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Only 6% of Malta’s municipal waste is being recycled

Malta is lagging behind EU waste recovery targets

James Debono
26 October 2016, 9:28am
Although progress was registered in the recovery of packaging waste, Malta still lags behind EU targets
Although progress was registered in the recovery of packaging waste, Malta still lags behind EU targets
With a target to recycle 50% of its municipal waste within three years’ time, Malta has managed to recycle only 5.68% of this waste in 2014. 

And the percentage of recycled waste has declined from 8.1% in 2012 to 6.8% in 2013 and to 5.7% in 2014, data given to MaltaToday shows.

The “phenomenal” increase in tourism and Malta’s economic growth – a spokesperson for the Environment and Resources Authority said – were resulting in the creation of new waste streams. “The national challenge now is to implement the best strategies as already defined by the national Waste Management Plan to uncouple these positive driving factors from waste generation,” the ERA said.

But Mario Schembri, chief executive of the GreenPak waste recovery scheme, laments that there is “too much fragmentation” in the industry.

“Knee-jerk actions have plagued the sector for more than a decade… All of this hotchpotch is further muddled by the contrasting extremes of having on the one-hand multiple ministries and government agencies, that have unrestricted access on how or where they can operate; and on the other hand a myriad collection of private sector players trying to exist on the remaining scraps.

“The fragmentation in the sector has become so widespread that unless a serious effort is made to curb it, the end results will continue to remain as dismal as they are now – if they do not worsen.”

Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) consists of four main streams, namely packaging, paper, biodegradable municipal waste, and other forms of waste discarded in black bags.

Although progress was registered in the recovery of packaging waste, which uses companies like GreenPak to collect the packaging it puts on the market, Malta still lags behind EU targets.

Printed material and junk mail also constitute a huge portion by weight of municipal solid waste, which is not recycled. 

Biodegradable organic waste such as food leftovers, is another major source of unrecycled waste. 

All other waste discarded in black bags – which is not separated – goes straight to the landfill. And in 2014 79% of all municipal waste was landfilled, down from 82% in 2013. In the same year 41% of all land-filled waste consisted of municipal waste. 

Mario Schembri, chief executive of the GreenPak waste recovery scheme, laments that there is “too much fragmentation” in the industry
Mario Schembri, chief executive of the GreenPak waste recovery scheme, laments that there is “too much fragmentation” in the industry
Packaging: New 75% target looms

Malta fares better in recovering packaging waste because producers of this waste are directly responsible for collecting it.

But even in this sector Malta lags behind EU targets. Eurostat data shows Malta recovered 41.3% of packaging waster in 2014, but recycled 41.1% when it should be recovering 60% and recycling 55%. In 2030, recycling targets will be 75%. “We are not reaching existing targets, let alone higher targets of a few years’ time,” Mario Schembri said.

The net effect of not recycling means Malta has to opt for quick-fix solutions such as incineration.

In 2015 GreenPak claims to have recovered 11,300 tonnes of waste, 11,100 tonnes of which was recycled – a total of 64% of the waste produced by the companies which have joined the scheme. While GreenPak – a cooperative owned by over 1,400 companies – was forthcoming in providing answers, no replies were forthcoming from GreenMT, the other packaging waste company which is owned by the GRTU, the Chamber of SMEs.

According to an annual report presented by GreenMT to the Planning Authority in 2014, its scheme recovered 9,369 tonnes out of 18,563 tonnes produced by its members (51%), compared to GreenPak’s 56% recovering rate (10,090 of the 17,885 tonnes produced by its members).

Competition or fragmentation?

GreenPak CEO Mario Schembri thinks it is high time for setting up one national waste recovery scheme.

While acknowledging the benefits of an open market, Schembri said that in the waste sector an EPR scheme operated on a not-for-profit basis is a better example of the ideal scenario.

As a cooperative society owned by the very companies for whom it provides the service, GreenPak’s ‘buyer’ and ‘seller’ are the same person. “As owners of the scheme, companies have a direct say on the costs, can influence its business strategy and have total visibility on its operations. There are no other better incentives than these,” says Mario Schembri.

“A sole national waste recovery scheme run on this basis, would be of benefit to consumers, companies and the government since it would be able to offer better services, cheaper operating costs and a totally transparent system”. 

No carrot, no stick

Now that eco-contributions – an environmental tax on packaging waste paid by companies – are being scrapped, Schembri has misgivings about the change in policy. “It leaves a gap in waste recovery since the dismantling process is not tying the collection and recycling of household packaging waste, to producer responsibility.”

One problem faced by waste recovery schemes is that they are currently also taking upon themselves the cost of waste disposed by global companies such as Amazon, which create waste in Malta without paying for its recovery.

This is because these companies are not held under Maltese law accountable for their waste. “If consumers put such packaging in the green bag or in the bring-in sites, the packaging is recycled too. In this case, the recycling is being done at the expense of local importers who are paying for the service, such as that provided by GreenPak,” Schembri said.

Who is responsible for packaging waste in Malta?

Packaging waste disposed of in green bags or bring in sites is sent for recycling either in Malta or abroad.

Companies whose trade generates waste are responsible for collecting and recycling this waste. This is called Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), which allows companies to join schemes like GreenPak and GreenMT to recover the waste on their behalf. Both are contracted out by Malta’s 68 local councils.

GreenPak currently is responsible for the recovery of waste from 40 councils covering 71% of the population. The five leading companies participating in the scheme include Malta Dairy Products, Lidl, P. Cutajar, VJ Salomone Marketing, Forestals, and part of the Farsons Group, which is a member of both schemes.

James Debono is MaltaToday's chief reporter on environment, planning and land use issues, ...
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