil-qasam ekoloġiku, kif ukoll mal-użu sproporzjonat tar-riżorsi naturali storikament imwettaq minn xi pajjiżi. L-esportazzjoni ta’ xi materja prima biex tissodisfa s-swieq tal-pajjiżi industrijalizzati ħalliet warajha ħafna ħsara ambjentali, bħal, per eżempju t-tinġis bil-merkurju fil-minjieri tad-deheb jew bid-dijossidu tal-kubrit fil-minjieri tar-ram.

It-tisħin ikkawżat mill-konsum enormi ta’ xi pajjiżi għonja għandu riperkussjonijiet fl-ifqar postijiet ta’ din l-art, speċjalment fl-Afrika, fejn iż-żieda fit-temperatura flimkien man-nixfa għandha effetti diżastrużi fuq l-agrikultura.

Ma’ dan inżidu r-rimi ta’ skart tossiku f’pajjiżi li qed jiżviluppaw minn intrapriżi ibbażati f’pajjiżi żviluppati. Dawn jagħmlu fil-pajjiżi mhux żviluppati dak li m’huwiex permess li jsir f’pajjiżhom.

Ġeneralment, meta jwaqqfu l-attività tagħhom u jitilqu, iħallu warajhom ħsarat kbar umani u ambjentali, bħal qgħad, irħula bla ħajja, il-qerda ta’ ħażniet naturali, deforestazzjoni, tifqir fil-biedja u fil-merħliet tal-post, ħofor kbar, għoljiet imħarbta, xmajjar imniġġsa u xi opra soċjali li ma tiflaħx tieqaf iktar fuq riġlejha”.

Din hi s-sejħa li tagħmlilna l-art. Hi s-sejħa tal-fqir li hu ukoll misruq mill-ġid li tagħtu n-natura biex biex bih jistagħna ħaddieħor. Il-ħsara ambjentali hi l-kawża ta’ inġustizzji soċjali kbar li lkoll isiru f’isem l-iżvilupp. Għax fl-aħħar huma dawk l-iktar vulnerabbli fostna li l-iżjed iħossu l-konsegwenzi tal-qerda ambjentali li qed isseħħ madwarna. Għalhekk kull pass il-quddiem, (żgħir jew kbir), li nagħmlu biex inħarsu l-ambjent ta’ madwarna huwa pass biex innaqqsu l-inġustizzji ta’ madwarna.

 

(kummentarju li xxandar fuq l-RTK it-Tnejn 4 ta’ Jannar 2016, ibbażat fuq il-paragrafi 48 sa 51 tal-enċiklika Laudato Sì tal-Papa Franġisku)

Il-karba tal-art ……….. il-karba tal-fqir

Boff. Grito da Terra    laudato_si_

L-enċiklika li ppubblika l-Papa Franġisku l-bierah m’hiex biss enċiklika ħadra. Hi fuq kollox nisġa ta’ argumenti li jispjegaw kif u għaliex il-ħsara ambjentali  u l-inġustizzja soċjali jimxu id f’id. Preċiżament l-argument ta’ Leonardo Boff għoxrin sena ilu fil-ktieb tiegħu : Il-karba tal-art, il-karba tal-fqir. [Grito da Terra, Grito dos Pobres.] [Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor.]

L-enċiklika hi imsejħa “Laudato Si”, l-ewwel żewġ kelmiet fl-edizzjoni Latina. Huma ukoll l-ewwel żewġ kelmiet tal-Kantiku tal-krejaturi ta’ Franġisku ieħor, ta’ Assisi, li jfissru jkun imfaħħar (il-Mulej).

Oħtna d-dinja qed issofri ħsara kbira riżultat tal-użu ħażin mill-bniedem tar-risorsi ta’ din l-art. Il-ftit ħsara ekoloġika ta’ kull wieħed minna għalkemm tista’ tidher żgħira, meta tinġabar flimkien tammonta għal ħsara ferm ikbar.

Oħtna d-dinja marida minħabba fina. Dan il-mard hu rifless fl-art, fl-ilma, fl-arja u f’kull forma ta’ ħajja fuq din l–art. Hu manifestat ukoll fil-bdil fil-klima li hi riżultat tal-ħidma tal-bniedem.

Hemm relazzjoni mill-qrib bejn il-fqar u l-fraġilità tad-dinja. Il-ħarsien tal-ambjent u l-ħarsien tal-fqar u l-vulnerabbli jimxu id f’id. Il-fqar jgħidilna Franġisku huma mċaħħda minn dak li hu essenzjali biex jgħixu b’dinjità fil-waqt li l-għonja jiffangaw. Il-qerda ekoloġika hi l-ħolqa bejn it-tnejn.

Dan kollu qed iwassal għal dejn ekoloġiku sostanzjali li hu l-wirt li ser inħallu lill-ġenerażżjonijiet futuri. Huma l-foqra li ser iħallsu dan id-dejn riżultat tar-regħba u l-ħela tar-riżorsi tad-dinja tul is-snin.

Dan hu l-messaġġ mifrux fuq il-184 paġna tal-enċiklika. Il-qerda ambjentali u l-inġustizzji soċjali huma ż-żewġ naħat tal-istess munita. Inkluż il-bdil fil-klima.

Ippubblikat  fuq iNews :  il-Ġimgħa 19 ta’ Ġunju 2015

Addressing the environmental deficit

Environment

 

The environmental deficit is constantly on the increase. Each generation creates additional  environmental impacts without in any way adequately addressing the accumulated impacts handed down by the previous generation.

Governments are worried by economic deficits yet few seem to be worried by the accumulated -and accumulating – environmental deficit. We are using the earth’s resources as if tomorrow will never come.

The Living Planet report published regularly by the World Wildlife Fund, demonstrates how the demands made by humanity globally exceed the planet’s biocapacity. In fact,  each year we consume 50% more than what  is produced by the planet.

The ecological footprint, that is the impact which each country has on the earth’s resources, varies geographically. On a global level, the average ecological footprint of a human being is 1.7 hectares. Malta’s ecological footprint has been calculated at around 3.9 hectares per person, more than double the global average. This adds up to an impact of around 50 times the area of the Maltese Islands.

Put simply, this means that in order to satisfy the needs of  each and every person in Malta  we are, in fact, utilising land in other countries.  In fact we import most of our requirements from other countries, thereby using their natural resources. We use  their air, their land, their water and their natural resources.

The politics of sustainable development seeks to view  and address these impacts holistically. It also considers today’s impacts  in the light of tomorrow’s needs and seeks to ingrain a sense of responsibility in decision-making. It does this by addressing the root causes of the environmental deficit.

Sustainable development policy understands that Maltese roads are bursting at the seams. We have reached a situation where improving the road network will improve neither connectivity nor the quality of the air we breath.  Malta’s small size should have made it easy ages ago to have excellent connectivity through public transport, with better air quality as a bonus. But it was ignored.

A sustainable water policy in Malta would have dictated better utilisation of rainwater. Instead, we spend millions of euros- including a chunk of EU funds- to ensure that instead of collecting rainwater we channel it straight into the Mediterranean Sea, only to harvest seawater  immediately through our reverse osmosis  plants. To make matters worse, we treat wastewater before dumping it into the sea when, with some extra thought (and expense) it would have been put to much better use.

Sustainable development embedded in our land use policy would lead to a substantial reduction in the land available for development and certainly to a strict ODZ protection protocol. Instead, we are faced with a situation resulting in a high number of vacant properties coupled with a nonchalant attitude to developing more agricultural land, as if we had a lot to spare!

The environmental deficit which has been accumulating over the years places us in a very precarious position as we cannot keep living on ecological credit for long.   Excessive ecological credit will inevitably lead to ecological bankruptcy from which neither the EU nor the International Monetary Fund will be able to bail us out.  The only solution is taking our environmental responsibilities seriously, before it is too late.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday, 7 June 2015

Malta’s EU story : the environment

JOINT SEMINAR BY THE OFFICE OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT IN MALTA AND THE TODAY PUBLIC POLICY INSTITUTE

Friday 3 October 2014

address by Carmel Cacopardo

eu-flag

 

Since Malta’s EU accession there has been a marked contrast of interest in issues related to environmental governance.

EU accession has generally had a positive influence on Maltese environmental governance.  A flow of EU funds has been applied to various areas which Maltese governments throughout the years did not consider worthy of investing in.  On the one hand we had governments “occasionally” applying the brakes, seeking loopholes, real or imaginary,  in order to ensure that lip service  is not accidentally translated into meaningful action. On the other hand civil society has, in contrast, and  as a result of EU accession identified a new source of empowerment, at times ready to listen, however slow to react and at times ineffective.

Land use planning and abusive hunting/trapping have for many years been the main items on the local environment agenda. Water, air quality, climate change, alternative energy, biodiversity, noise, light pollution, organic agriculture, waste management and sustainable development have rightfully claimed a place in the agenda during the past 10 years. Some more frequently, others occasionally.

Land use planning has been on the forefront of civil society’s environmental agenda for many years. Abusive land use planning in the 80s fuelled and was fuelled by corruption. It led to various public manifestations in favour of the environment then equated almost  exclusively with the impacts of land development. Many such manifestations ended up in violence. Whilst this may be correctly described as history, it is occasionally resurrected  as in the recent public manifestation of hunters protesting against the temporary closure of the autumn hunting season.

Whilst hunting and land use planning may still be the main items on Malta’ environmental agenda the ecological deficit which we face is substantially deeper and wider.  It is generally the result of myopic policies.

For example it is well known that public transport has been practically ignored for the past 50 years, including the half-baked reform of 2010. This is the real cause of Malta’s very high car ownership (around 750 vehicles per 1000 population). As the Minister of Finance rightly exclaimed during a pre-budget public consultation exercise earlier this week traffic congestion is a major issue of concern, not just environmental but also economic. Impacting air quality, requiring additional land uptake to construct new roads or substantial funds to improve existing junctions traffic congestion is a drain on our resources. May I suggest that using EU funds to improve our road network  will delay by several years the shifting of custom to public transport, when we will have one which is worthy of such a description.

The mismanagement of water resources over the years is another important issue. May I suggest that millions of euros in EU funds have been misused  to institutionalise the mismanagement of water resources. This has been done through the construction of a network of underground tunnels to channel stormwater to the sea.  The approval of such projects is only possible when one  has no inkling of what sustainable management of water resources entails. Our ancestors had very practical and sustainable solutions: they practised water harvesting through the construction of water cisterns beneath each and every residence, without exception. If we had followed in their footsteps the incidence of stormwater in our streets, sometimes having the smell of raw sewage due to an overflowing public sewer, would be substantially less. And in addition we would also avoid overloading our sewage purification plants.

Our mismanagement of water resources also includes the over-extraction of ground water and the failure to introduce an adequate system of controls throughout the years such that  most probably there will be no more useable water in our water table very shortly. In this respect the various deadlines established in the Water Framework Directive would be of little use.

Whilst our Cabinet politicians have developed a skill of trying to identify loopholes in the EU’s acquis (SEA and Birds Directive) they also follow bad practices in environmental governance.

It is known that fragmentation of environmental responsibilities enables politicians to pay lip service to environmental governance but then creating real and practical obstacles in practice.

Jean Claude Juncker, the President elect of the EU Commission has not only diluted environmental governance by assigning responsibility for the environment together with that for fisheries and maritime policy as well as assigning energy with climate change. He has moreover hived off a number of responsibilities from the DG Environment to other DGs namely Health and Enterprise.

In Malta our bright sparks have anticipated his actions. First on the eve of EU accession they linked land use planning with the Environment in an Authority called MEPA with the specific aim of suffocating the environment function in an authority dominated by development. Deprived of human resources including the non-appointment of a Director for the Environment for long stretches of time, adequate environmental governance could never really get off the ground.

Now we will shortly be presented with the next phase: another fragmentation by the demerger of the environment and planning authority.

In the short time available I have tried to fill in the gaps in the environment section of the document produced by The Today Public Policy Institute. The said document rightly emphasises various achievements. It does however state that prior to EU accession the environment was not given its due importance by local policy makers. Allow me to submit that much still needs to be done and that the progress made to date is insufficient.

The pre-budget document : Malta’s ecological deficit

prebudget 2015

 

The deficit facing our country is not just a fiscal one. It is also a social and ecological one. The Finance Minister addresses the fiscal deficit and with various measures tries to address the social deficit. The ecological deficit is however very rarely mentioned.

We have just been informed that the enormous tunnels constructed as part of the storm water management plan is on target and that Malta will soon be dumping a substantial part of our rainwater directly into the sea. For a country which lacks water resources this is suicidal.

Yet it is being carried out. EU funding for the project was also approved notwithstanding that dumping such large quantities of rainwater into the sea is anything but sustainable.

The pre-budget document published by the Minister of Finance in September ignores completely the ecological deficit. Now the Hon Minister is aware that ignoring the ecological deficit does not make it disappear. It makes it worse as the message driven home by the pre-budget document  is that there is nothing to worry about.

Water is not the only contributor to Malta’s ecological deficit. Waste management, air pollution, traffic management, biodiversity protection, land use planning, are other heavy contributors to the ecological deficit. I do not detect any keen interest in the matter at the Finance Ministry, as its main interest seems to be the construction industry which is being further encouraged, thereby increasing the ecological deficit by design. With such a limited vision it is no wonder that the ecological deficit did not make it to the pre-budget document.

Living on Ecological Credit

published

Saturday July23, 2011

An informal meeting of EU ministers of the environment held in Poland earlier this month reminded us that we are living on ecological credit. Our balance sheet with nature is in the red. It is healthy that EU politicians have recognised this fact.

Environmentalists have been campaigning for ages that the world is living beyond its means. International NGO WWF, for example, publishes information relative to ecological footprint analysis. From the information available, Malta’s ecological footprint is 3.9 hectares per person. This can be compared to an EU average of 4.9 hectares per person (ranging from a minimum of 3.6 for Poland and Slovakia to a maximum of 7.0 for Sweden and Finland) and a world average of 2.2 hectares per person.

This adds up to a total impact for Malta of about 50 times the area of the Maltese islands. A clear indication of the extent of Malta’s reliance on ecological credit.

Malta’s environmental impacts are accentuated due to the islands’ high population density.

Malta’s small size is in some respects an advantage but this advantage has been generally ignored throughout the years. The reform of public transport, currently in hand, could someday put the issue of size to good use by developing an efficient system of communication. This reform, however, has to be properly managed. Preliminary indications point to a completely different direction. I do not exclude the possibility of the achievement of positive results even if, so far, I am disappointed.

The results the Greens hope to be achieved from the public transport reform would be the increased use of public transport and, consequently, a reduction in the number of cars on the road. This will come about if bus routes are more commuter-friendly. A reduction of cars on the road will lead to less emissions and a reduction of transport-generated noise. It would also cut a household’s expenditure through the reduction of fuel costs.

Water management in Malta also contributes considerably to the island’s ecological deficit.

The commissioning of the Ta’ Barkat sewage purification plant means that Malta is now in line with the provisions of the EU Urban Wastewater Directive. But the actual design of the sewage purification infrastructure means that by discharging the purified water into the sea an opportunity of reducing the pressure on ground water and the production of reverse osmosis-produced water has been lost. The purified water could easily be used as second-class water or it could be polished for other uses. When the Mellieħa sewage purification plant was inaugurated it was announced that studies into the possible uses of the purified water were to be carried out. These studies should have been undertaken before the sewage purification infrastructure was designed as they could have led to a differently designed infrastructure. The system as designed means that any eventual use of the purified water will require its transport from the purification plants to the point of use. A properly designed system could have reduced these expenses substantially by producing the purified water along the route of the public sewers and close to the point of use.

Public (and EU) funds have been wrongly used. Water planners have not carried out their duty towards the community they serve through lack of foresight and by not having an inkling of sustainability issues.

It also means that those who advised the head of state to inform the current Parliament’s inaugural session in May 2008 that “the government’s plans and actions are to be underpinned by the notion of sustainable development” were not aware what that statement signifies. Repeatedly, the government, led by Lawrence Gonzi, falls short of addressing adequately environmental impacts, as a result pushing these islands further down the road of dependence on ecological credit.

The government could have opted for a fresh start in May 2008 by implementing the National Sustainable Development Strategy, approved by Cabinet some months prior to the 2008 election. Instead, I am reliably informed that the National Commission for Sustainable Development has not met a single time during the past 42 months. As a consequence, the strategy has been practically shelved and discarded.

I cannot and will not say that there have not been any environmental initiatives. While various initiatives have been undertaken, some only address impacts partially. Others have been embarked upon half-heartedly. It is also clear to all that government environmental action does not form part of a holistic vision. It rather resembles the linking up of loose pieces of unrelated jigsaw puzzle bits.

This contrasts sharply with the public’s awareness and expectations. The public is one step ahead awaiting its representatives to act in a responsible manner in accordance with their much-publicised statements.

Excessive ecological credit will inevitably lead to ecological bankruptcy. No EU or IMF will bail us out. It’s better to take our environmental responsibilities seriously before it is too late.