Separate right, make our future bright: why recycling must be done smart

An astonishing 25% of the content collected for recycling consists of unsuitable items: the reality is that this impacts the entire recycling process, reducing speed and efficiency and potentially even jeopardising the feasibility of recycling

There is a battle afoot, one that may very well determine the future of our planet for generations to come. It is an epic struggle against a foe of such great magnitude, that, if left unchecked, might very well be humanity’s undoing — a threat that endangers not only our civilisation, but potentially the very fabric of life on Earth itself.

I am, of course, talking about the battle being waged against that most grievous of antagonists, Garbage Monster. Locked in a struggle against notable heroes General Buzz and Commander Yellow, this denizen of dumps encroaches on our natural environment, endangering wildlife and siphoning precious materials that might be used for the flying cars (hopefully) of the future.

...Okay, well maybe that was a bit dramatic — but not by much. Forgetting the anthropomorphic personifications for now, the fact is that we really are facing a difficult challenge when it comes to responsible disposal of household waste.

The Sant'Antnin Facility(Photo: DOI)
The Sant'Antnin Facility(Photo: DOI)

Maltese waste management company WasteServ estimates that an astonishing 25% of the content collected for recycling consists of unsuitable items. This may not sound particularly critical, but the reality is that this impacts the entire recycling process, reducing speed and efficiency and potentially even jeopardising the feasibility of recycling for the entire batch of submitted items.

Organic waste, glass, textiles, electronic waste, medical and sanitary waste and even DIY materials such as wood scraps, tiles and rubble are some of the most common items incorrectly placed in recycling bags. However, before we delve a little deeper into best practises for recycling, let us first take a brief look at the process itself, and how items left outside your door are managed by WasteServ.

Once a bag of recycling has been collected from outside a residency, it is transported first to the company’s leading facility in Marsaskala, where it is then sorted into categories including paper, cardboard, metal, clear plastic and coloured plastic. This is achieved by first loading the contents of each bag onto a conveyor belt, ready for sorting by a dedicated team of recycling specialists placed at key intervals along the production line. This is then processed accordingly, with each item separated according to its material composition, dropped into its appropriately designated chute and grouped with similar items in preparation for further use. Once sorted, these items are then baled and prepared for export and sale on local, European and extra-European international marketplaces, before being reused and transformed into new products.

Incorrect or unsuitable items submitted for recycling place additional strain on this process, inhibiting the work of staff and, in the worst-case scenario, contaminating other items that might otherwise be successfully recycled. A shortfall in recycling also withholds vital raw materials from global production chains, leading to increased scarcity and higher prices on consumer goods. Additionally, the serious and long-term impacts on the global ecosystem from unrecycled materials are both long-term and multifaceted, including contaminating soil and water sources, introducing contaminants such as microplastics to the food chain and poisoning land and marine life.

It is vitally important that we all do our part to reduce waste and promote sustainable management of used materials, with WasteServ’s waste separation guide providing useful information to help us all properly prepare items for recycling. We recommend reading this in full, but, for now, here are some of the more important points:

Organic waste, such as fruit and vegetable peelings, uneaten or unfinished food, bread, cooked meat (including bones), non-liquid dairy products, tea bags and coffee grounds should be placed in white, biodegradable organic bags, ready for collection on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. These bags may also include mouldy or expired food, as well as napkins soiled with food and small garden waste such as flowers (but excluding twigs).

Glass bottles and jars may be left for door-to-door collection (typically taking place once or twice per month), or, alternatively, taken to a Civic Amenity Site, Roadshow Truck, or one of the many iBins or Bring-in-Sites available across Malta and Gozo.

As discussed above, not all items are suitable for recycling, though this does not mean they should be disposed as general waste. Textiles such as clothes, bedsheets, curtains, shoes and bags in a suitable condition can be donated, taken to a Roadshow Truck or placed in a local Clothes Bank.

Electronic waste (classified as any item with a plug, or those that require batteries or charging) should be taken to one of WasteServ’s Civic Amenity Sites, with larger items (such as fridges, ovens and washing machines) qualifying for local council bulk refuse collection. Common examples of electronic waste include hairdryers, electric toothbrushes, shavers, phones and cameras.

It is important that medical waste, including unwanted or expired medicine, inhalers and medicinal creams, be taken to an authorised pharmacy where special bins designed for disposal of these items are available. The list of pharmacies offering this service may be found on WasteServ website. Syringes and EpiPen devices, however, must be placed in specially-designed ‘sharps’ disposal containers and taken to a Civic Amenity Site. Sanitary waste such as cosmetics, personal hygiene products, face masks and nappies should be disposed of in black bags, as must tablet and capsule packaging.

For the home-improvers out there, it should be noted that DIY materials such as building rubble, plasterboard, tiles and scraps of wood left over from renovation projects should be taken to a Civic Amenity Site. 

Recycling is important both for Malta and the planet in general, and paying attention to these relatively small considerations stands to make a significant and lasting positive impact on our national efforts to responsibly and ecologically dispose of household waste. So, to revisit our cartoon compatriots, let’s all do our part to help General Buzz and Commander Yellow in their fight against the dreaded Garbage Monster, and, more seriously, aim to cut down on waste in pursuit of a greener, cleaner and more cost-efficient future.

To find out more about WasteServ’s work visit their website, and be sure to check out their waste separation guide mentioned above.