When Environment Minister José Herrera unveiled new recycling laws late last year, he boasted that they were the “best ever” in Malta’s history.

Statistics released on Wednesday are further evidence that is not exactly a high benchmark.

Municipal waste statistics gathered by the National Statistics Office reveal just how far Malta is from the “circular economy” model which the government has set the country as a target.

Among other things, the figures reveal that just a slither of Malta’s municipal waste was recycled until 2017, and that far from cutting down on waste volumes, the amount of rubbish generated by the average citizen actually shot up dramatically in 2017, after an encouraging dip the previous year.

The figures, which were provided to the NSO by WasteServ and the Environment and Resources Authority, shed light on the types – and amounts – of waste we throw away each year, as well as what we are recycling.

The lion’s share of municipal waste is mixed waste – black bag rubbish, in other words. Bulky waste’s very nature means that it is, unsurprisingly, second on the list when calculated by weight. Wood and mixed packaging vie for third place.

The share of mixed municipal waste will most likely dip significantly in the coming years, with the minute share of biodegradable waste growing, as the effects of the 2018 waste reform come into play.

Among other things, the reform introduced separate collections of organic waste, which will be churned into compost. It also sets fines for people caught not separating their waste, though questions about how such laws can be implemented remain.

More than 90% of our municipal waste was still going to landfill in 2017. Even more worrying, the percentage share of municipal waste being recycled was actually lower that year – 8.6% - than in 2013, when 9.8% was recycled.

The vast majority of our recycling is of paper and cardboard, which until 2017 made up more than the combined totals of all other recycling categories. In 2017, metal recycling picked up steam. Other categories also improved.

This breakdown will also likely change in the coming years, once a bottle and beverage can refund scheme comes into effect.

The total volume of municipal waste being generated is growing year-on-year, which is to be expected as Malta’s population continues to grow. What is likely to concern planners is that the amount of waste being generated per capita is also growing.

To put things in context, the average EU citizen generates 480kg of municipal waste every year. The lower end of the scale is dominated by eastern member states – Romania, Poland and Czech Republic generate the least municipal waste per capita – with only Danes generating more than the Maltese.

Sweden and Belgium would appear to be role models in this respect, marrying lower than average municipal waste generation rates with above-average GDP per capita.

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