A proposal to locate Malta’s next landfill on an artificial island in the sea has raised concerns within the Environment and Resources Authority.
Tonio Montebello, CEO of Wasteserv Ltd, told a seminar on waste management that identifying an alternative area of land to operate a second landfill after Magħtab closes down may be out of the question. That is, he said, unless the new landfill can be situated offshore.
Yet varying conditions may not allow for the same technical approach in Maltese waters as used to build an offshore landfill in Singapore. Semakau landfill is actually built in shallow waters across two existing islands which have been artificially extended to take Singapore’s waste.
While constrained by similar circumstances of dense population and restricted land space, developing a landfill seven kilometres off the Maltese coastline would clash with the London and Barcelona conventions curbing dumping at sea.
Participants at the seminar, organised by the Cleaner Technology Centre, heard how the Magħtab landfill is due to reach capacity within a few years. Wasteserv Ltd is currently seeking technical advice on how Mount Magħtab can be extended skyward to gain time until a final decision can be made on alternative disposal options.
Reduce, re-use, recycle is the first option. Some landfilling will always be needed but for what remains it will be a difficult choice between waste-to-energy (incineration) and export. The latter may prove to be far too costly.
Prof. Thomas Lindhqvist of the International Institute for Industrial and Environmental Economics (Sweden) spoke of ships loaded with waste sailing around the world, unable to find a port that would accept them.
Sweden has started to regulate incineration more stringently since a lot of the waste going into incinerators in his country was “something we should not really incinerate” because of the problems it caused.
Prof. Lindqvist is known as the originator of the Extended Producer Responsibility concept that shifted responsibility for waste disposal away from municipalities and onto the producer of waste.
Developing a landfill off the Maltese coastline would clash with the London and Barcelona conventions curbing dumping at sea
Increasingly tough European recycling targets aim to retrieve reusable material from the waste stream, diverting them away from landfill or incineration. Shifting toward a circular economy means that at the end of a product’s lifetime its component materials can be taken apart and the useful parts processed in a different way.
Jonathan Borg, director of technical consultancy bureau MECB Ltd, noted that recyclability must be designed into a product at the earliest stages of its life cycle. EU partners are developing a digital training toolbox to transfer specialist expertise on recycling of products to other stakeholders.
Hazardous waste is best dealt with quickly. Forgotten waste stored in drums can become very costly to dispose of as it would require expensive testing for identification. Mary Gaerty, chairperson of the Association of Recyclers in Malta and managing director of Green Skip Services Ltd, said there was no longer any excuse not to treat hazardous waste since more solutions had become available.
At present, abbatoir waste, clinical waste and expired medicines are incinerated at the Marsa facility.
CTC director Anton Pizzuto questioned the availability of data on emissions monitoring at the Marsa incinerator. Some information on stack monitoring is available through EPR data and on European websites.
Revised targets aim to reduce landfilling of municipal waste to a maximum of 10 per cent by 2030 and ban landfilling of separately collected waste.
On a European scale, Malta’s waste streams are small, yet tourism generates twice as much waste as Maltese residents do. Sergio Tartaglia, senior environmental officer at the ERA, spoke on the ambitious new recycling targets and the need for new systems to cope with them.
The optimisation of routes taken by waste collection trucks could reduce the carbon footprint of waste management in Malta, according to Margaret Camilleri Fenech, assistant lecturer at the Institute for Climate Change and Sustainable Development.
Concluding, Mr Montebello warned against too much reliance on waste-to-energy technology, saying that incineration was an important part of the waste infrastructure but not to burn waste that could otherwise be recycled.
Incineration should not be thought of as a cure-all solution for all our waste problems. A strategic environmental assessment on the national waste management plan found an absence of economic value ascribed to some waste streams.
Guidance on disposal options issued in January by the European Commission considers the problem from a climate perspective:
“Disposal in landfills or through incineration with little or no energy recovery is usually the least favourable option for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Conversely, waste prevention, reuse and recycling have the highest potential to reduce GHG emissions.”
It is an environmental priority of Malta’s EU presidency to deliver tangible, concrete progress on waste proposals at EU council level.