Quarry owners refusing to accept construction waste have again been warned that the government will take over their site if they do not change their stance.

They would be offered a fixed price for every tonne of debris received, with the possibility of contesting the rate before a magistrate, Environment Minister José Herrera said.

He sounded the warning on Monday in the wake of complaints from the construction industry that the price of dumping waste has recently doubled, in breach of an agreement reached last February between the government and the Malta Developers Association.

The price has increased from €8 to €15 per tonne.

At present, only two quarries are receiving construction waste – one in Mqabba and one in Għar Lapsi. The upward revision has fuelled anger among contractors, who are calling on the government to find a solution.

Broken promises

Asked for his reaction to the situation, Dr Herrera accused both the operators and MDA president Sandro Chetcuti of failing to keep their word.

“They had promised to agree on a fixed price in return for tax benefits,” he said.

The minister said the issue needed to be resolved once and for all and announced that in the coming days a survey would be carried out to take stock of the number of existing quarries.

“The process will mainly focus on quarries which are on government-owned land that are leased to the private sector for a cheap rate,” he pointed out.

Some of them are supposed to be receiving construction waste but this is not happening

“Some of these quarries are supposed to be receiving construction waste but this is not happening, while others are not being used at all.”

He clarified that the government had no intention of requisitioning the quarries or terminating their lease.

“We will manage the sites in order to be able to receive debris at the current market price.”

In case of disagreement, he added, the operator could seek redress through an established independent mechanism before a magistrate empowered to set the price.

Producer pays principle?

Dr Herrera took a dig at the MDA chief.  “Contrary to what Mr Chetcuti says, throughout the world the ultimate responsibility for disposing of construction waste is the contractors’ and not the government’s.”

This principle, he said, had been recognised by retailers and soft drink importers who were actively involved in the plastic bottle refund scheme. “It is high time that the construction industry recognised the producer-pays principle,” the minister remarked. 

Dr Herrera said that a recently set up state entity, the Resource, Recovery and Recycling agency, would be holding talks with the MDA to explore ways of recycling construction waste. 

The lack of disposal facilities for construction waste has been a recurring problem for years but was further accentuated by the construction boom.

Warnings to quarry owners of a potential takeover by the government were first sounded two years ago. Subsequently, in June last year, contractors had complained that space was running out, to the point that the entire industry could grind to a halt. This crisis was averted at the eleventh hour when the Environment Resources Authority issued permits that enable 10 quarries in the limits of Mqabba, Siġġiewi and Iklin to take in debris.

At the time operators were given the opportunity to claim a tax credit of 25 per cent of the gross fees paid. For some reason, however, not all of these permits were utilised, meaning that some of the quarries earmarked to receive construction waste did not serve the purpose at all.

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