A 5,000-square-metre incinerator with a 70-metre chimney will be developed in Magħtab by 2023. It will gobble up 40 per cent of Malta’s waste and will produce 69,000 mega watt/hour of electricity, electricity from non-recyclable waste.

According to the technical report of British company Frith Resource Management, the technology used for this ‘moving grate combustion’, is the “best, most efficient method of incineration used around the world!” A total €100 million will be invested in the project through a public-private partnership to design, finance and build and its emissions will be covered by the EU industrial emissions directive.

The above is the government’s narrative on its incineration policy. In the meantime, residents in the Magħtab area are concerned that the government has abandoned previous plans and decided to opt for incineration prior to engaging in wide consultation. One major issue is that plastic will be burned in the proposed plant and that this can have negative impacts on people’s health.

Sure,  the government can insist that it is engaging with experts in the field on this matter. Indeed, Environment Minister José Herrera recently told a newspaper that he has informally met experts, various potential investors, NGOs and politicians from all sides of the political sphere. He also said that experts and NGO representatives who form part of his technical committee gave “unanimous” advice that Malta needs a waste-to-energy plant.

Would he courteously bother to publish minutes on such meetings? Can he also inform the public how the representatives of his technical committee were chosen, and which forms of expertise were considered?

Herrera also said that he did not meet the residents’ association as he did not know where the plant was to be placed. Well, what is stopping him from meeting them now? And why not meet representatives of other localities including local councillors, given Malta’s small size?

Local councils’ already limited authority is being gobbled up by an increasingly hungry State that centralises power in the hands of ministers

The minister is also justifying his pro-incineration stance by insisting that Malta is running out of space and time on waste management. Here he has a point, especially since at current rates, Malta’s landfill will be full up in around two years.

But surely, the government’s lack of commitment to various aspects of waste management does not help. Indeed, one can safely say that following Malta’s EU accession, Malta adopted a number of positive waste management initiatives and even though the country was a European laggard, things were improving. But this was not sustained in the past years.

Government-owned Wasteserv has some very dedicated and professional people. But it is also serving as an employment agency especially for workers from ministerial constituencies. Public sector initiatives that were being developed in the past, such as the Green Leaders scheme were abandoned, and green public procurement is way too basic to be taken seriously.

Government action on the three ‘Rs’ – reduce, reuse, recycle – is very poor, and rhetoric on the circular economy is not implemented. Suffice to say that construction waste – which accounts for around 85 per cent of waste in the islands – is not re-used. Business waste is largely unaccounted for.

Huge public institutions and huge areas such as beaches have very rudimental waste management operations. Local councils’ already limited authority is being gobbled up by an increasingly hungry State that centralises power in the hands of ministers.

In short, the government is failing to keep up the momentum on waste management. Should such inefficiency persist, the government’s mantra of ‘there is no alternative’ could well become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In the meantime, the Labour government should be challenged on what it means by a public-private partnership. Will it be another Vitals? Will there be dubious links as is the case with other privatisation projects? Will government commission independent reports regarding pollution and other environmental, economic and social impacts? Do such reports already exist?

Finally, why is the government planning to have the incinerator ready after the next general election and not before it? And why was it announced after last year’s general election?

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