Make repairs great again… a new agency kick-starts the ‘circular’ revolution

Can the new Resource, Recovery and Recycling Agency challenge the consumerist mentality and generation of waste from discarded consumer goods?

Let me fix that... repairing can become a political act by ensuring goods have a longer life and are not disposed of instantly
Let me fix that... repairing can become a political act by ensuring goods have a longer life and are not disposed of instantly

At the Friends of the Earth Malta’s ‘zero waste camp’ in May, six industrious volunteers set up shop to perform a ‘forgotten’ craft: repairing broken goods. Four stations dedicated themselves to the mending of clothes, quick bicycle fixes, upcycling of unwanted goods, and electronic consumer goods.

“Repairing has become a political act,” said FOE at their repair café. For it is not just a throwaway culture that generates so much electronic and plastic waste. “Manufacturers are persistently discouraging repairs to take place,” they said, taking the example of how a bread-making machine gets manufactured in such a way as to make its repair impossible, diminishing the power of consumers to repair and making disposal and replacement the only option.

Now, a new government agency is hoping it can sow the seeds of a small revolution, by fostering new initiatives aimed at reducing waste generation and promote the much-needed circular economy: a system underpinned not just by renewable energy, but also by making our consumer patterns more resilient to wastage and unsustainability.

The new Resource, Recovery and Recycling Agency will be responsible to push forward better waste recycling practices, lengthening product lifecyles, create secondary markets for end-of-life goods, and promote the eco-design of products to increase their durability, repairability and upgradability.

As Marc Muscat, a former Water Services Corporation chief executive who now serves as advisor to the environment minister says, it is about fostering a “culture change”.

“With cheap consumer goods and their widespread availability, we are creating consumer habits that allows us to dispose of these goods simply because they are easily replaceable,” Muscat says, suggesting the need to rekindle time-tested habits to take broken items for mending, rather than just being discarded and replaced.

“When was the last time you took your torn shoes to a shoemaker?” he says, painting a picture of the dinky village repair shop with their overpowering smell of leather, almost redolent of a bygone era of sustainability. 

“Even the EU wants to push a drive towards the manufacture of goods that must be repairable, rather than just be made instantly disposable. And the message we will seek to convey is for consumers to keep products for longer, to repair them, or to give them away for their re-use, perhaps through digital platforms that allow this kind of sharing.”

But it is certainly a challenge in a world where supermarkets purvey the most basic of electronic consumer goods at competitive prices.

“This is only the start… if we are to create a platform that challenges or influences the consumerist mentality, we are hoping for results that will manifest in the years to come.”

The RRR Agency is one of two new agencies under José Herrera’s environment ministry which are fulfilling roles described as ‘citizen interfaces’.

On the one end, Wasteserv will act as the operational waste agency that deals with waste as its end-life: disposal, sorting, recycling, and ultimately incineration of waste. On the other end the Environment and Resources Authority will maintain its role as the regulator and guardian of the environment.

Video of FOE Malta's Repair Cafe, produced by Denise Brigniani

The RRR Agency is positioned at the centre of these two poles, in a bid to foster public education and awareness initiatives that can deal with the waste streams being generated before they actually end up landfilled, incinerated or exported for recycling.

Similarly, the new agency Ambjent Malta can be found at this mid-point between the ERA and a part of the works division that goes by the acronym PARKS, which is responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of national parks and public spaces.

“Ambjent Malta’s board of governors is there to introduce a much-needed citizen focus to the way we curate our environment,” Muscat says. “While the ERA is the protector of the environment and PARKS is the muscle behind afforestation projects as an example, Ambjent Malta will be developing ideas to attract people to parks, on how to develop urban areas, and devise long-term plans to put citizens at the heart of the environment and our Natura 2000 sites.”

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