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The building waste crisis

Construction sites across the island could be facing long delays and contractors risk being fined as dumping sites for building waste have reached capacity. Skip operators have been told all available sites are full.

Since 2017, skip operators have been dumping construction waste at two quarries, in Mqabba and Żurrieq. The quarry owners have instructed them not to take any more waste there as they have run out of space for the huge mass of debris being disposed of every day.

Twelve months later, the problem of building waste disposal has returned with a vengeance as Malta experiences a construction boom of unprecedented intensity. And there seems to be no real long-term solution in sight.

Skip owners complained of lack of response from the government and of being told to go to the Environment and Resources Authority, which referred them back to the government. Though many might well experience a feeling of shadenfreude as they savour the possibility of the construction industry being brought to a shuddering halt, if this were to happen the economic consequences could be severe. It would only be cutting one’s nose to spite one’s face.

However, Environment Minister Josè Herrera must act quickly to find solutions. He has had a year in which to do so and, so far, his only response is to say that his ministry “was working with the ERA to assess a number of interim measures to address the situation”.

The ERA has now belatedly been tasked with “drafting a long-term strategic solution”. It was also announced that an abandoned quarry in Siġġiewi is accepting clean construction waste and that permits for another eight private quarries to be used for the same purpose were being processed. The Malta Developers’ Association said yesterday it had agreed with a number of quarry owners to open the sites for construction waste disposal “while struggling to contain the established charges”.

Skip operators want a more immediate solution: dumping construction waste at the State landfill site to avoid a “disaster” in the construction industry. Though this may become necessary as the option of last resort, doing so would only be robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Landfilling is a very land-intensive option, a reality especially problematic in Malta’s tiny land area. It would be far more productive finding ways of ‘incentivising’ the building industry to reduce construction waste through recycling and implementing disincentives to using new stones. The industry should be engaged energetically in an awareness-raising exercise to put in place incentives that promote good practice.

In parallel, the use of other expired quarries for dumping building rubble should be explored before resorting to existing State landfill sites sorely needed for recycled waste. Quarry owners could be encouraged through financial and other inducements to implement restoration plans by using them for inert waste.

However, much more imaginative long-term solutions should be sought. Although, there are undoubted environmental concerns about land reclamation, there is no harm in studying its feasibility at sea, not least as a waste management measure. This had successfully been done at Msida after World War II and is actively being implemented in a number of Asian countries.

Land reclamation through the use of construction waste is an option that should be assessed, provided that all is done sensibly and with full regard to environmental sensitivities.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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