by Carmel Cacopardo
pubished September 26, 2009
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.