Waste is what we throw away. It does however have value, which at times can be substantial.
We have lived most of our lives in a linear economy as a result of which, after we consume a product, at the end of its useful life, we throw it away as we have no further use for it.
The shift to a circular economy ought to change all that, such that after consumption we do not throw away what’s left from our “consumed product”. In a circular economy, at the end of its useful life a product is used to create a new product. This is the objective of a sustainable waste management policy.
Incinerating waste is a declaration of failure of waste management policy. This policy has not failed overnight. Its failure is the accumulated result of mismanagement over the years as well as a reluctance of the authorities as well as the regulator to set up clear and practical objectives which drive the message home that each and every one of us needs to take control of the waste that we generate.
Consider for example the issue of organic waste. While undoubtedly progress has been achieved on the organic waste generated in our households, we still lag behind in controlling the organic waste generated by the tourism industry. The impacts of Covid-19 on the tourism industry is a unique, once in a lifetime opportunity, to bring the industry to its senses on the need to control its act. It is an opportunity which is being unfortunately being lost.
Recycling in Malta is in shambles. Malta is currently recycling around 12 per cent of Municipal Solid Waste when the Waste Framework Directive target for 2020 is fifty per cent which increases to 55 per cent in 2025. This is the extent of the failure of waste management policy in Malta.
It is a key principle of EU waste policy to move up the waste hierarchy ladder: disposal (including incineration) being the least desirable with waste prevention being the most desirable stage.
Incineration encourages the throwaway society. It does not encourage citizens to care about what they consume. It sends the message that others will shoulder the problems created by our consumption.
Where is the environmental benefit of incineration? 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. The waste to energy proposal is thus another gimmick.
More effort needs to be invested in waste minimisation and in 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.
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 and acted upon.
published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 18 October 2020