Wasting time on burning waste

Wasteserv is hardly the entity to do it: politicians seem to have decided that it exists to give voters a government job for doing next to nothing

When I wrote about my reaction to the last budget, just before a very horrible event overwhelmingly took over all the media and more, I had pointed out that the budget did not look deep enough into the future: a future where the country will have to face what I called the three Rs – Recycling, Rents and Railway.

Since then we have learnt a lot about a white paper being prepared about rents and now we are to understand that government intends to resort to incineration to produce electricity and get rid of some of our waste.

Last Sunday we had the PN weekly il-mument decrying a new ‘cancer factory’, a speculative and amateurish story based on the assumption that incinerating plastic will undoubtedly produce harmful emissions; while the Labour Party’s ‘Kulhadd’ spread the good news about how incineration is this government’s reply to ‘solve’ – harmlessly – the country’s waste problem.

One has to consider the allegation that the proposed incinerator will produce carcinogenic emissions, as utter rubbish – perhaps a childish ‘tit for tat’ for the equally rubbishy allegation that the Delimara power station that ran on Heavy Fuel Oil produced carcinogenic emissions. Both observe – or will observe – the EU emissions directive, anyway.

The two stories followed the publication last month of a technical report on the setting up of a waste-to-energy facility in Malta by the Ministry for the Environment, Sustainable development and Climate Change.

Going through the report, one finds that we have had three studies about our waste probems made under different adminsitrations that actually reached very similar conclusions.

The first technical report on waste-to-energy in Malta was drawn up under a PN government in 2008, ten years ago, by Austrian consultants and was mainly financed by the EU. This report depicted three scenarios: one suggested bioligical treatment and thermal treatment using Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) to produce energy; another suggested a thermal treatment plant using a grate firing system and the third option was the export of RDF.

The third option was an expensive non-starter. In fact, the grate firing incineration was the most common, tried and tested process and did not require a homogenous feed. Therefore, it seemed the best solution for Malta.

Not to be outdone, the Joseph Muscat administration commissioned another EU funded study carried out by SLR Consulting Ltd that were chosen to provide technical asistance regarding the setting up of a waste-to-energy facility. The study established a lot of technical information and data that was missing in the first study but did not change any of its recommendations.

A third study was then carried out by the EU’s Joint Assistance to Support Programmes in European Regions (JASPER). In the meantime, the EU had issued a waste-to-energy communication that somehow altered the goalposts, declaring 2030 targets for waste as 65% reycling and 35% waste to energy.

An incinerator producing 40 megawatts of electricity from waste was deemed the best solution. 25% of the cost of such an incinerator, by the way, is taken up by its air-cleaning system.

The country must wait at least another five years to have such an incinerator up and running. The environmental permitting procedure is not overcome overnight and some two years are needed to give the green light for the building of the incinerator to be possible.

There is a silver lining in the delay for the decision to be taken: the increase in recycling targets along the years has led to the smallest waste-to-energy plant possible.

Frankly, there is no viable alternative. Landfills are eating up 50,000 sq. metres of ODZ land every ten years... while environmental NGOs do not seem to have noticed!

Decisions on how the project is to be carried out – and financed – have not yet been taken. This is where the Opposition should have a monitoring role and use its political clout, of course.

Wasteserv is hardly the entity to do it: politicians seem to have decided that it exists to give voters a government job for doing next to nothing.

A shake-up of Wasteserv is urgently needed and also giving it the responsibiltiy of building and running a waste-to-energy facility would be utter madness.

Parliamentary cuisine

You cannot call anyone a pastizz (or a gbejna for that matter) but it is all right to describe an MP’s decisions or actions as a qassata or a froga

An argument ensued recently in the House of Representatives after Marlene Farrugia called Parliamentary Secretary Clint Camilleri a ġbejna (cheeselet). Calling each other names in Parliament is not on and the history of Parliamentary debates includes an unending number of incidents when insults were traded and whoever it was had to apologise and withdraw whatever they said.

To my mind there is a golden rule about culinary delicacies being used as metaphors in the House. One must make a difference between persons and their actions. So, you cannot call anyone a pastizz (or a ġbejna for that matter) but it is all right to describe an MP’s decisions or actions as a qassata or a froġa. You can even say that some Minister made a kawlata, or even a balbuljata, of course... as well as alleging that the Hon. Member found the żbiba at the tip of the mazzita.

In Westminister, there is a strict code on how MPs address and refer to each other. For example, it is all right to accuse British Prime Minister, Theresa May, of ‘cherry picking’ in her Brexit efforts, but no one should call her anything other than the Prime Minister or the Honourable member for the constituency where she gets elected. I was once present in the Strangers’ Gallery of the House of Commons and the Speaker reprimanded an Opposition MP for referring to then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, as ‘that lady in blue’.

In Malta, we have deviated a bit from this strict rule. In my twenty years in the House of Representatives I recall hearing such terms of endearment as Melha, Kiesaħ, Beżaqlu, Ħmieġ, and whatever – with the Speaker having to reprimand whoever used this type of word to address a fellow MP.

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