Many Maltese are not aware that the Magħ-tab environmental complex is made up of a number of different facilities that handle Malta’s waste in a sustainable manner.

Some of these facilities are still under construction and others, like the civic amenity site near the present entrance and the Għallis engineered landfill, are facilities the country presently depends on for waste to be treated in the best way possible.

However, this wasn’t always the case. Though the name Magħtab really refers to a small town in the vicinity, many associate this with the closed Magħtab dump in use between 1978 and 2004.

With an area of 280 square metres and a height of 60 metres, the old Magħtab landfill is visible from various localities around the islands. In the past, Magħtab, which was originally a valley, received all sorts of waste, including electronic waste, hazardous waste, waste from homes as well as a substantial amount of construction waste.

As a result of all this dumping, regular fires used to occur, due to air trapped between the rocks and other inert waste, waste serving as a fuel and high temperatures generated from the decomposition of waste itself. The total amount of waste disposed in the site was 19 million tonnes.

On May 1, 2004, in accordance with European directives, which Malta was then obliged to follow, the last remaining uncontrolled landfills of Magħtab and Qortin, in Gozo, were closed.

At the same time, engineered landfills were introduced, which meant that landfills now included a number of protective layers at the sides and bottom to keep the surrounding environment from the ‘leachate’.

This is the technical term for the liquid produced as a result of decomposing waste, which used to seep into the geology and, eventually, reach the coastal area, with detrimental results to the water quality, flora and fauna of the site. The first engineered landfill was opened in 2004 at Ta’ Żwejra.

Each person can make significant changes to our environment by reducing, reusing and recycling our waste

In the meantime, inert waste from the construction industry was already being diverted to disused quarries, which is still an ongoing practice led primarily by the private sector.

WasteServ introduced bring-in sites for domestic recyclable materials and the first civic amenity sites for household bulky waste. These changes meant that only the black bag was to be deposited in the engineered landfill, thereby reducing the amount of waste being landfilled and introducing the important concept of separating and recycling waste.

Given the limited space available at Żwejra, work began on the Għallis engineered landfill to obtain the necessary permits and works to start utilising this space immediately after Żwejra’s closure.

In fact, Għallis is the engineered landfill we have been using since 2006. At this site, rock is continuously being excavated to make space for the extension of the engineered landfill to have more space to use. The rock being extracted is then used in other projects by WasteServ, such as the rehabilitation of Magħtab, which is ongoing but expected to be completed by the end of this year.

In the context of the waste management strategy introduced by the European Union, the challenge being faced presently by the country is to reduce the amount of waste reaching this landfill.

Recent statistics show that in 2013, more than 263,000 tonnes of waste were disposed of at the Għallis landfill. This amount is expected to be reduced by the end of this year, when the Malta north mechanical and biological treatment plant is completed.

While at the moment, the Sant’Antnin waste treatment plant receives roughly one third of the island’s household waste, the Malta north project will have the capacity to treat the remaining two thirds, which is currently disposed of at Għallis engineered landfill.

This plant will also treat organic waste found in the black bag in the same way it is treated at the Sant’Antnin plant, where the organic waste is turned into compost while generating electricity in the process.

Though investment in this sector is essential, each individual’s contribution is of equal importance. By adjusting our lifestyles and recognising waste as a resource and not a problem, each person can make significant changes to our environment by reducing, reusing and recycling waste.

More collaboration from the public will result in less energy consumed for the treatment of waste and help extend the lifetime of the present engineered landfill, avoiding the need to take up more space from our countryside.

More information is available on www.facebook.com/wasteserv and www.wasteservmalta.com.

Tonio Montebello is CEO of WasteServ Malta Ltd

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