Local councils clamp down on littering and illegal dumping

St Paul's Bay mayor Graziella Galea warns that littering problem in her town is larger than it has ever been in recent history 

Photo posted on Facebook page for St Paul's Bay residents shows litter tossed into the soil
Photo posted on Facebook page for St Paul's Bay residents shows litter tossed into the soil

Littering and illegal dumping are in no way recent phenomena. However despite the normalisation of some of these eyesores, the proliferation of social media and the way it allows for ‘citizen journalism’, has meant that people throughout the island are becoming increasingly aware and enraged by irregularities and breaches of littering laws, and they are not afraid of being vocal about it. 

Scroll through any local council Facebook page, and you will at some point come across a post about ‘disgusting’ practices such as dumping bulky waste on street corners, or even leaving garbage bags at bring-in sites at inappropriate times. Such attitudes mean that rubbish bags are often left prey to the claws of stray animals, meaning that ultimately their contents will end up in a revolting, stewy,  stench emitting mess by the end of sweltering summer days…. 

One such locality is St Paul’s Bay, where the surge of inhabitants experienced during the summer months often leaves services overwhelmed. As a result, given that I reside in the area myself, my Facebook feed has been flooded with images of such abuses in recent weeks, and this, I can assure you, is an annual occurrence. 

MaltaToday met with St Paul’s Bay mayor Graziella Galea, who explained that the issue has persisted for many years, and that although it is palpable throughout the year, it worsened dramatically in the summer months. 

“When the number of people living in a particular locality and the different backgrounds they come from increases, the matter becomes more complicated, not to mention the changes in lifestyle and every day practices we have all been through,” she said, adding that sadly very few people would now take it upon themselves to sweep in front of their own residence for instance.

“The amount of garbage produced in general, is now greater than ever before, with some people not caring about the way or indeed the time that they dispose of it.”

Reacting to the images posted on social media, which give an impression that certain abuses have shot up in recent years, Galea explained that although they revealed an undoubtedly bleak reality, the posts also pointed at an increased awareness about the environment, which is at least something to feel glad about.

Photos taken from Facebook page Proud to live in St Paul’s Bay, showing garbage bags piled in various locations and bulky refuse simply abandoned, regardless of the free collection services offered by the local council
Photos taken from Facebook page Proud to live in St Paul’s Bay, showing garbage bags piled in various locations and bulky refuse simply abandoned, regardless of the free collection services offered by the local council

“The continuous abuses by some people have therefore become slightly easier to expose through online posts, for instance,” she said. 

Galea explained that abuses of the system were exacerbated by the fact that some of the residents in the area are not permanent, or long-term inhabitants, not to mention the vast number of tourists and foreigners with somewhat different cultural backgrounds. 

“However, abuse cannot be excused or justified by a lack of awareness of the system being adopted in the locality, and people should take it upon themselves to query the rules,” she said, adding that a simple example of this lax attitude was the approach to garbage bag collection times. 

“Garbage collectors operate every day here, including Sundays and public holidays, and it can never be justified that some take out their garbage after the collection is carried out, on the pretext that they woke up late or that they are on holiday,” she said, adding that she often has to contact contractors to collect the bags once again in a particular street because of the excessive accumulation of the bags later on during the day. 

“If collection has already been done in one’s street then the garbage should  simply not be taken out, then to be taken out, on time, the following morning,” she said, betraying a deep sense of indignation and disappointment at the indifference of some.

Asked about the measures that had already been taken to deal with the abuses, Galea pointed out that short-term strategies such as additional information campaigns could go a long way to inform inhabitants about collection times and recycling procedures. In addition, the council has also taken action to reduce dumping in certain areas like bring-in sites, she explained.

“Although they were set up for the right reasons, and even used well by some, the council decided to remove skips and bring-in sites located in certain problematic areas, like Triq il-Port Ruman, and Triq J Quintinus. These were replaced by parking spaces, and, perhaps ironically, practically no rubbish is being dumped there any more,” she explained.

Like other local councils, St Paul’s Bay also offers varied waste collection and cleaning up services, including door to door waste collection, door to door recyclables collection and emptying of bring-in sites, free bulky refuse collection, street sweeping and emptying of litter bins, grass cutting from non urban roads, as well as a number of staff engaged with the local council to carry out non-scheduled works, such as the collection of bulky refuse being continuously dumped in the area and the distribution of free bags for recycling. 

Galea added that in addition to the services offered by the council, the Cleansing Directorate also deploys staff in the touristic areas of the locality. The directorate is only responsible for cleaning operations in artetial, distributor, pedestrian and tourism zones, however, as Galea explained, they can sometimes be called upon for assistance if the situation becomes dire.

Tellingly, St Paul’s Bay, along with areas like Paceville, Sliema, Marsascala, Birzebbugia, Marsaaxlokk and Valletta, are among the areas that generate the most waste on the island. Although there is no data for individual localities, the directorate pointed out that some 15,000 tonnes of waste were collected in 2015 in total. 

An unwanted mattress left out on the pavement
An unwanted mattress left out on the pavement

Galea proposed that beyond the existing services and campaigns offered, additional funds would help local councils to achieve more on the waste management and cleaning front, and for localities like St Paul’s Bay, specifically during the summer months. 

“The San Pawl il-Bahar Local Council, which represents Burmarrad, Bugibba, Qawra, Xemxija, St Paul’s Bay and Wardija among some other sparsely populated areas, officially represents around 22,000 residents, but this figure does not include those who inhabit the locality just in the summer months,” she said, pointing out that numbers in the summer months are estimated to go as high as 60,000,” she said.

“Personally I think that the Council ought to be given more funding to reflect this and to allow it to better fulfill its functions.” 

An even further reaching improvement she suggests, is that of additional enforcement of littering laws throughout the country. 

Enforcement of littering laws has been completely centralised, with local councils no longer having any power to issue fines. That duty is reserved by the Local Enforcement System Agency (or LESA), which had not responded to questions by the newsroom by the time of publication. 

Galea adds that one possible solution could be to entrust more people with enforcement related to dumping at inappropriate times and in inadequate areas. 

“Unfortunately many won’t feel the sting of certain words unless they are doled out some sharp fines, and with fines for littering reaching some €116 and dumping reaching some €2,329, I dare say actually handing them out, if not increasing them, might be more effective than anything else,” she added. 

In the meantime however, local councils can only report abuses they are notified about to the police, in the hope that the perpetrators are apprehended. One local council taking one step ahead to try to provide the police with proof of such abuses, is Zebbug. 

Zebbug mayor Sarah Agius told the newsroom that the local council has recently installed two CCTV cameras at popular bring-in sites, to catch ‘delinquents’ in the act.

“We are trying to secure sponsorships from the Cleansing Directorate and LESA to install more security cameras in the location,” she said, explaining that many have already been caught through this system, with footage being forwarded to the police for further investigation in every case.

The Haz-Zebbug local council Facebook page often uploads videos from its CCTV cameras
The Haz-Zebbug local council Facebook page often uploads videos from its CCTV cameras

Agius explained that the cameras were not the only measures taken by the local council to deter littering and to lead to further enforcement.

“Given that we cannot enforce laws, the local council can only send warning letters to households on a regular basis,” Agius said, adding that the council had also introduced a system in the previous month with one of its contractors to give out free recycling bags and waste collection calendars to each household.

“We are also booking Eco-Wardens to patrol the streets every Tuesday, which is the day when we don’t collect the black garbage bag, to fine those who go against the schedule and put their bags out anyway,” she said, adding however that Eco-Wardens are ultimately expensive and limited in availability.

Agius explained that as such, funds would continue to be a problem, and explained that sponsorships, if not outright funding, were necessary to implement effective strategies, without disrupting other services offered.

Similarly Zabbar mayor, Marc Vella Bonnici said that littering and dumping are in fact one of the biggest issues the local council is facing, and that it hopes for stricter enforcement and heftier fines.

“The main reason behind these abuses, is because there isn’t enough enforcement from the authorities, and people are hardly ever fined. Furthermore, due to a lack of surveillance, those reported all too often know that they can get away with illegal dumping and littering,” he added. 

Vella Bonnici pointed out that the local council was considering the possibility of installing cameras at various sites across the locality, but that as things stood the introduction of these cameras would mean funds being diverted from other projects or services offered by the council.

“Specific funding programmes for surveillance measures would go a long way in making out environment nicer,” he said.

“The local council has also worked to place adverts of garbage collection times in publications printed and handed out in and around Zabbar,” he said, adding that letters are also sent to residents outlining collection times to prevent any lack of awareness. 

“Perhaps the most effective measures I can think of to find a long term solution to the problem is additional funding and authority given to local councils to allow them to use funds on effective strategies as well as on marketing the services already in place.”

Vella Bonnici went on to stress that the issue is being faced by many if not most of the localities across Malta and Gozo, and he added that ultimately, heavy fines and enforcement are a must, along with a good national educational campaign.