Plastic-free packaging and strict restrictions on many single-use plastic products could soon be a reality in Malta as the country begins its assault to tackle the massive pollutant.
In the more immediate term, the release of balloons and plastic confetti will no longer be allowed at any public events by 2020
Following the EU’s own moves to protect the environment from plastic pollution and transition to a more circular economy, the government has launched its first strategy on the issue.
In a nutshell, the strategy is geared to target two clear objectives; a reduction in the consumption of single‐use plastic (SUP) products and an improvement of the quality and quantities of SUP recycling.
Currently, plastic waste generation is increasing in the country, with around 70% of all plastic going to landfills. The strategy seems to address this beyond simple legislation, also calling for a culture and behavioural shift in the way Maltese people treat recycling and single-use plastics.
Cigarette butts, plastic bags, beverage plastic bottles, fishing floats and foam items are the most common items found in Malta
Malta is also highly dependent on the export of plastic waste. Around 30% of all plastic is exported either for recycling or incineration, implying a significant financial burden placed on the country.
Critics ultimately will argue that while a move against single-use plastics is welcomed, more pressing environmental issues do exist with Malta registering the second largest increase in CO2 emissions in the entire EU.
What is a single-use plastic product?
An SUP product is one that is made wholly or partly from plastic that are used only once before they are thrown away or recycled.
These items are things like plastic bags, straws, coffee stirrers, plastic bottles and most food packaging.
What exactly does the strategy entail?
The strategy itself proposes several measures that could be introduced in Malta within the next few years. In a broader sense (outlined in over 20 proposals)it targets a reduction in consumption, market restrictions, waste management measures, and awareness campaigns.
For example, plastic carrier bags will no longer be free as of 2022, while oxo-degradable plastics which contribute heavily to the micro-plastic issue will be prohibited on the market by 2021.
Supermarkets will also be made to have a package-free section, with consumers able to choose products that are completely devoid of plastic.
By 2022, a return system for containers used for hygiene and personal care will be introduced
That same year, education will also be targeted through the introduction of a benefits scheme for educational institutions that make use of disposable materials.
Being an island, our seas are drastically affected by the country’s plastic use. Aimed at tackling this vital issue, the strategy proposes a restriction on the use of polystyrene in fishing activities and introduce an extended producer responsibility (EPR) scheme for the industry.
An EPR scheme is a set of national measures to ensure that producers of products bear financial responsibility for the management of waste generated.
The specific items targeted in the strategy are plastic carrier bags, beverage bottles/containers, disposable cutlery and plates, containers for toiletries, straws, beverage cups and stirrers, pizza lid support, tobacco product filters, food containers, packets and wrappers, lollipop sticks, plastic kebab sticks, plastic toothpicks, cotton buds, balloons, plastic confetti, plastic wristbands, detergent containers, sanitary items, and fishing gear.