L-Inċinerazzjoni: l-prezz akkumulat tal-inkompetenza

Il-Ministru Josè Herrera, f’isem il-Gvern, għadu kif ippubblika r-rapport intitolat Technical Report on the setting up of a Waste to Energy Facility in Malta. Qabel ma ntalab dan ir-rapport, il-Gvern kien diġá ħa d-deċiżjoni politika favur l-inċinerazzjoni. Fil-fatt, fid-daħla għar-rapport il-Ministru Herrera jgħid li din id-deċiżjoni kuraġġjuża (bold decision) ittieħdet mill-Gvern f’Lulju 2017.

Jiġifieri r-rapport ma jweġibx il-mistoqsija dwar jekk għandniex immorru għall-inċinerazzjoni: jiffoka dwar kif dan jista’ u għandu jsir.

Ma hemm l-ebda dubju li teżisti t-teknoloġija li tagħmilha possibli li l-impatti tal-inċinerazzjoni jkunu l-minimu possibli . Il-punt, imma, mhux dwar jekk l-inċinerazzjoni hiex possibli li ssir imma jekk hix l-għażla meħtieġa. Fl-opinjoni tiegħi mhix għażla addattata, imma l-alternattivi għaliha jeħtieġu ż-żmien biex ikunu żviluppati. Sfortunatament nafu li tul is-snin ma kien hemm l-ebda volontá politika biex dawn l-alternattivi jkunu żviluppati u jitħallew jaħdmu sewwa.

Il-Pjan għall-Immaniġjar tal-Iskart tal-gżejjer Maltin kien aġġornat fl-2014: dakinhar kien żviluppat pjan biex jitwettaq fuq medda ta’ sitt snin. Dan il-pjan tal-2014 jidentifika l-mod kif għandna nimmaniġjaw l-iskart li niġġeneraw. Fil-fatt jemfasizza li t-triq li għandna nimxu fiha hi dik li nieħdu ħsieb tar-riżorsi. Dan ifisser li l-pajjiż għandu jiffoka biex jirkupra r-riżorsi u mhux jiddistruġġihom biex jiġġenera l-enerġija minnhom. Għandna nżommu f’moħħna li l-enerġija meħtieġa biex dawn ir-riżorsi jinħadmu tiżboq bil-kbir l-enerġija ġġenerata meta dawn jinħarqu. Dan hu dokumentat fi studji li saru u jkunu aġġornati kontinwament.

Meta neżaminaw dan il-pjan li kien approvat mill-amministrazzjoni preżenti, imkien ma nsibu emfasi fuq l-inċinerazzjoni. Pjuttost li hemm emfasi fuq is-separazzjoni tal-iskart, r-riċiklaġġ u diversi miri dwar dan li jridu jintlaħqu. Flimkien ma dan hemm il-mira identifikata mill-Gvern li sas-sena 2050 l-ebda skart ma jintrema iktar fil-miżbliet. Is-sena 2050 hi s-sena ta’ skart żero.

Il-mistoqsija waħidha tiġi: x’mar ħażin bejn l-2014 (meta tfassal il-pjan u ġew identifikati l-miri) u l-2017 meta ittieħdet id-deċiżjoni favur l-inċinerazzjoni? It-tweġiba ċara hi li l-Wasteserve ma kienitx kapaċi tilħaq il-miri u bħala riżultat ta’ dan marret għas-soluzzjoni l-faċli: l-inċinerazzjoni. X’utilitá hemm li nippubblikaw dawn l-istrateġiji jekk ma l-ewwel diffikultá inwarrbuhom u narmuhom?

Id-“deċiżjoni kuraġġuża” li jirreferi għaliha l-Ministru Herrera, l-inċinerazzjoni, hi riżultat ta’ ippjanar imgerfex, ippjanar mil-lum għal-ghada. Hu ovvju li l-ispażju għall-miżbliet huwa limitat. Imma s-soluzzjonijiet prattiċi u realistiċi, imfassla b’mod ċar fil-Pjan għall-Immaniġjar tal-Iskart ġew injorati tul is-snin. L-għażla reali, la kienet u l-anqas ma hi, bejn iktar miżbliet u l-inċinerazzjoni, imma dwar kemm aħna kapaċi nilħqu l-miri tagħna stess dwar ir-riċiklaġġ u t-tnaqqis tal-iskart. Meta l-pjan dwar l-immaniġjar tal-iskart kien imfassal kien meqjus bħala l-għodda addattata biex nimmaniġjaw ir-riżorsi. Dan kollu in konsistenza mal-politika tal-Unjoni Ewropea dwar l-iskart, ir-riżorsi, l-ekonomija ċirkulari u dokumenti politiċi oħra tal-Kummissjoni Ewropea.

Mir-rapport tekniku li ppubblika l-Ministru Josè Herrera hu ċar li flimkien mal-inċinerazzjoni ser ikun hemm bżonn ukoll ta’ “kampanja aggressiva biex ikunu indirizzati l-miri ta’ riċiklaġġ stabiliti fid-Direttivi diversi tal-UE kif ukoll fil-Pjan għall-Imanigġjar tal-iskart tal-Gżejjer Maltin.” Din hi konferma bil-miktub li l-inċinerazzjoni hi l-prezz li rridu nħallsu għall-inkompetenza akkumulata fl-immaniġjar tal-iskart fil-gżejjer tagħna.

Imma minn dak li smajna fil-Parlament matul il-ġimgħa li għaddiet jidher li tul is-snin, il-Ministeru tal-Ambjent iktar kien interessat fl-impiegi ġġenerati mill-Wasteserve milli li jkunu onorati l-miri tar-riċiklaġġ. L-emails li ġemmgħet il-Wasteserve qieshom jindikaw li dan hu l-iktar importanti fost il-ħidmiet tagħha!

Ovvjament dejjem hemm l-inċinerazzjoni biex taħraq il-problemi akkumulati tal-iskart. Għax dik hi s-soluzzjoni l-faċli.

 

Ippubblikat f’Illum : Il-Ħadd 11 ta’ Marzu 2018

 

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Incineration: the accumulated cost of incompetence

Minister Josè Herrera, on behalf of the government, has recently published the Technical Report on the setting up of a Waste to Energy facility in Malta. Prior to the commissioning of the report, the government had already taken the political decision that it should go for incineration.

In fact, Minister Herrera states in the introduction to the report that the “bold decision” was taken by government in July 2017.

As a consequence, the published report addresses the “how” and not the “if” question on incineration.

There is no doubt that the technology exists to ensure that the direct impacts of the incineration of waste are reduced to a minimum. The point at issue is, however, not on its possibility but on whether it is the desired option – and in my opinion it is not.  However, unfortunately the alternatives to incineration take time to be developed and there has been no political will over the years to implement the realistic identified alternatives.

The Waste Management Plan for the Maltese Islands was updated in 2014 and a six year roadmap was then plotted. This 2014 roadmap identified the preferred waste management options. The sub-title of this Waste Management Plan was “A Resource Management Approach”, which signifies that Malta’s waste management options should be focused on recovering resources from waste and not on destroying them to recover energy. It should be borne in mind that the energy required to manufacture the resources gobbled up by an incinerator is substantially more than that released when they are burned.

Going through this plan, approved by the current administration, one does not find any particular emphasis on incineration. Instead, there is an emphasis on waste separation, recycling and the identification of the related targets, to the extent that the year 2050 was identified by the government as a target by which to achieve zero waste to landfill.

The question to ask is: what went wrong between 2014 (when the targets were identified) and 2017 when the decision to go for incineration was taken? The clear, unequivocal answer is that Wasteserve was not capable of implementing its targets, and, as a result went for the easy solution: incineration. What is the use of publishing strategies of this sort if, when the first difficulties are encountered, they are dumped?

The “bold decision” referred to by Minister Herrera – the adoption of the incineration option – is the result of  management-by-crisis in the waste sector. Obviously, there is little available space for more landfills. However, the only practical and realistic options detailed in the Waste Management Plan were not followed adequately over the years.

The real choice was never between landfill or incineration but on whether we are capable of meeting our own recycling and waste reduction targets. When the waste management plan was drawn up it was viewed as a tool to achieve resource management. This is in line with various EU policies on waste, resource management, circular economy, and various other policy documents issued by the EU Commission.

It is clear from perusing the Technical Report published by Minister Josè Herrera that the incineration options being adopted must be “carried out in parallel with an aggressive campaign to address the targets for recycling, established in various EU Directives and the Waste Management Plan for the Maltese islands.” This is a written confirmation that the incineration option is the cost of an accumulated incompetence in the management of waste in our islands.

From what we have heard in Parliament during the past week it seems that, over the years, the Environment Ministry has been more interested in the employment posts generated by Wasteserve than in honouring recycling targets. The accumulated emails at Wasteserve seem to indicate that this is part of its mission statement!

Of course there is always incineration to burn our accumulated waste problems! It is an easy way out.

Published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 11 March 2018

Managing our waste

bring-in site

Malta’s waste management strategy establishes the attainment of a zero waste target by the year 2050. An ambitious target, but also an achievable one.  How will we get there in thirty five years time?

The waste management strategy was updated in January 2014 through the publication of a waste management plan aptly subtitled ‘A resource management approach’. It has a seven-year lifespan (2014-2020).

Waste is considered a resource which should be utilised instead of being thrown away.  For this to be achieved, we need to change gear and shift from a linear to a circular economy.

In the linear economy, we consume (or use) a product and at the end of its useful life we throw it away. On the other hand, the circular economy functions such that a product (or its constituent parts), at the end of its useful life, remains in existence by being utilised to create another product.

In line with the EU waste hierarchy, Malta’s waste management strategy rightly places waste prevention as a first step.

Waste prevention, or waste minimisation, signifies the reduction of generated waste to a minimum.  Life cycle thinking is key to reducing waste throughout the useful life of a product. This is done when a product is still being designed. Applying eco-design weeds out the unnecessary constituent elements of a product. In addition, these constituent elements are also examined, such that it is ensured that none of them impede the eventual recycling at the end of the product’s useful life.

We can also minimise waste by ensuring that we purchase and use only that which is required in appropriate quantities. We can do this, for example, by using products in large sizes instead of similar multiple products in small sizes, as a result sending less packaging to waste.

The next level of the waste hierarchy is the recycling of products at the end of their useful life. We already recycle glass, metal, paper and plastics but we need to substantially improve our recycling performance as a nation. We need to acknowledge that we had a very late start in recycling. The first attempts at recycling were carried out in the mid-1990s under the watch of then Parliamentary Secretary Stanley Zammit. Unfortunately, Dr Zammit received very little support in his endeavours. 2013 statistics indicate that in Malta only six per cent of domestic waste is recycled, with another five per cent being composted. This 11 per cent of Malta’s domestic waste, which does not go to landfill, is in striking contrast to that for Germany (65%), Slovenia (61%), Austria (59%), Belgium (55%) and many other countries.

Statistics for 2014 and 2015 may eventually show a slight improvement, but we still have quite a long way to go.

Wasteserv will shortly be commencing a pilot project to collect organic waste separately from domestic households. Organic waste can be converted into energy. It can also be used to produce compost. In addition, if the collection of organic waste is carried out successfully from all households, it may reduce the contents of the black garbage bag by as much as 50%, signifying a substantial reduction of domestic waste going to landfill. (If catering establishments were to take similar initiatives, the achievable results would be much more significant.)

A proper implementation of rules regulating the waste arising from electric and electronic equipment should hopefully be in place in the coming weeks when responsibility for this waste stream is definitely transferred to the private sector in terms of the extended producer responsibility specified in the EU’s WEEE Directive (WEEE meaning waste from electric and electronic equipment).

It is also essential to address the operation of scrap yards, which are an affront to Malta’s environmental obligations. They are mostly an eyesore, generally a blot on the landscape, as well as being the cause of negative environmental impacts.

Recycling scrap metal (and other materials) is an important economic activity which ensures that resources originally extracted from the earth are kept in use and not discarded as waste. Recycling activity, if properly managed, is an important economic activity which is environmentally friendly.

Managing properly the waste which we generate reduces our environmental impacts and improves our quality of life. In addition, the employment opportunities created are an important source of green jobs.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 20 September 2015

Waste Management politics

scrapyard

“We encourage waste separation in localities. However we recognise that this is not enough. As a country we still lag behind and have failed to reach targets on packaging waste as well as waste generated by electrical and electronic equipment.

It is essential to address the operation of scrapyards. These process waste which is subject to at least three Directives of the EU, namely the WEEE Directive, the End of Life Vehicles Directive and the Batteries Directive. The manner in which scrapyards have been permitted to operate signifies a total disregard of the principles and safeguards listed in the said Directives. The fact that after more than eight years of EU membership we are still discussing these issues signifies the low level of preparedness to shoulder environmental responsibilities resulting from EU adhesion.” (AD’s Electoral Manifesto, pages 89-90, March 2013)

The existence of operational scrapyards is an affront to Malta’s environmental obligations.

In scrapyards one finds discarded vehicles and other objects made primarily of metal  beyond their useful life. There are a number of operational scrapyards in various areas in Malta.  A major one was closed by MEPA some years back in Birżebbuġa. This is now in the process of reopening as an up to standard End of Life Vehicle facility based in Ħal-Far. The relative planning and environmental applications have been processed by MEPA and Malta Enterprise and the facility should be operational in the not too distant future.  There are other scrapyards (large and small) in various parts of the island. They are mostly an eyesore, generally a blot on the landscape as well as being the cause of negative environmental impacts.

Recycling scrap metal (and other materials) is an important economic activity which ensures that resources originally  extracted from the earth are kept in use and not discarded as waste. Recycling activity if properly managed is an important economic activity which is environmentally friendly. Employment created in this type of activity is an important source of green jobs.

Vehicles and equipment beyond its useful life cannot be disposed of haphazardly. Three specific EU Directives,  namely the End of Life Vehicle Directive (ELV), the Batteries Directive and the Waste from Electric and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE) establish  the responsibilities of EU member states to regulate in detail these specific waste streams.  The objective is to recover metals and other materials which would otherwise go to waste. Their recovery should however be carried out in an environmental friendly manner.

Each and every part of a vehicle or a piece of equipment should be dismantled with particular care being given to the collection of fluids and gases. No such care is afforded in scrapyards.

Similarly it is to be pointed out that the electric and electronic waste directive (WEEE) is not being properly implemented in Malta. This is due to the fact that there is a conflict between the responsibilities spelt out in the Directive and the eco-contribution charged in Malta on electric, electronic and white goods.

The WEEE Directive spells out and applies the responsibility of producers for disposing of the electric and electornic waste generated by their products. It does so to encourage producers to put on the market products which are easily recoverable and which can be recycled without much difficulty and expense. The recovery from consumers of electric/electronic products and white goods beyond their useful life can be carried out an at expense which in terms of the WEEE Directive is to be added to the purchase price. But the situation in Malta is such that the cost of processing the waste generated by electric/electronic products and white goods is already quantified as an eco-contribution. This was fairplay when there was no WEEE Directve in operation. But now producers would have to pay twice for the same service. They pay an eco-contribution on placing the product on the market and then they must pay once more to honour their WEEE committments.

In view of the above the WEEE Directive has not yet been properly implemented in Malta.

It is about time that we get our house in order. The politics of waste is a very important matter which has not yet been given sufficient thought.  Except that is for the siting of waste management faciltiies, which seems to be the only waste issue which has interested the public in recent years.

The Issues Paper published recently by Minister Leo Brincat makes scant reference to the above. Maybe this is because it is a preliminary document preceeeding the actual Waste Management Plan for 2014-20.

A structured discussion on waste policy will certainly be of help. Having a multitiude of public consultation exercises by the different Ministries launched during the summer period is not  good practice. It is an old trick played by those who want to  nominally honour their obligations to consult.  Hopefully when the actual draft Waste Management  Plan 2014-20 is available for consultation we will have ample time to discuss.

published in The Times of Malta, Saturday August 31, 2013