What is wrong with the civic amenity sites? The country’s bulky refuse disposal centres are turning into junkyards, with piles of white goods and electronic waste left to accumulate haphazardly. The situation continues to worsen.

Manned by state agency Wasteserv’s staff, these facilities have been in operation for more than a decade as part of a drive to encourage households to dispose of unwanted items in an orderly fashion, without placing additional strain on the Magħtab landfill. The goods deposited at the Mrieħel, Ħal Far, Magħtab, Ta’ Qali and Tal-Kus sites are meant to be recycled, either locally or abroad.

The facilities are also supposedly equipped with containers allocated for different kinds of waste, like wood, batteries, construction material, electronic equipment, white goods, paper or garden items. The concept is that users wanting to dispose of the bulky items should be able to drive through the civic amenity site and deposit the items according to the specific, clearly-marked container.

But the reality on the ground at many sites is starkly different. At Magħtab, the site has degenerated to the extent that one can barely drive through it. Mrieħel is similarly beset with problems. The facility has simply run out of space. Although the civic amenity at Ta’ Qali appears to be well organised, this too is filled to capacity.

One of the causes of the problems is that economies of scale and the so-called waste electrical and electronic (WEEE) schemes administered by the Environment and Resources Authority are causing a backlog in the collection of WEEE waste (white goods, television sets, water heaters, computers and air-conditioning units) for recycling abroad.

This has led to the amenity sites being “overstocked” with WEEE material. The ERA has admitted there might be situations where there is an excess of stored WEEE items pending export. It is therefore clearly up to the environment watchdog to manage the disposal of this waste material and its subsequent export more effectively.

A Wasteserv spokeswoman attributed the prevailing situation to the failure of [WEEE] schemes to perform on a regular basis. The position is further compounded by the fact that one of the main problems industry sources face is that items containing highly sought-after metal parts that attract a good price on the market are not reaching amenity centres.

Cookers, washing machines and air-conditioning units are being illegally dismantled and their metal parts are being sold on the black market for recycling. Consequently, those in WEEE schemes complain there is not a level playing field, thus acting as a further disincentive.

What is to be done? These erratic arrangements must be brought under control. The illegal dismantling and the black market conditions must be stopped by tighter enforcement of the law. And if, as reported, there is insufficient capacity to export certain types of WEEE material, thus causing bottlenecks, urgent solutions to resolve it must be found.

The first action must be for Wasteserv, which is the agency responsible for the day-to-day management of sites and the environment watchdog, which is responsible for WEEE schemes and overall policy in this area, to get together and devise an overarching plan to deal with the pressing issues on the ground. If necessary, the Minister for the Environment must step in to knock heads together.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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