Investing in a re-use culture

The February, Strasbourg plenary session, which started on Monday and ends today, turned the European Parliament's attention to environmental issues. The House debated two reports on waste prepared by the Environment Committee. The first puts forward binding targets for reducing waste by 2010 and rejects the Commission's proposals to modify the existing five-stage "waste hierarchy"; the second looks at the Commission's proposed long-term strategy for preventing and recycling waste.

Across the EU, 3.5 tonnes of waste is produced per person per year. As the amount of household and industrial waste increases in Europe, a call for more recycling, prevention of waste and a reduction in landfill usage is being made. Currently, 49 per cent of municipal waste is sent to landfill sites, and 33 per cent is recycled or composted.

British Conservative Caroline Jackson, commenting on the proposal for a directive on waste, calls for binding targets to stabilise waste production levels by 2012. She also calls for greater re-use and recycling to ease pressure on landfill sites.

The second report by Johannes Blokland, of the Independence and Democracy Group, seeks a "thematic strategy" to deal with the problem. His report calls for a total ban on all landfill waste by 2020. It also asks the European Commission to propose ways of reducing waste and develop measures that would show progress.

One of the measures strongly supported by the Jackson report is the "five step" approach on waste treatment. Put simply, it is prevention, re-use, recycling, energy recovery (through, for example, incineration) and landfill as a last resort.

The benefits of recycling are clear as the following example shows.

Producing paper from recycled waste paper rather than wood saves a quarter of a tonne of energy consumption. It is also 75 per cent less polluting to the atmosphere. Across the 27 EU member states, the average level of paper and cardboard recycling amounts to 49.6 per cent.

Across the EU, there are huge differences in recycling rates. Some members send 90 per cent of their waste to landfill with only 10 per cent being recycled. At the greener end of the spectrum, some send 10 per cent to landfill, 25 per cent to energy recovery and 65 per cent is recycled.

The Maltese government is working hard to reduce and make good use of the waste we generate. In this regard, in November 2002, WasteServ Malta Ltd was set up. The company is responsible for organising, managing and operating integrated systems for waste management, including integrated systems for minimisation, collection, transport, sorting, re-use, utilisation, recycling, treatment and disposal of solid and hazardous waste.

WasteServ Malta Ltd operates the Sant'Antnin Waste Treatment and Composting Plant, located in Marsascala. The company has obtained EU co-funding in support of upgrading the plant to reduce the disposal of biodegradable waste and a variety of source-segregated dry recyclable materials.

Today's students are tomorrow's opinion formers and decision makers. In this regard, it is of utmost importance to educate our children on how to safeguard our environment. In recent years, schools have shown a keen interest in waste management and have organised a number of waste-related activities. The government gives priority and a lot of prominence to waste management issues. A number of schools in Malta and Gozo are taking part in the Progett Skart campaign.

Although the subject of environment and environmental protection in general is covered within existing curricula programmes, attention needs to be given to waste management issues, or to promoting changes in social attitudes and behaviour with regard to waste management among young people.

Experience in other European countries also shows that schoolchildren and students can exert considerable influence over the attitudes and behaviour of their parents and other older members of society.

The closure of the former dumpsites at Maghtab, Qortin and Wied Fulija, and the phasing in of new sustainable waste management practices, means that waste separation needs to be introduced at various levels.

Waste separation at source can enhance the homogeneity of the waste recovered and minimise its level of contamination. Both the technical and economic hurdles for recycling can then be lowered and this increases the recycling viability.

Waste streams, which should be separated and directed towards recycling, include paper, cardboard, plastics, tyres, batteries, wood and green waste, metal and bulky refuse, computers and glass.

Preventing, reducing and recycling waste is at the heart of sustainable waste management. Sustainable waste management is about using resources more efficiently.

The government's strategy to improve and preserve our environment is already having a positive impact. We have moved to facts by turning an eyesore such as Maghtab and transforming it into an environmental complex. Thanks to these measures our country will be a better place to live in for ourselves and future generations.

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