Low recycling rates forced decision for bigger incinerator at Magħtab

Smaller incinerator would only have been possible if Malta increased recycling rates to 55% in 2025, from the current 12%

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 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.

A technical feasibility study reveals that a smaller incinerator, fed by an annual 120,000 metric tons of waste, would only have been possible if Malta could increase recycling rates to 55% in 2025, from the current 12%.

Instead Malta had to opt for a larger incinerator fed 192,000 tons of waste in 2024, the first year of operation.

The incinerator will combust a diverse range of non-hazardous wastes that includes mixed, bulky, wood and waste derived from street sweepings.

Environmentalists fear that incinerators require a constant supply of waste, which serves to discourage recycling. But the Environment Impact Assessment’s study concludes that Malta’s option will still permit the amount of incinerated waste to be reduced in the next years.

The report says that the 192,000 tons per year figure is still 42,000 less than the total tonnage currently available for incineration. This means Malta would have to substantially increase its recycling rate by 2024 from the current 12%.

A smaller incinerator was discarded to give the country more time to adjust to recycling targets and ensure the plant keeps functioning at all times. The EIA said a smaller plant would not allow sufficient time for the island to “acclimatize to stricter waste recycling targets and assumes that the island will face no challenges in the adoption of these targets”.

Had this option been chosen “the facility would be too small to cope with the projected demands at first year of operation”. Operational requirements for just a single feedstock line of waste – instead of the two lines in the preferred option – were also considered too rigid, preventing the plant’s constant functioning if a shutdown or maintenance period forces a shift to just one feedstock.

In turn this would have led to the stockpiling of waste during such periods, at the risk that storage demands would have exceeded the space that is available on site, leaving no other option but to divert the waste feedstock to landfill.

Also discarded was the option of a larger incinerator taking 240,000 metric tons of waste, which is equivalent of the total amount of waste in Malta not recycled in 2018. Such a strategy was considered as short-sighted and unsustainable because it would not have encouraged improved recycling efforts”.

The middle-of-the-road option was chosen as it provides a high degree of operational flexibility to cope with the reduction of waste influxes while Malta improves recycling efforts.

The EIA envisages reductions in waste throughput beyond 2024 to meet EU Circular Economy requirements by 2030 and 2035 “as efforts on recycling and reduction on landfilling rates are expected to continue to improve”.

But the more waste is recycled, the less energy will be produced by the incinerator: when the facility is processing the highest volumes of waste, it will generate between 129.3 Gigawatt hours and 91.8GWh/a net power depending on the level of recycling taking place, which amounts to 4.5% of Malta’s energy consumption.

But from 2037 onwards, waste recycling is expected to improve considerably, stabilising the waste throughputs into the plant, resulting in a consistent net power production of 73.3GWh/a.

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