Environment Minister: ‘Magħtab Fire Wouldn’t Have Happened If We Had A Waste Incinerator’

"The reality is that Malta is running out of space"

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Wasteserv workers pour inert material over the site. Photo: Johann Caruana

Today’s fire at a waste storage facility in Magħtab wouldn’t have happened if Malta had an incinerator to treat rubbish, Environment Minister Jose Herrera explained.

“Malta’s population has exploded and the amount of waste generated has exploded as a result,” Herrera told a press conference. “We are running out of space. EU directives place limits on the use of landfills and Malta’s landfills are approaching full capacity, which is why the government has taken the radical decision of setting up an incinerator. If we had an incinerator, today’s incident wouldn’t have happened."

The minister confirmed that studies on the planned incinerator are ongoing, while tendering documents are being drafted up and will be published in the coming months.

"There's been a lot of local and international interest in this project, I can feel it," he said. "Many companies and consortiums are showing interest."

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Environment Minister Jose Herrera with Wasteserv CEO David Montebello

Wasteserv CEO Tonio Montebello confirmed that the flames had erupted at a site containing refuse-derived fuel, which was going to be exported to Portugal to be generated into electricity.

After last year’s fire at the Sant Antnin waste treatment plant, Wasteserv decided to separate the refuse-derived fuel from the rest of the waste at Magħtab because of its high calorific value and its consequent risk of self-combusting. This waste was stored relatively far away from the rest of the plant and inert material was regularly piled into it to avert a possible fire. It took eight months for Wasteserv to obtain the necessary Portuguese permits to export the waste and the exportation process started a month ago.

Asked whether anything could have been done to avoid the incident, Herrera was very frank about the situation.

“China has introduced new regulations which make it harder for us to export our waste there, while trans-border regulations in Europe make it tough to acquire export permits,” he said. “Can we completely avoid fires at landfills? The reality is they happen everywhere across the world because the material involved is inflammable, so all we can do is minimise incidents, bearing in mind Malta’s limited space.”

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Tim Diacono

Tim Diacono tends to clam up when asked to describe himself. You can contact him on [email protected]