Single-use plastics are clogging our seas, killing our marine life and causing irreparable damage to our natural environment.
Worrying statistics show us that close to 75 per cent of the marine litter in the world’s oceans is plastic.
Malta and Gozo are no different. Most of it is single-use, non-biodegradable plastic that remains in our ecosystems for centuries, harming our health, choking our fish and throttling our turtles.
It simply cannot continue at the current rate. It is time for change, and it’s not only plastics: it’s our entire waste-management system that needs updating and enforcing.
Changing the way we deal with waste and the way we devour harmful, instantly throwaway goods is not easy. Nor is it something that can be changed overnight.
But there are a few simple steps we can all take to reduce the impact on our environment. The first, and one of the most problematic, is limiting or eliminating our inexplicable love affair with single-use plastic containers and packaging.
A recent cleanup turned up a plastic ice-cream container that had been discarded in the early 1990s. It was in pristine condition, which gives you a small idea of the lasting effect of the choices we make.
The impact of small decisions can be enormous. Imagine if instead of the usual plastic bags we still see everywhere, we used boxes or cloth, or if we stopped purchasing products covered in excessive, unnecessary plastic packaging, or if instead of throwing away a coffee cup every time we have a hot drink, we went for reusable flasks, if instead of the usual plastic straws, we gave our children paper straws or ones made out of bamboo, if instead of plastic confetti during our festas, we went back to using paper.
I could go on, but my point is that minuscule – almost unnoticeable – changes in our lifestyles can make a massive difference.
Minuscule – almost unnoticeable – changes in our lifestyles can make a massive difference
It is not only about the small steps we could all take. Change must also come in the form of binding legislation.
Just before summer, the European Commission published proposals that aim to reduce the consumption of single-use plastics, to place market restrictions on items such as plastic straws and cutlery and to introduce product-marking requirements for items such as balloons.
This is a big step forward and will reduce the marine litter on EU beaches by about 25 per cent over the next decade.
In the European Parliament, we want to use these proposals to make the necessary changes to EU law to help our environment recover. As your MEPs, we will be able to vote on these proposals later this year.
I know how important this is, particularly for an island nation like ours that depends so much on our seas.
European-level legislation is crucial, but the situation in Malta and Gozo means that we should not and cannot wait.
We can go further than EU law and implement other, additional models that work in our local context.
One area where this is sorely needed is waste management. It is time to ensure that our country can manage its waste correctly. We are long behind in introducing a mandatory scheme of waste separation for households and businesses.
We can no longer excuse ourselves by dumping everything in a black bag and hoping it disappears.
If we do not implement proper incentives and introduce regulations on waste management and recycling, we will be deserting our responsibility and leaving the next generation to pick up the pieces.
It is too urgent; it is too important to ignore any longer.
As lawmakers we must have the courage to take the bull by the horns. Our legal framework must be updated and, crucially, it must be enforced. It is no use having the best laws in the world if they are to be flouted with impunity.
In recent decades we have managed to transform Malta. We’ve become the financial services island, the online-gaming island, the tourism island, the maritime law island and now the blockchain island.
Is it not time to become the Mediterranean’s first marine-litter-free island?
You can be the difference. No one else will do it for you. Don’t shrug it off as someone else’s responsibility – it is yours.
It’s time to make a change.
Roberta Metsola is a Nationalist MEP.
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