Lax enforcement of illegal dumping gives cause for concern, GreenPak CEO says
Lax enforcement of regulations in the waste and recycling sector is a cause of grave concern, GreenPak CEO Mario Schembri told The Malta Independent.
Waste management services are fragmented and currently fall under three ministries: the Ministry for Justice, the Transport Ministry (through the cleansing department) and the Environment Ministry.
“Things tend to fall through the cracks as a consequence,” Mr Schembri said, citing the example of waste collectors mixing recyclable waste in one truck that had led to outrage from consumers.
“The public is diligently separating plastics, paper and the like from other waste and disposing them in the colour-coded bringin sites. Some irresponsible waste collectors are mixing them all up when emptying these bins. GreenPak condemns this behaviour and has asked the authorities to take the necessary actions to clamp down on these waste operators.
“We are completely against the mixing of already separated waste. In order to have an efficient and cost-effective recycling system, the earlier the materials are separated at a consumer level, the more efficient recycling will become, thus meaning there will be better performance as a nation.
“By separating waste, one ends up with better recycling. The more material is recycled, the less material goes to landfill. It is that simple. The people who regularly use the bring-in sites and separate their waste know this. Therefore, it makes absolutely no sense that separated waste materials are mixed by the waste collector.
“Such waste collectors should be penalised for mixing material they take from those sites. You cannot have a collector mix all these materials in the same truck. It is illegal, wrong and discourages people from recycling. They should have their licences withdrawn.”
Having everything fall under three ministries does not help the problem either, the GreenPak CEO explained.
“Things must be simpler, with less bureaucracy and costs. There is also the problem of clarity when it comes to their roles with ministries tending to step over each other’s toes or else leave a vacuum.
“By having a coordinated system, taxpayers’ money can be put to better use. At the moment, you have three entities trying to solve a common problem, often in isolation from one another. This leads to duplication of resources, misunderstandings and in some cases conflicting actions.”
What are GreenPak’s main aims?
“In terms of the environment, there is a concern regarding the waste of resources. Let’s not waste
waste is in fact the slogan of a current ongoing campaign that aims to make people less wasteful and adopt sustainable living. The idea is to try and re-use as much of the materials as possible through recycling, or not have a need for them in the first place. The concept of sustainability started to enter environmental discussion with increased vigour in 1980s. Nevertheless, putting ideas into practical solutions is much harder. One excellent example of how living sustainably can be achieved is through what is known as extended producer responsibility.
“A study carried out in the 1980s aimed to understand how best to recycle a car concluded that it was not possible to do so in an economically or environmentally sustainable manner. It was difficult to dismantle the car and the materials were not easily recyclable as they were made of incompatible materials.
“The solution was to make the producer of the car responsible for recycling it after end of use. This meant that car makers had to incorporate at all stages of the production – including at design stage – that the car is to be recycled. This closed-loop approach is what extended producer responsibility is all about. The producer has an obligation to recycle the product after the consumer has no longer use for it.
“There are four main laws in Malta governed by EPR: packaging, electrical goods, batteries and vehicles.
“It is, however, unimaginable that suppliers of goods go to each house and collect ‘their’ product when they have no further use for them. Instead, GreenPak does it on their behalf. GreenPak is a cooperative society made up of companies that need to provide a collection and recycling service to the public. Essentially, GreenPak is providing companies with their producers’ extended responsibility obligations.
“Organised as a cooperative, GreenPak ensures that companies provide the best public service as it also works with a not-forprofit objective. Today, GreenPak provides recycling services to over 70% of the Maltese population through agreements with local councils.”
Do you believe a need for higher enforcement fines exists?
Mr Schembri believes that most fines for such offences are already high enough. The problem is not the value of the fine but the absence of enforcement.
“I recently attended a public consultation meeting, and government is proposing that a €100 fine be introduced for every portable battery found in the black bag. That is high enough for me and I look forward to it being enforced.
“Providing effective enforcement remains elusive. Yet, I believe there are solutions. Homogeneity between waste operators, the ministries and the several government entities is the first place to start. Individual authorities speak of not enough resources, which is true with the current set-up. In my opinion, one reason for this is that the funds being spent each year are being diluted across many actors, ending to pay for duplication and inefficiencies. The money saved through streamlining can be used for proper enforcement.”
Around 50 people are expected to be taken to court in October after being caught on camera committing over 100 illegal dumping-related offences at bring-in sites in Zebbug.
“Irresponsible people aren’t being penalised enough, and in turn keep on dumping. Hopefully, the court ruling regarding the louts caught dumping illegally will send a clear message.”
If not enforcement, then what action is currently being taken?
In most situations, illegal dumping at bring-in sites is being solved by sending in the Cleansing Department to clean up, rather than slapping people with fines and enforcing the law.
“You need to keep the island clean, but there must be accountability, and people must be penalised for illegal dumping. Otherwise, all law-abiding citizens are ending up paying for these lawbreakers.”
Do you believe bring-in site dumping could be due to a lack of capacity or collection issues?
“Definitely. GreenPak solves the capacity problem by having trucks regularly empty the sites. If they notice that sites are full, we send them earlier. We are not perfect, but we are continuously monitoring them and trying to improve.”
He mentioned a daily service run by GreenPak, where they are collecting empty glass bottles in three localities. The service, available for bars and restaurants, runs along the seafront between Manoel Island, passing through Qui-Si-Sana, Tower Road, Balluta Bay, and ends at Spinola Hill.
It was meant to run until this Sunday, however, “we have decided to extend this indefinitely to at least cover the weekends. This system was introduced because the bring-in sites in the area were being overloaded with glass.
“We realised that the catering establishments, along that strip, were emptying their glass bottles at closing time. There was a capacity issue. We can’t fill the area with more bins, so we decided to provide a targeted service to address that problem. As a result, we noticed that enough space was left in the glass skips for the service of the general public.”
Bring-in sites are emptied around three to four times a week, he said.
Irresponsible people aren’t being penalised enough, and in turn keep on dumping. Hopefully, the court ruling regarding the louts caught dumping illegally will send a clear message.
Given the amount of waste collection around the island, do we really need bring-in sites anymore?
“Definitely. We are continually resisting pressure from local councils to have us remove bringin sites when these are being used as dumps. Local councils are themselves under pressure by residents complaining of the mess left behind. This brings us back to enforcement. Why should a public service be stopped because an irresponsible few go unpunished?
“Removing bring-in sites will stop people from recycling ending up in more waste going to landfill. Whilst many other countries are moving towards a zero waste approach, meaning that nearly no waste will go to the landfill, yet in Malta, we have an ever-piling Maghtab.
“Waste services need to fit peoples’ lifestyles. In some localities, the waste collection service runs in the evening. For people working from 2pm till 11pm and with a collection service running at 8pm, this is a problem as the service time is at odds with their lifestyle.
“When this happens, many end up taking out their garbage bags many hours before the service begins and it is no wonder that other people complain about the smell, the sight and rats.
“Providing only simple basic waste collection services is not enough for today’s complex lifestyles.”