The umpteenth nationwide clean-up campaign was launched in early May, lasting until the end of the month. It was yet another attempt to deal effectively with the problem of rubbish and waste management. That is not to say it has been a waste of time, because it always pays to hammer home the message ‘Keep Malta Clean’.

Much of the Xummiemu generation have grown up to be proactive in environment protection and appreciation. The affable cartoon hedgehog that was so present in everyday life in the 1990s would make constant appeals for the environment to be protected and for people not to litter.

Xummiemu advised all how to dispose of waste correctly, insisted that we do not leave any rubbish behind and even that we remove other people’s leftovers. He championed civic pride.

Regrettably, the hedgehog went into hibernation, though he resurfaced some time in 2012, only to go out of circulation again. He remains nowhere to be seen.

An attempt, this time to raise awareness on municipal waste separation and recycling, was made in 2018 when Wasteserv launched a campaign themed Sort It Out. This included the distribution of free recycling bin sets to all households, the aim being to instil behavioural change and foster waste separation practices.

Such efforts need to be ongoing and constantly upgraded if they are to reach the targets.

Those targets are desired by all – well, certainly by the majority. As for the others, litter bugs are still a fact of life and the lack of enforcement – more likely the official unwillingness to act decisively lest precious electoral votes are lost – grants them all a good measure of impunity.

May’s campaign to spruce up Malta may well have been a knee-jerk reaction by the authorities as the country prepared to start accepting tourists again following the restrictions imposed to contain the spread of COVID-19.

The government had promised to sustain the clean-up even after the campaign is concluded, but whether it is doing so remains to be seen.

Some of the evidence is not good. A few days ago, the mayor of St Julian’s complained that lack of enforcement was turning the locality into a shabby town, with mountains of black bags and carton boxes used by commercial outlets turning the streets into an eyesore.

The will to keep Malta clean must become more than a temporary mission: it must be turned into a permanent and a systematic government programme supported by citizens.

At one time, there used to be an inter-ministerial entity to oversee such action plans but it is not clear whether this still functions.

If enforcement and coordination can contribute towards the ultimate goal of keeping the country clean, education will go a long way towards ensuring the fight against littering and inadequate waste disposal practices becomes a collective endeavour.

Kudos to Wasteserv, therefore, for deciding to convert its visitors’ centre in Marsascala into an interactive activity area for children to have fun and learn about waste management and the circular economy.

The latest official figures show that the generation of municipal waste is increasing as recycling drops. And this is a sad outcome after so many years of trying to teach the basics.

Perhaps it is time to consider appointing a top official to oversee public cleanliness, on similar lines as the superintendent for public health.

Giving additional powers to the commissioner for the environment and planning at the office of the ombudsman could be a good start.

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