Waste incinerator to be sited in Ghallis as landfill space runs out

€150 million waste-to-energy plant expected to be run by private-public partnership as new EU rules will impose limits on landfilled waste and mandatory recycling targets

The Cabinet of ministers has decided it will be proceeding with an incineration solution to Malta’s growing problem, with a waste-to-energy plant situated at Ghallis.

MaltaToday was told the plant will probably be operated through a private-public partnership, to include the private sector in the operation of the incinerator.

The plant, to be completed by 2023, will incinerate non-recyclable materials and generate electrical energy from the fumes emitted. The plant will take care of around 40% of Malta’s waste.

But the Government is also expected to start preparations on new rules for legally-binding targets on waste recycling the reduction of landfilling.

EU ambassadors this week endorsed a provisional agreement on four waste package laws that will increase the share of municipal waste and packaging waste which is recycled. By 2023, when Malta is expected to start the incineration of waste, mandatory rules could be in place for bio-waste to be collected separately or recycled at source, in addition to the separate collection which already exists for paper and cardboard, glass, metals and plastic.

Malta is now running out of space to dispose of its garbage, as it deals with the consequences of increased population and higher economic growth. Malta’s engineered landfill at Ghallis will be running out of space by 2019.

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 ranked sixth amongst the top EU countries that generate the most waste per inhabitant. Additionally, 87% of all waste is going to a landfill while just 8% is being recycled.

The new EU laws will carry a specific landfill reduction target, where municipal waste will no longer be accepted in a landfill. By 2035 the amount of municipal waste landfilled will have to be less than 10% of the total amount of municipal waste generated.

As a waste-to-energy ‘incinerator’, much of the success of the plant will depend on the quality of the waste being incinerated.

Firstly, the Maltese government is expected to embark on a campaign to intensify the recycling of waste, because the incinerator will not be able to take in the entire volume of waste being produced.

Secondly, the plant itself will be a main consumer of energy. Although the waste is converted into energy through the generation of heat, this energy will be used to power the plant itself. How much surplus energy is generated could depend on such factors as the quality of waste. One of the main challenges Malta is facing is the disposal of sewage sludge, which will be disposed of by using the incinerator rather than landfill. But a lot of energy will have to be used to dry the sludge, which is wet, before its incineration.

In the rest of Europe, 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, these countries also tend to incinerate half of their generated waste: Switzer- land, 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.

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 and recycle more.

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.

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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