Gloved, masked and equipped with safety glasses, Jesmond stands by a moving conveyor belt pulling out plastic and tossing it into the segregated bunkers below.
Jesmond is a sorter at WasteServ Recycling Facility in Marsaskala. His 8-hour shift starts at 6:30 in the morning sorting through the different materials that come in from households’ weekly collection of recyclables.
While most of Malta was safe at home, keeping clear of COVID-19, waste sorters like Jesmond were leaving their homes every morning to stop waste from ending up in the landfill. Jesmond’s job now carries a new level of risk. For this reason, precautions were taken such as the introduction of staggered shifts and break times to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
However, COVID-19 is not the only hazard these people face. Flares, chemicals, syringes, knives, clinical waste, dead animals, rotten food waste, electronics, and glass are only some of the items people put in their recyclables that pose a significant hazard to the health of these workers.
Jesmond cannot count the times a fire broke out during one of his shifts. Sometimes, the fire is caused by a small AA battery as it goes through the bag opener, other times it is caused by a motor oil canister. Jesmond recalled that “sometimes, we would find dead animals in the bags and it really stinks.”
The sorting of recyclables requires direct handling of materials and improperly disposed waste can potentially be the cause of serious accidents and injuries. Such dangers could be prevented if everyone is careful what to put in the recyclables bag. There are many options available to households to dispose of hazardous waste, all of them free of charge. WasteServ operates six Civic Amenity Sites where one can dispose of expired medicines, used syringes, solvents and chemicals, batteries, and electronics. In the case of expired medicine, one also has the option of taking this to the nearest pharmacy as most of these carry specialised disposing bins for this type of waste while used surgical masks can be disposed of in the black bag.
This year, Wasteserv has so far processed a record 18,000 tonnes of paper, plastic, metal and glass within its facilities.
Jesmond stressed how important it is to teach children from a young age the importance of proper waste separation, so they understand why this is important and the consequences it would have if a mobile phone or laptop is thrown in the recyclables bag instead of taken to a Civic Amenity Site.
Without diminishing the importance of teaching young generations, it is also important for adults to lead by example. Taking care to put only the correct items in the recycling bag, not only streamlines the sorting process at the recycling facility but can also protect the health and wellbeing of these workers.
For someone’s work to be so essential, even in times of crisis, one would expect more respect towards these workers. With little effort on our part, it is possible to make the job of Jesmond and his colleagues a little easier.