Lost without rubbish skips in Valletta

What you don’t imagine is people not actually doing what you ask them to do, leaving their garbage at night in the open air, attracting all sorts of animals and insects to their not-so-fresh contents anymore.

16 September 2016, 10:59am
Garbage in Valletta's Republic Street (Photo: Chris Mangion)
Garbage in Valletta's Republic Street (Photo: Chris Mangion)
Dear Mayor: Imagine a Knight’s city. Imagine Valletta. Imagine its streets all perfectly proportionate and meeting each other at ninety degrees. Now imagine the people living in it - someone frying an egg; another cutting his hair in front of the mirror; others chatting away, and still others throwing their garbage in the skip.

Now imagine there is no skip anymore and all of a sudden you decide that people are going to start leaving their waste in front of their doorsteps between 1 and 3pm every day. Imagine that they obey you and they do all that, even if they have a full-time job elsewhere and what you are trying to imagine is an oxymoron, but let’s say that it happens. You have imagined it so it can happen as a possibility out of infinite possibilities.

Then what happens? The garbage collector will pick the garbage up, load it into his truck and leave. Valletta is finally empty of the day-to-day rubbish thanks to your imagination.

Because that is what it is: a fantasy in your head! What you don’t imagine is people not actually doing what you ask them to do, leaving their garbage at night in the open air, attracting all sorts of animals and insects to their not-so-fresh contents anymore.

Now imagine the reality. People are people. They are statistics. They are measurable and so is their rubbish. If you expect everyone to do as you imagined then you need to provide tools for unexpected consequences.

Skips in Valletta were useful for two reasons. They catered for “noctambules” who were not home between 1 and 3 pm, and for the unexpected too. What is the unexpected? Basically everything that you cannot imagine. A guy walking his dog at midnight and having to make use of a skip for obvious reasons, or a party with friends, where you might want to throw the garbage and percolate of alcohol into a skip rather than letting it sit in your kitchen waiting for cockroaches and rats to continue the party themselves.

What I am basically trying to say is that skips were invented for a reason. If you think you can do away with them then you need to provide for either a very good reason or an alternative frame of reference with which to measure our lives. Or simply give us the capacity to produce less waste. Give us a tiny mini skip that we can leave outside our doors at night and that no one has interest in stealing. Teach us not to steal. Provide for a better education. Give us some time at least!

We are lost without our skips. If you want to change our mentality, how we look at garbage and waste and the environment, then start by educating us to this process. You cannot change people’s mentality overnight. Imagining is a very powerful tool but we need to work in a pragmatic way. Otherwise what we imagine will hang there as an indefinite dream, a possibility on other possibilities, and in the meantime practices will not change, and the waste will still sit there, with or without a skip.

Abner Fabbro,

Via email