Sociologist from Malta

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Magħtab and Beyond - Michael Briguglio

Photo by James Bianchi

Malta Today 12th September 2018

Whatever the cause of the recent Maghtab fire, Government should have issued an immediate bulletin to explain details, risks and required action based on knowledge in hand. Like last year, when a similar incident took place at the Waste Separation facility at Marsaskala, it did not.

On the other hand, the Civil Protection Department was efficient and timely in carrying out its duties, and we should all be grateful to its workers.

Environment Minister Josè Herrera did address a press conference some hours after news of the fire broke out, but I do not think that he put people’s mind at rest on Malta’s waste management operations. We already are European laggards on waste recycling and quality of air: civic-minded people need to know whether their participation in recycling schemes is fruitful or not.

People also need to know the state of play of the Waste Separation Plant at Marsaskala and the results of the internal inquiry which are in the possession of Minister Herrera.

Taxpayers should be informed about the duties assigned to complement around 80 workers who were employed by Wasteserv after the Marsaskala fires and before the 2017 general elections, and we also should be informed whether all experts and professionals at Wasteserv are being employed to the best of their abilities.

Another question which people are asking is whether Malta’s current economic model based on the importation of thousands of workers is based on sustainable planning, given the countries infrastructural challenges. Is Malta equipped to cater for a hefty increase in waste, for example?

As regards the Maghtab fire, can the Ministry for the Environment provide scientific evidence that the waste in question was really refuse-derived fuel and whether its storage was in accordance with EU standards?

Minister Herrera said that Malta would have been spared from such a fire had an incinerator been in place. This merits another question: Can Government be trusted to manage an incinerator given the mismanagement at Marsaskala and Maghtab?

Can Government also explain why it is consistently ignoring the concerns of local councils near Maghtab, and can it publish minutes of meetings that led to its decision to resort to incineration for 40 per cent of Malta’s waste? Incidentally, it is interesting that Government announced the incineration policy after the 2017 general election and declared that it will be ready in 2023, hence after, and not before the next general election.

It is a pity that following Malta’s EU accession in 2004 the country was generally improving its waste management policies through recycling and engineered landfilling, although it had new challenges such as the influx of plastic bottles. A green leaders’ scheme was introduced in the public sector to encourage better practices.

What we now have in place is a top-down system that lacks transparency, that ignores local councils and that contradicts its own rhetoric in the circular economy. Suffice to say that construction waste – which accounts for around 85 per cent of waste in the islands – is not re-used, and business waste is largely unaccounted for.

Should government want to combat scepticism on its waste management policies, it should be more forthcoming in the provision of information and it should consider local councils and civil society as partners rather than adversaries. Many people are willing to contribute to protect Malta’s environment. They deserve efficient and transparent management systems.

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