Did COVID-19 pandemic change waste habits in Maltese towns?

Sharp increase in separated organic waste in St Julian’s and Swieqi, but nationally mixed-waste bags increase by 2% and at a higher rate in large urban centres

In an indication of changing waste habits during the COVID-19 pandemic, residents in St Julian’s and Swieqi displayed greater dedication to waste separation.

According to data supplied to MaltaToday, more organic waste was disposed of in 2020 while domestic waste in black bags was reduced.

In contrast, in Valletta waste separated in organic bags decreased by a remarkable 62%.

Waste collection statistics for the three streams of domestic waste – organic, domestic, and recyclable – casts a light on the waste habits of the inhabitants of different towns and villages during the pandemic which saw both an increase in packaged food deliveries, and more time for people to dedicate for waste separation during the partial lockdown.

Globally, figures show slight changes in 2020 when compared to 2019 despite the sharp decrease in tourism and the closure of a number of establishments during part of the year. In fact, across Malta as a whole waste in black bags increased by 2% while waste deposited in organic bags decreased by 3%. Recyclable waste in grey bags also increased by 3%.

But an analysis of waste trends in Malta’s 10 largest urban centres shows remarkably different trends.

For example, residential centres with limited business and tourism activity and a rooted local community like Naxxar, Swieqi, Birkirkara and Mosta and to a lesser extent Qormi, recorded a decrease in mixed ‘black bag’ waste and an increase in the amount of organic waste separated by residents.

While in Qormi little change was registered over 2019, Mosta recorded a sharp decrease of 17% in black bag waste and a moderate 4% increase in organic waste separated in white bags. Similarly Naxxar recorded a 10% drop in mixed black bag waste, a 15% increase in organic waste but a 20% drop in packaging waste.

Birkirkara recorded a small increase in increase in both organic and packaging waste and a 12% drop in mixed black bag waste.

Among Malta’s 10 largest localities it is Swieqi which recorded the best waste separation trends, with mixed waste decreasing by 20% over 2019 and organic waste separated by residents increasing by 31%.

In contrast southern Malta’s largest town, Zabbar, recorded a sharp 20% increase in black bag waste and a 9% drop in organic waste. Similarly, neighbouring Marsaskala saw a 9% increase in black bag waste, a 13% increase of packaging waste, and a sharp 17% drop in organic waste.

Urban centres with a higher concentration of business, a larger foreign population and higher tourism like St Paul’s Bay and Sliema also recorded an increase in black bag waste of over 10%.

But while in St Paul’s Bay the amount of organic waste decreased by 6%, in Sliema the amount of organic waste collected increased by a remarkable 26% in an indication that residents spent more time separating their waste. Sliema also recorded a sharp 22% drop in packaging waste. Similarly San Gwann recorded a sharp 21% increase in black bag waste and a decrease of 11% in both organic and packaging waste.

The increase in mixed waste in these localities may reflect greater demand for food deliveries which comes in packaging which is often disposed in black bags due to the inconvenience of having to clean it up before disposing in grey bags.

An analysis of Wasteserv figures shows that relatively affluent localities like St Julian’s, Swieqi and Sliema along with Qrendi have registered the sharpest increase in the amount of organic waste ranging from a 26% increase in Sliema to a 54% increase in San Giljan.

By contrast the amount of organic waste deposited in white bags has decreased significantly in Valletta (-63%) and Msida (-32%) . But globally the amount of organic waste deposited has only decreased by 3% over 2019 figures.

As regards mixed waste deposited in black bags the sharpest increase was registered in Birzebbugia (+188%), Qrendi (+65%), Marsa (+59%) and Ta’ Xbiex (+48%). On the other hand the sharpest decrease in mixed waste was reported in Tarxien (-26%), Bormla (-25%) and Mellieha (-20%). Globally mixed waste increased by 2%.

The amount of packaging waste deposited in grey bags has also decreased by 3 percent globally. Zebbug in Gozo, which includes Marsalforn, has seen the sharpest increase in packaging waste (+139%).

In Malta the largest increase in packaging waste was registered in Marsaskala (+13%), Kirkop (+12%), and Zejtun (+12%). In contrast the amount of grey bag waste decreased mostly in the small Gozitan locality of San Lawrenz (-76%). In Malta the sharpest decrease in packaging waste was reported in Attard (-25%) and Sliema (-22%).

Changes in waste collection in Malta’s largest 10 towns 2019-2020 (%)

  Organic Packaging Black
St Paul's Bay -6 -1 +13
Birkirkara +1 +2 -12
Mosta +4 -2 -17
Sliema +26 -22 +12
Qormi +2 -3 -3
Zabbar -9 +1 +20
Naxxar +15 -20 -10
San Gwann +11 -11 +21
Marsakala -17 +13 +9
Swieqi +31 -8 -20

Organic waste collection 2019-2020 (%)

  Highest increase   Largest decrease
St Julian's 54% Valletta -62%
Swieqi 31% Msida -32%
Qrendi 27% Balzan -24%
Sliema 26% Marsa -23%
Ta Xbiex 25% Xgharjra -22%