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A Messy Situation: Ministry Says Malta’s Waste Is Being Separated But Some Organic Refuse Mixed With Black Bag Waste

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Footage of different types of waste getting mixed together in the same Magħtab landfill has raised serious concerns about the efficacy of Malta’s waste separation scheme, with some people questioning whether separating their waste it is even worthwhile.

However, a spokesperson for Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia confirmed that while there are pressing issues with the current system, the situation is not as dire as it is being portrayed.

“Waste has been one of the biggest challenges that this country has had to face, and it has been an issue for the past 50 years,” she said. “There is no magic formula or overnight solution, but the Ministry is committed to tackle it once and for all.”

Prior to May 2017, waste used to be treated at the Sant’ Antnin waste treatment plant, with recyclables from grey bags and bring-in sites treated at one facility and organic and black bag waste treated at another facility through so-called mechanical and biological treatment.

However, in May 2017, a fire ripped through the Marsaskala plant, destroying the recyclable site and leaving it in a serious state of disrepair till this day. From that point on, recyclable waste started to get treated at the ‘Malta North’ facility in Magħtab.

Recyclable waste is now being treated at a separate line known as the bulky line, which is less effective than the Sant’ Antnin line.

“This line was never designed for grey bag and therefore, it is not as efficient. However, the process ensures that the treated material is made ready for export and is in fact exported,” the spokesperson said. “Therefore, most of the grey bag is exported. “Rejected waste”, waste not suitable for recycling, are landfilled.”

Footage published by NET News at Magħtab is actually this rejected waste.

In 2018, the government launched the ‘Sort It Out’ campaign for households to separate organic waste but the infrastructure was not up to scratch and some black bag waste kept getting mixed with organic waste.

“Since this mechanical and biological treatment was not designed to handle organic and since organic waste separation was introduced about a year ago, we had to mix this with some black bag as otherwise, the mechanical part of the facility would not be able to move the organic,” the spokesperson explained.

“The organic waste has now reached what we call the critical mass required for the facility to operate and we are therefore in a position to accept source segregated organic waste at the Sant Antnin.”

WasteServ has now embarked on an upgrade at Sant’ Antnin to treat organic waste separately, but while this is taking place, all organic waste has been diverted to the Malta North facility. 

However, this facility is now operating at full capacity, leaving it unable to take excess black bag waste, particularly since recyclable waste increased by around 8,000 tonnes over the last year. The remaining black bag waste and commercial waste is therefore getting landfilled directly.

The Sant’ Antnin upgrade is scheduled to be completed by May/June of this year, after which organic waste will be diverted back there, while Wasteserv is also setting up a line at Sant’ Antnin to take up around 250 tonnes of recyclable waste per week.

This is expected to free up space at the Malta North, enabling Wasteserv to treat more black bags there and reduce the need to landfill them.

Other facilities are being planned for Malta North, including a new organic processing plant which will eventually replace Sant Antnin, a waste to energy facility to take up rejected waste and a hazardous waste treatment facility to replace the Marsa facility.

However, every action has a reaction and Magħtab farmers have drawn the short end of the stick here, with Wasteserv telling them, in no uncertain terms, that studies will be carried out on their land to assess whether the state can acquire them to extend the landfill.

The Nationalist Party has come out strongly against these plans, with MP Robert Cutajar launching an online petition against it.

“The government cannot keep steamrollering over residents and farmers and tell us that it’s going to extend the Magħtab landfill and build an incinerator in the area,” he said. “We don’t want anymore barefaced robbery of our land. Decision are being taken arrogantly and without any proper consultation with local councils, residents, farmers and concerned parties.”

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