Filthy neighbourhoods, a deficient waste collection system and litter louts

Malta has become filthy and the laissez faire attitude shown by the authorities only encourages irresponsible litter louts to continue doing as they please

When the new nationwide waste collection system was introduced in January 2023, the aim behind it was to have a uniform system across all localities. 

This was a positive development because it removed the anomalies between the different localities related to which waste bag is collected on which day. 

Having one system everywhere means that when people living in rented apartments – mostly foreigners – move from one locality to another they will not have to learn the new waste collection system of their new place of living. 

But the new system also reduced the waste collection frequency of recyclables (to once a week from twice) and mixed waste (to twice a week from three times). 

Six months later, it appears that the reduced frequency for the door-to-door collection of recyclables and mixed waste has led to mounds of rubbish bags gathering in the streets or near bring-in sites, as people have no space at home to keep full bags of waste stored until the next round of collections. 

The original aim behind the reduced frequency was to force people to produce fewer waste – whether recyclable or mixed. Unfortunately, reducing packaging waste is not something single households can do. Reducing packaging waste is something producers and manufacturers have to do. 

What households can do – and are doing – is to separate waste diligently to ensure that recyclable material and organic waste do not enter the black bag. 

This does not reduce the overall waste generated by a household but rather shifts the waste stream from the black bag to the grey bag, which is now only collected once a week, and the white bag, collected three times a week. 

With limited space at home, many households are being forced to illegally take out the black and grey bags onto the pavement on days other than those dedicated for their collection. 

This situation is leading to wrong bags being left outside for days, creating shabby environments in many neighbourhoods across the country. This is most evident in those localities where apartments are prevalent. 

This leader believes the frequency by which black and grey bags are collected should increase as part of a national effort to clean up the country. 

Furthermore, bring-in sites must be regularly cleared by waste collectors to avoid overflowing bins developing into mini dump sites. CCTV cameras should be installed at all bring-in sites to ensure they are used properly and perpetrators who leave rubbish near the skips or dump material that is not supposed to be deposited there should be fined heavily. 

A third improvement in the waste collection strategy should be an increase in the number of community reverse deposit machines to cut down on the queues that have become a permanent feature in several localities. 

The amount of plastic beverage bottles that has been collected since the launch of the scheme is impressive but the system must improve to make the exercise less stressful for consumers. More mass deposit machines must be installed and the areas monitored by CCTV to avoid litter louts. 

On a more strategic level, the government must review whether the coordination of waste collection on a regional basis has resulted in a more efficient system. 

While regional contracts may make financial sense because they create critical mass and expenses are spread over a wider geographical area, they have left residents with no focal point for complaints. 

Local councils, which serve as the first port of call (after Facebook) for resident complaints, now have a limited say on the operations of waste contractors employed on a regional basis. 

This anomaly has to be fixed either by reverting to waste collection being the sole responsibility of the individual councils or ensure a helpline is in place when residents call in to complain because waste has been left to deteriorate on their street for hours. Such a helpline should then translate into immediate action to have the waste cleared. 

On another level, a major problem is waste collection for commercial establishments. These should not be using the free service in place for households and yet, they still put out mounds of bags to be mixed with the household waste stream. 

Commercial establishments should have their own organised system of waste collection but if they are to be serviced with the same household waste system, a waste collection tax should be levied on all businesses to part fund the higher expense. 

Malta has become filthy and the laissez faire attitude shown by the authorities only encourages irresponsible litter louts to continue doing as they please. Better enforcement is required in this regard. 

But tackling the pitfalls within the waste collection system will also make it easier for responsible citizens to adhere to their obligations. It could also be the first step in making our neighbourhoods less filthy. 

The country’s streets, promenades, squares and open spaces need a general clean up that is sustained on a regular basis and this should not be done simply for the tourists who visit us but for us who live and work permanently on these islands.