Recycling and waste management are such major issues in both the national and European political climates that the words reduce, reuse, recycle are probably burned into our brains. However, despite this, many people, businesses and individuals alike seem to not understand the severity of accumulating waste in landfills.
The Swedish nation, on the other hand, have excelled in their revolutionary waste management systems and have achieved so much that, to us Maltese, it seems almost impossible. However, with both legislative amendments and small personal lifestyle changes, we can make major strides towards the European 2020 goal.
In 2016, almost 50% of Sweden’s 212,500 tonnes of plastic was recycled. Two years later, a grand total of only 7% of all Maltese rubbish was recycled
This figure already surpassed Sweden’s 2020 goal, however, this is arguably one of their less impressive feats, as the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released an image (below) which shows that they exceeded their targets in glass, plastic and paper recycling, with 93% of glass being recycled compared to their 70% target.
In Malta, on the other hand, we actually recycled 15.3% less materials than we did the previous year, which was mainly caused by a reduction in the recycling of construction and excavation waste. Furthermore, only 8.6% of Malta’s municipal waste (mixed black bag rubbish) was recycled in 2017, a figure that is actually lower than it was in 2013, when 9.8% was recycled.
Sweden is currently pushing towards a zero-waste circular economy, much like Malta, however theirs seems actually feasible within the not-so-distant future. For those who don’t know, a circular economy is an economic system which tries to minimise waste while making the most of resources, which is very different to the take-make-waste approach many systems currently use.
So how has Sweden achieved all of this?
Well first of all, their recycling system is so good, that less than 1% of household waste ended up in a landfill each year since 2011, and the country had to literally import the waste from neighbouring states to keep their plants running as effectively as possible.
They also have countless policies in place that intend to encourage citizens to comply with sustainable behaviours. In 2017, for example, the government reformed the tax system in such a way that people could get cheaper repairs on used items to discourage discarding still-usable goods and, back in 1991, they imposed a tax on fossil fuels to being moving towards more renewable energy sources.
The global Swedish clothing brand H&M also offers a recycling scheme where patrons can receive a discount on their purchases if they return older clothing items. The government is even researching new, more sustainable materials to produce textiles with.
Sweden was also early to the party in terms of can and bottle deposit systems, introducing a money-back recycling scheme for aluminium cans in 1984, and one for plastic bottles in 1994
Nowadays, the country recycles 1.8 billion – yes, billion – cans and bottles every year that would otherwise end up in landfills.
Oh, and let’s not forget that they also get rid of a lot of waste by turning it into energy, powering buses and internal heating systems by burning rubbish with low-carbon incinerators or by turning food waste into climate-friendly biogas fuel.
What is Malta doing to combat the plastic problem?
Malta also operates a bottle return system, where people receive 10 eurocents for ever plastic, glass or metal bottle they return to specialised machines set up around the island.
Apart from that, Malta also had a scheme where fisherman could receive compensation for the plastic they pick up from the sea-floor and hand in to be recycled.
A few years ago, the government tried to encourage more people to transfer to renewable energy sources by introducing a subsidy on solar panels and a scheme which allows people to get reimbursed for any excess energy generated and sold back to the grid.
What can you do personally?
Apart from the bottle deposit scheme, there are actually many small changes the average Joe can adopt that will greatly impact the quality of waste management in Malta.
Ida Lemoine, founder of Beteendelabbet, a Swedish organisation that focuses on sustainable living, states that there a three small changes that individuals could do to live more sustainably, namely “eat less meat, stop throwing stuff away and fly less”.
Now I understand that we kind of need to take a flight if we want to visit anywhere quite far away, however, for your next trip to Sicily, maybe consider taking the catamaran instead, or using trains to travel through Europe over connecting flights.
Apart from that, you could also make an effort to separate and recycle your own waste, or dedicate some of your free time to helping with events like beach clean-ups. Plus, I’m sure you can remember at least one more thing from your Form 4 Geography lessons on sustainability that you haven’t fully adopted into your life.
The sad truth is that Malta is simply not moving towards a sustainable future fast enough, so we as a collective whole need to stop watching grass die and get off our asses before there’s no grass left for us to kill.