The Politics of Waste

times_of_malta196x703

by Carmel Cacopardo

pubished September 26, 2009

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The Italian Mafia eco threat through the sinking in the Mediterranean of at least 42 ships laden with toxic and nuclear waste has far-reaching implications. The real impact, however, will not be clear for some time until all relative details are known.

Last week, the announcement was made of a settlement relative to the dispute that arose after the dumping in 2006 of some 500 tonnes of toxic waste around Abidjan, the capital city of Ivory Coast. This settlement was denounced by both the association of the victims (31,000 residents of Abidjan) and by the international NGO Greenpeace that described it as an exploitation of African poverty.

Going through e-mails published by Greenpeace in the UK newspaper The Guardian last week, it is clear that at one point the toxic waste that ended up at Abidjan was to be processed at the fuel terminal of La Skhira, Tunisia. It appears however that the Tunisian management asked too many questions after examining a sample of the toxic waste such that other destinations were considered more appropriate!

Within this context it would be reasonable to consider what is being done locally with the toxic waste generated on these islands. I will limit myself to the discarding of electric and electronic equipment in Malta, a source of toxic waste. This is regulated by the provisions of the Waste (from) Electric and Electronic Equipment Directive of the EU. Known as the WEEE Directive, it has been transposed into Maltese law through Legal Notice 63 of 2007, yet, to date, it is not being implemented.

On the basis of the producer responsibility principle, producers of the electrical and electronic equipment placed on the Maltese market, as well as their representatives, are responsible in terms of the WEEE Directive for taking back obsolete/discarded equipment. In the long term this would mean that the design of the equipment is improved thereby facilitating repair, possible upgrading, reuse, disassembly and recycling and, consequently, cut the costs of disposal.

Taking back obsolete/discarded equipment involves a cost. Producers and their representatives are objecting because the government is forcing them to pay twice over for the waste they generate. Since 2004, on the basis of the polluter-pays principle, the government is already charging an eco contribution, which was specifically designed to pay for waste management costs. Subsequently, as a result of the transposition of the WEEE Directive, the responsibility for the managing of WEEE waste was hived off to the private sector. However, the government is still collecting the eco contribution while the private sector is expected to foot the bill for taking back obsolete/discarded electric and electronic equipment.

The government is collecting payment to make good for responsibilities it no longer shoulders. While it has a new role, as a regulator, through WasteServe it still insists on direct involvement. One would have expected this attitude from a government that advocates state intervention but not from one that is prolific on rhetoric relative to the pivotal role of the private sector.

The government’s attitude is impeding the private sector from developing a service, responsibility for which has been specifically assigned to it by EU legislation. This has been going on for the past 30 months and, as a result, most of the waste generated during this time by items listed in the WEEE Directive is unaccounted for.

The WEEE Directive is applicable to: household appliances (small and large), IT and telecommunications equipment, consumer equipment, lightning equipment, electrical and electronic tools, toys, leisure and sports equipment, medical devices, monitoring and control instruments and automatic dispensers.

Consumers are entitled to return to a supplier any obsolete/discarded item to which the WEEE Directive applies. The supplier, on behalf of the producer, will then ensure that the item is reconditioned, recycled or else stripped into its component parts, which can then be reused as raw materials or else appropriately disposed of. This obviously involves an expense that suppliers are entitled to recover by charging the consumer the real cost of waste management. Consumers are, however, already being charged an eco contribution, this being a waste management fee for costs that are not incurred anymore.

Late last year, the EU embarked on a revision of the WEEE Directive. Through this revision the EU aims to fine-tune the provisions of the directive such that it is more effective. In Malta, having not yet initiated implementation of the WEEE Directive, we are in the ridiculous situation of having a government that proclaims it is environment friendly but then whenever possible goes out of its way to torpedo the implementation of the environmental acqui.

It is the importers who are now directly responsible for implementing the provisions of the WEEE Directive. However, this does not exonerate the government whose double charging for WEEE waste is clearly the sole reason for WEEE’s non-implementation in Malta.

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Waste update : back to the drawing board

times_of_malta196x703

by Carmel Cacopardo

published on Saturday February 28, 2009

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The Solid Waste Management Strategy update published recently, identifies a zero waste scenario as a long-term aim. It refers to a number of studies commissioned and proceeds to a selective use of conclusions from the said studies, which are still under wraps.

A Situation Audit of the strategy was carried out in 2005. Yet, the only conclusion that has found its way into the proposed update is a statement on the practical non-existence of the interministerial committee set up to coordinate the strategy’s implementation across government. The full Situation Audit should see the light of day. The public has the right to be informed as to the manner in which targets were attained and the reasons as to why others were missed.

The update is incomplete; it postpones updating the strategy on hazardous waste, promising instead a Topic Paper in the future. The management of hazardous waste includes the implementation of the WEEE Directive (Waste from Electric and Electronic Equipment), which is way behind schedule.

Producers and their representatives in terms of the WEEE Directive assume full responsibility for the waste generated by their products. Yet, the government, through the simultaneous application of the eco-contribution and the WEEE Directive, has placed them in a situation where they have to pay twice for the handling of electric and electronic waste: The payment of an eco-contribution and shouldering producer responsibility in terms of EU legislation. The result is that while, on paper, the WEEE Directive in Malta has been transposed, in practice its implementation is being obstructed. It is an area of responsibility that EU legislation assigns specifically to the private sector, yet the government is reluctant to lose a substantial chunk of eco-contribution revenues and is consequently applying the brakes.

The regulation of scrap yards does not feature in the update. They are required in order to recycle scrap metal. However, they should operate within a regulatory framework, in particular in conformity to the WEEE and the ELV (End of Life Vehicle) Directives. Recently, it was reported that, during testimony submitted in a planning appeal, concerning the enforcement order relative to the Ta’ Brolli scrap yard in Birzebbuga, it was revealed that part of its business originates from the custom of government departments and corporations!

Some scrap yards process scrap from disused refrigerators! Processing? They just crush them, as a result releasing refrigeration gases to air. These gases are CFCs (chloroflorocarbons), contributors to the depletion of the ozone layer. In a regulated environment in terms of the WEEE Directive, processing disused refrigerators for waste would include the careful collection of the CFCs as a first step. Instead, some Maltese scrap yards are contributing to the depletion of the ozone layer in contrast to the provisions of the 1987 Montreal Protocol, which Malta has bound itself to observe and implement.

The proposal for an updated strategy encourages a policy favouring waste incineration. It proposes that the use of bio-digestion to convert waste to energy is complemented by a policy favouring incineration. Specifically, it proposes a waste to energy incinerator to be sited at Delimara next to the power station. This could also mean that on waste recovery sites (currently in operation or projected) the two technologies could co-exist.

Incineration is undoubtedly a waste management tool. In my opinion, it should however, only be used as the last option.

Relying on incineration to produce electricity would, on the plus side, reduce required landfill space and the fuel bill. It would still, however, contribute to the production of greenhouse gases and, hence, cannot be described as a source of clean energy. On the minus side, it negates the need to reduce waste generation and produces other possibly toxic emissions, which would vary dependent on the composition of the RDF (refuse derived fuel).

The regulation of these emissions is normally established through a permit issued by Mepa in terms of the EU Directive on Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control. The acceptability or otherwise of an incineration facility even as a tool of the last resort would in my view result from two points: The quality of emissions control imposed by Mepa through the conditions established in the IPPC permit, and the enforceability of these conditions.

If the manner in which the Marsa incinerator has operated in the past months is a reliable indicator on the workings of Mepa and Wasteserv, this is sufficient on its own to discard the incinerator option even as a tool of last resort.

These are just a few of the points indicating reasons as to why the proposed waste strategy update needs to go back to the drawing board. Together with the fact that a Strategic Environmental Assessment has not to date been carried out, this is clear evidence of its poor quality. Such a document cannot lead to a fruitful public discussion.