“Bad habits must change” – notes on cleanliness

Asked to identify the biggest overall challenge in his remit, the Parliamentary Secretary for Public Cleanliness, Glenn Bedingfield, is clear: "people's mentality".

The Parliamentary Secretariat for Public Cleanliness is currently consulting with various local councils to gain a comprehensive understanding of each locality’s unique cleanliness needs.

The Journal spoke with Parliamentary Secretary Glenn Bedingfield, tasked with the crucial role of maintaining cleanliness in public spaces. This challenge, amplified by Malta’s growing population and record tourist numbers, is no easy feat.

Parliamentary Secretary Glenn Bedingfield with members of the Cleansing and Maintenance Division

Big investments are being made

Parliamentary Secretary Bedingfield reminds us that the Government has recently invested millions in new cleaning and maintenance equipment. This, he says, shows that the reach of our public cleansing strategy is constantly growing.

In December 2023, a €7 million investment was announced for cleaning and maintenance across the Maltese islands. This investment includes €5.6 million allocated for electric sweepers and robots, with an additional €1.2 million dedicated to other vehicles. Just over a month after his appointment, the Parliamentary Secretary tells us that his aim “is to even further enhance this same reach”.

During this past month, ever since being appointed in his new role, Glenn Bedingfield has met with several local council representatives and continues to do so every week, in view of the fact that every locality is facing distinct challenges that require differing solutions. “Hence why the current public cleansing strategy is being modernised, with the latest technology, for us to better adapt to these specific needs. I always like to say that it is us who must take care of our country. And that is exactly what I look forward to, encouraging and helping facilitate during my time as Parliamentary Secretary for Public Cleanliness,” he said.

A clean slate for Paceville and its surroundings

The Journal asked whether the Parliamentary Secretary has identified any shortcomings in Malta’s current public cleansing strategy. He replies in the affirmative but, again, every locality is different. As an example, he mentions that the Cleansing and Maintenance Division has just announced an allocation of €1,295,000 towards acquiring new cleaning equipment designated for the areas of Paceville, St Julian’s, and Sliema. This investment will include a variety of machinery such as a refuse collection vehicle, a street washer, a compact sweeper, four pedestrian sweepers, a city sweeper, crew cab tipper vans, a robot sweeper, and robot scrubbers.

During the press conference in which this was announced, it was also communicated that efforts are currently being made to purchase additional waste collection vehicles. The aim is to increase the frequency of waste collection during the summer months, especially to address the issue of illegally dumped waste during the day. This initiative is expected to benefit the areas of Swieqi, Paceville, St Julian’s, and Gzira.

 

A 638-strong team

Speaking to The Journal, the Parliamentary Secretary referred to other shortcomings which impact the current public cleansing strategy, specifically challenges relating to the workforce. “Just like every other sector in our economy, the cleansing and maintenance department requires an ever-growing, dedicated and skilful number of employees in order to meet the demands that the current public cleansing strategy brings with it,” explained Bedingfield. “We have a great team, a strong team of 638 employees who do their utmost all the time, day and night, for the benefit of our country,” he added.

He further mentioned that the Division is making significant investments in advanced technologies and the application of artificial intelligence to meet demands while maintaining, or even improving, the level of service provided to the community.

Mentality: the biggest hurdle

Asked to identify the biggest overall challenge in his remit, the Parliamentary Secretary is clear: “Peoples’ mentality. That is the biggest challenge. Education, education, education.”

The reality is simple, as explained by the man responsible for public cleanliness: regardless of how big of an investment the Government makes into the actual cleansing and maintenance of the islands, it is the people inhabiting and visiting these same islands who need to maintain that cleanliness in the first place.

To guarantee the effectiveness of their efforts, in addition to collaborating with local councils to equip them with the necessary tools for cleaning and maintaining our communities, the Parliamentary Secretariat is also developing an educational campaign. This campaign is designed to support and enhance the daily operations of the cleansing and maintenance division.

The Parliamentary Secretary remains hopeful. “The fact that this challenge persists does not mean that it is unbeatable. To give a small example, we all remember a time when nobody knew what recycling was. But here we are today, amidst an ongoing educational campaign to educate the public and, more importantly, our upcoming generation, of its importance. Times change and, with the right education, so must bad habits. If anything, this challenge encourages my team and myself even more, particularly in knowing what benefits we can reap should it be implemented adequately.”

Illegal dumping and garbage bags: the biggest transgressions

We ask what the most common transgression by the public when it comes to public cleansing is. The reply is illegal dumping and misuse of garbage bags.

“Illegal dumping is something which disappoints me greatly, especially since local councils across the island offer an actual pickup service, right at everyone’s doorstep, at the mere hint of a phone call. This is a service which costs money, yet is given to the public for free,” says the Parliamentary Secretary. So, in my view, the tools are there. It is now a matter of actually getting people to know about them, and also perhaps even further facilitate their usage.”

When it comes to garbage bags, we ask whether he sees a long-term scenario in which people keep on disposing their waste at their doorstep, or whether he thinks it is time to think of better solutions. “I am open to suggestions,” is his reply. “The current system has been with us since time immemorial. It does not mean that it cannot change. We are a reformist government and, although waste collection does not fall within my remit, I am sure that as a Government, we are open to different convenient and affordable solutions.”

AI: the clean way forward

The Parliamentary Secretary mentioned AI as an important ally for the future.

“We have the tools,” says Bedingfield. “It is up to us to use these tools wisely and surely the maintenance and cleanliness of public spaces is one area which can greatly benefit from any new technology in the market. I must say that we are already investing in the best machinery available on the market and, as we speak, most of these machines are being deployed into many of our localities, navigating public spaces with precision, using a combination of sensors and algorithms to identify and target areas requiring attention. This will allow for employees of the cleansing and maintenance department to focus their efforts elsewhere where AI cannot yet intervene,” he adds.

It’s not just a one-man show

Surely, we ask, cleanliness is everyone’s remit. How does the Parliamentary Secretariat collaborate with other entities?

Bedingfield tells us that the Cleansing and Maintenance Division is currently coordinating a national campaign in collaboration with other entities, such as the Public Works Department, Enemalta, the Water Services Corporation, Transport Malta, and Infrastructure Malta. This national campaign is called ‘Clean Malta’, and we have likely seen it advertised somewhere.

The campaign does not solely focus on cleanliness, but rather on maintaining the best possible ambience for all. More concretely, this campaign includes the maintenance of drain covers, changing of streetlights, changing of road signs, maintenance of pavements and road furniture, new painted lines on roads and street furniture, road sweeping, cutting of wild vegetation, cleaning of culverts, and washing of roads among other things.

“This shows our commitment to working in tandem with all other remits if and when possible,” held the Parliamentary Secretary.

We mention large-scale festivals that are organised all year round that that impact public cleanliness. “In the case of large festivals which are hosted by the Government itself, such as Carnival, it is our Cleansing and Maintenance Division that cleans up the aftermath of such events. In the case of large festivals which are hosted by private entities or organisations, for instance a concert at the Granaries in Floriana, such private entities or organisations can utilise the services of the CMD to clean up the aftermath, against a payment,” explains the Parliamentary Secretary.

“As a division we collaborate with any organiser of large festivals to clean up the aftermath. We are also in talks with the Għaqda Każini tal-Baned, so that we can intervene to clean up after village feasts as well. This is a service that CMD offers and is widely used by one and all,” explains Glenn Bedingfield.

The bottom line is that while the government is undertaking extensive efforts to maintain cleanliness across the islands, it is imperative that we, as citizens, also play our part. The responsibility to act in a civil manner regarding waste disposal and environmental stewardship lies with each of us. By working together and adopting responsible behaviours, we can ensure the beauty and cleanliness of our islands for generations to come.

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