Incineration a step forward, but waste reduction should be priority – NGOs

Graffitti, FOE Malta say incineration has to be accompanied by a bolder waste reduction strategy based on polluter-pays principle

The Magħtab waste complex will centralise all waste treatment facilities according to plans outlined by the government
The Magħtab waste complex will centralise all waste treatment facilities according to plans outlined by the government

The development of a waste-to-energy plant is a better solution than landfilling, but incineration cannot be considered an eco-friendly solution, Moviment Graffitti and Friends of the Earth have said in a statement calling for a bolder waste reduction strategy.

The NGOs were reacting to the proposed development of an incinerator at Maghtab which is expected to take a projected 192,000 metric tons of mixed waste.

“Although incineration is a huge step forward when compared to landfilling, especially on a small island like Malta, it should not be seen the ultimate green solution. Even though incineration is presented in the EU plan as a possible solution, it remains a polluting process that would lead to considerable emission of greenhouse gases,” Christine Cassar from Moviment Graffitti said.

The NGOs are proposing a polluter-pays principle for businesses that put products on the market packaged in non-recyclable material, and disincentives for businesses selling products with secondary and tertiary packaging, while providing financial incentives for businesses that generate little waste, use a circular economy model in their enterprise, or offer packaging-free products to consumers.

The two NGOs augured that the development of the plant will not accommodate laissez-faire attitudes  and has to be accompanied by awareness raising on reduction of waste to reinforce moves towards a zero-waste situation. “Reducing the use of materials and resources is crucial to ensure a sustainable use of our planet’s limited resources,” Cassar said.

Friends of the Earth Malta and Moviment Graffitti have submitted a joint recommendation on the construction of a Waste to Energy (WtE) Plant at Magħtab as part of government’s consultation process.

The NGOs are calling for more research on various aspects of the project including the feedstock, cooling system, incinerating capacity and environmental impact and pollution.

The document proposes a raft of recommendations linked to waste prevention, a more ambitious focus on the circular economy, improving the recycling process, measures to put in place when designing and constructing the facility and other mitigation measures.

Martin Galea De Giovanni chairperson of Friends of the Earth Malta highlighted the role of environmental organisations in consistently highlighting the importance of waste reduction “as the first and foremost measure to manage Malta’s waste.”

The generation of waste has increased by 18% in 3 years rising from circa 245,000 tonnes in 2014, to 290,000 tonnes in 2017. Seeing as Malta has been struggling for a long time to manage its generated waste, it is fundamental to transition to a real circular economy.

The EIA studies reveal that the option for a smaller incinerator at Magħtab that could handle 120,000 metric tons instead of a projected 192,000 metric tons, had to be discarded because this required Malta’s full implementation of EU waste targets by 2024.