Construction waste: land reclamation is option in draft national strategy

Other options include polluter-pays principle, mandatory recycling targets, and extending spoil ground off Grand Harbour for dumping at sea

By 2021, a minimum of 15% of construction material used in projects shall be made up of re-used material or materials recycled locally with a possibility of further re-use or recycling at the building’s end of life
By 2021, a minimum of 15% of construction material used in projects shall be made up of re-used material or materials recycled locally with a possibility of further re-use or recycling at the building’s end of life

The commitment for a land reclamation project is being enshrined in a draft national strategy to address Malta’s construction waste problem, even if this also includes a number of stringent commitments to reduce and recycle this waste.

But the policy itself states that while the Environment and Resources Authority will “develop location selection criteria for potential areas for land reclamation”,  this has to be followed by an evaluation of “the socio-economic, technical and environmental impacts associated with the feasibility and viability of land reclamation”.  

The ERA and the environment ministry prepared the national strategy for the management of waste originating from construction, demolition and excavation operations which has now been issued for public consultation.

Significantly, the document makes reference to “legislative or non-legislative measures to implement the polluter-pays principle (PPP)” whereby developers, as the waste producers, would bear the costs of waste management, including for the necessary infrastructure and its operation.

But the document also suggests that one of the solutions being considered is extending the current spoil ground off Xghajra, where construction waste is already dumped at sea. This is made conditional on a study to determine whether “there is a need to extend the current location for disposal at sea from a point (with buffer) to a quadrant”.

By 2020 ERA will be carrying out a study on the physical, chemical and biological characteristics of the designated offshore spoil ground and its surrounding area.

This study shall be undertaken in order to improve knowledge on the conditions of the site and carry out the necessary updates in policy related to dumping of waste at sea.

No studies have, so far, been conducted on the chemical and physical impact of Malta’s underwater Maghtab – the place where massive amounts of construction waste are dumped on the seabed in an identified area off Xghajra. This is because no resources and funds were allocated to carry out studies contemplated in the Water Catchment Management Plan issued in 2011 for the period between 2010 and 2015.

The plan included a clear commitment to study these impacts.

A staggering 1.9 million tonnes of construction waste was dumped in an offshore “spoil ground” located northeast of Valletta harbour between 2004 and 2010.  Since no regulatory framework existed before 2002, the authorities have no idea about how much waste was dumped prior to that date.

“Further to the findings of this study, a cost benefit analysis shall be carried out to quantify environmental damage with the aim of determining the true cost of dumping at sea”, the ERA document now states.

The Planning Authority will also carry out an exercise to identify quarries which have been declared “partly exhausted, exhausted or inactive”, with the aim to restore such areas to their former state through backfilling operations.

The draft strategy also includes a number of commitments. By 2021, a minimum of 40% of excavated material created by development projects shall be “re-used or recycled”. This target will be enforced through the compliance certificate system, whereby no such certificate shall be issued unless proof on the use of such materials is provided.

Also by 2021, a minimum of 15% of construction material used in projects shall be made up of re-used material or materials recycled locally with a possibility of further re-use or recycling at the building’s end of life.

25% of the granular material used for construction shall be made up of aggregates recycled locally in order to decrease the dependency on virgin aggregates.

In order to encourage the setting up of privately owned storage depots where construction waste can be temporarily stored for eventual re-use, recycling or recovery, the government will introduce a scheme, through which operators of such depots may benefit from a percentage refund of the total amount invested in the establishment of such activities.

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