Malta will dump 40 per cent more waste in landfills by 2030 if nothing is done to tackle the ever-increasing flow of domestic rubbish, a new government document has warned.
In nine years’ time, the giant heap of black bags – equivalent to an extra two bags for every five currently being landfilled – would require vast stretches of land to be turned into new dumping grounds, according to projections made by the Environment Ministry.
The doomsday prediction is spelled out in a new long-term waste management plan, which was launched by the government earlier this week and proposes an overhaul of the way waste is being collected and managed.
The 200-page document lays out two separate forecasts: one for what would happen if the country were to do nothing over the next few years and another in which previously announced waste management plans are introduced effectively.
The main driver of this change will be the installation of a proposed €200 million waste-to-energy facility. This plant will halve Malta’s dependency on landfilling, the document says.
Currently, the country generates around 300,000 tonnes of ‘municipal solid waste’ every year. This type of refuse is one of the most challenging waste streams to deal with because it includes soiled rubbish of different sorts and is difficult to separate, similar to that coming from households.
Scenario 1: doing nothing
The government’s analysts came up with an equation to model the generation of waste over the coming decade.
They found that, by 2030, residential mixed waste will have increased from 300,000 to 423,000 tonnes. This increase will occur despite the already introduced behavioural shifts that resulted from campaigns carried out prior to 2019, which saw the widespread take-up of organic and recyclable waste separation using white and grey bags.
The document warns that if no serious action is taken to tackle this situation “the consequences are stark for waste management in terms of economic, social and environmental costs”.
It says that available empty landfill space is currently limited and, without significant additional uptake of land as a last resort, the increase in waste generation is simply not sustainable.
In a scenario with no major changes, the Malta north waste facility will continue to treat organic waste while applying any spare capacity to treat black bags.
By 2030, Malta would be producing 383,580 tonnes of solid municipal waste, which also includes non-residential waste, of which 90 per cent would still need to be landfilled.
Recovery of material would remain low, at around 15,258 tonnes or four per cent of total municipal waste generated.
Energy recovery from this type of refuse would remain below one per cent, with hazardous waste disposal also low at three per cent.
This scenario assumes that recyclables would be landfilled or exported directly due to there being no major treatment options locally. But this would be in breach of the country’s legal obligations and is described as no-go scenario.
Scenario 2: Implementing a waste management plan
The alternative scenario is one that sets Malta on a path of substantial investment in waste management, primarily through a new waste-to-energy plant.
This scenario assumes that the remaining black bags will not be landfilled but, instead, be sent to the new plant.
Under this scenario, 45 per cent, or 190,359 tonnes, of municipal waste will end up being landfilled by 2030.
Recovery of material from this waste will be around 12 per cent, or 52,349 tonnes, and almost five per cent, or 21,845 tonnes, of this waste will be treated through composting.
It is projected that 52,800 tonnes of solid municipal waste will be treated through energy recovery by 2030.
Meanwhile, recycling of solid municipal waste through the new plants is projected to increase from four to 18 per cent.
Waste flow projections
The document also puts forward a scenario “where household behaviour is optimised”. This would see the mass of black bags fall dramatically to 40,000 tonnes.
This change would result from improvements in separation at source, coupled with higher recyclability of waste.
In this scenario, the shift from black bags would see grey bags increase from 36,000 to almost 160,000 tonnes.
Organic bags would also increase from 30,000 tonnes to 69,000 tonnes.
Capacity of recovery facilities would have to increase to around 210,000 tonnes annually in order to treat waste generated from grey bags, bring-in sites and civic amenity sites, the document reads.