20,000 tonnes of opportunity

A whopping quarter of all the material that is put in the grey rubbish bag shouldn’t be there. Although this is still a high amount, it’s an improvement from the 35% that was recorded before WasteServ embarked on a widespread educational campaign.

This year, around 20,000 tonnes of recyclable waste have been successfully received by WasteServ, the entity that is responsible for organising, managing, and operating integrated systems for waste management in Malta.

This is its best outcome so far, with figures for 2021 and 2022 standing at 19,000 tonnes each. Not only are these statistics good news, but we need to remember that they exclude waste collected by the Beverage Container Refund Scheme (BCRS) and focus solely on the waste received by WasteServ.

These figures were revealed to The Journal by Daniel Tabone, WasteServ’s Chief Officer for the Circular Economy. We asked whether more waste recycled means that we are producing more waste in general. The answer is ‘no’. In fact, Tabone explains that WasteServ observed that there’s considerably less plastic material in the grey bag, mainly because bottles are no longer being thrown there and are being collected through the BCRS scheme. Despite this, more out of the received grey bag material is being recycled.  

WasteServ’s improved efficiency can be attributed, in part, to the implementation of a new automated sorting line, replacing manual sorting. Another significant contributing factor to this achievement are the extensive educational campaigns conducted over the past years.

Bin it right

It’s not all rosy, though. Even though more recyclable material is correctly being discarded in the grey bag, a whopping quarter of all the material that is put in this bag shouldn’t be there. Although this is still a high amount, it’s an improvement from the 35% that was recorded before WasteServ embarked on its widespread educational campaign.

Only recently, a dead rabbit hit the headlines because it was sent off for recycling. Sadly, that’s not an uncommon sight for WasteServ employees. Organic material of all sorts, nappies, shoes, small gas cylinders, clothes, electronics, fans, gear boxes and even flares are among the objects that they come across. Last November, explosives were found dumped in the grey bag collection, endangering the lives of WasteServ employees, and leading to the disposal of 140 tonnes of recyclable waste.

Daniel Tabone explained that there are still circumstances in which people genuinely believe that they are doing the right thing, when in fact they are not. A clear instance are people who incorrectly figure out that electronics are ‘mainly plastic’ and therefore proceed to dispose of them in the recycling bag. In fact, any electronic waste that is not bigger than 50cm (such as coffee machines, laptops, chargers, or drills) can be disposed of at WasteServ’s Roadshow Truck or in WEEE trolleys, found in several local councils, schools, and businesses. For larger electronic items, there’s also the bulky refuse service that is organised free of charge by local councils and the Civic Amenity Sites.

Encouraging trends

Despite these persistent hurdles, not only have new trends emerged with regard to how much waste is being correctly sent off for recycling, but there has also been an observable shift in mixed waste. Specifically, there has been a 23% reduction in black bags that were brought to Malta’s landfills. Additionally, less organic waste is being tossed incorrectly in the black bag. Just a year ago, 40% of the black bag was organic material that could have been recycled. This has gone down to 20%: an impressive doubling down. It also stands to reason that there has been a 35% increase in organic bags that reached the Malta North Plant separately and were processed in a dedicated sorting line, leading to more green energy being generated from this material.

With regards to more robust waste materials, WasteServ has successfully increased its exports for recycling, incorporating materials that were not previously dispatched overseas for recycling. This includes surplus material from window installations and gypsum.

New developments

As of this year, new gate fees were introduced for commercial waste. A gate fee is the charge demanded upon a given quantity of waste received at the waste processing facility. By making separate waste disposal incur lower fees, WasteServ is encouraging businesses to separate their commercial waste before taking it to waste deposit sites. This is reaping results. For example, whereas 500 tonnes of flat glass used to go to the landfill this is now being separated before arriving at WasteServ Facilities source and then sent off to Europe to be recycled into other products.

In the current year, a notable development occurred with the establishment of a new Multi-Material Recovery Facility in Ħal Far. This facility is designed to accept diverse items such as mattresses, tires, wood, expanded polystyrene (jablo), and electronics. It effectively segregates these materials, ensuring that each type is processed separately before being packed and sent for recycling. An illustrative success story resulting from this facility is the significant reduction in landfill waste. Previously, 600 tonnes of mattresses used to be disposed of in landfills, but with the new facility in operation, these mattresses are now systematically dismantled. Every component is subsequently recycled, contributing to the transformation of waste into new resources.

Sadly, it is the most bizarre of cases and incorrect practices that stand out and make the headlines when it comes to domestic waste disposal. It’s important that we hear of these cases because they serve as a stark realisation on what not to do. However, it’s also important to realise that, while challenges persist, WasteServ’s initiatives, technological advancements, and public education efforts are undeniably contributing to a more sustainable and efficient waste management system in Malta, setting the stage for continued progress in the years to come.

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