Malta’s ministers discussing a national waste crisis: Maghtab could run out of space in 18 months

Malta is generating an average of 600kg of waste for each inhabitant as the island’s population spiked to over 433,000 in recent years.

Malta risks running out of space to dipose of its garbage, as it deals with the consequences of ever large consumption and waste generation rates, on the back of increased population and higher economic growth.

The Cabinet of ministers discussed the crisis scenario in recent days, MaltaToday has learnt, after it was estimated that without proper alternatives, Malta’s engineered landfill will be running out of space within 18 to 24 months.

The government is now expected to discuss measures how it can enter a new phase of waste disposal, as it contends with both high levels of waste generation and limited options to keep placing waste in landfills.

Malta is generating an average of 600kg of waste for each inhabitant as the island’s population spiked to over 433,000 in recent years.

The island is now ranked sixth amongst the top EU countries that generate the most waste per inhabitant.

Additionally, 87% of all waste is gong to a landfill while just 8% is being recycled.

“The scenario is pretty challenging,” a government source with knowledge of the ministers’ plans told MaltaToday. “The most favoured option to manage waste is always going to be getting people to actually reduce their waste, yet Malta has one of the highest waste generation figures. There are limits to landfilling, which takes up space – the Cabinet has been told that Malta is simply too small to continue the landfilling process.”

Additionally, a heightened construction industry, which is now ever more focussed on more high-rise developments across the island, is finding it even harder to dispose of construction waste, the same source said.

“Again, this is the dilemma posed by this kind of growth. The rate of economic development is also producing a waste problem that is going to have to be tackled faster than we thought before.”

Malta is the EU country that has the highest rate of landfilling, with Maghtab having been for decades used as a disposal area for the incineration of waste before being turned into an engineered landfill. Indeed, only 0.4% of waste in Malta is now incinerated, while some 3.6% is treated by composting.

In the rest of Europe however, on average landfilling, incineration and recycling are equally used for the disposal of waste. Switzerland, Germany, Slovenia and Austria are the top countries which recycle practically half their waste, if not more.

In the main however, these countries also tend to incinerate half of their generated waste: Switzerland, Sweden, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Austria, Estonia and Finland practically incinerate half their waste. The trend is confirmed by Eurostat data that shows that landfills have been used less than ever before since 1995, with the percentage of municipal waste being landfilled falling by almost 60% over the last two decades.

“Incineration could be a solution,” the same expert told this newspaper. “It is both fast and perhaps cheaper than other solutions. The practice of other EU member states shows that a proper standard of waste incineration that is environmentally suitable is possible.”

Malta has struggled with efforts at curbing waste generation, with former environment minister Leo Brincat having mooted reducing waste collection days in a bid to encourage domestic users to produce less waste.

While the collection of separated dry recyclable waste at bring-in sites was considerably lower in 2015 than what was collected back in 2011, the collection of recycling waste in grey bags outside houses has been increasing every year since 2010 – an indication that more households are endorsing the practice of separating recyclable waste. In 2015 alone the grey bag collection stood at 14,000 tonnes in Malta, and just over 970 tonnes in Gozo.

But municipal waste generated in 2015 amounted to over 269,000 tonnes, an increase of 5.5% in Malta and just a 1% decline for Gozo over the previous year.

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