If only people everywhere would realise the harm plastic is doing to our health and to the environment the huge amount of plastic waste lying around on land and at sea would surely be reduced considerably.

As global awareness of such harm is leading to action, albeit slow, by a number of countries to reduce plastic use, a set of new figures about plastic waste released by the National Office of Statistics does seem to indicate that Malta is doing its bit to curb the problem.

According to official data, the amount of plastic generated in 2016 was twice that recorded the year before, though almost all of it was recycled. A total of 8,714 tons were generated, of which 7,915 were recovered and treated. Of this, 7,976 tons were recycled. This would seem to be good news but what happened to the remaining 800 tons? The NSO said, presumably, this was not recovered, meaning it remained scattered across the island.

The amount is big enough to call for greater action to bring the figure further down.

Plastic was a brilliant invention but it has had serious side effects, mainly because of an inability to check waste. In addition to the locally-generated plastic waste, one must also consider what is washed ashore. It is calculated that, globally, over eight million tons of plastic is finding its way into the sea every year, enough to sound alarm bells over the impact it is having on marine life and, also, on the food chain.

Minute microplastics and fibres, measuring the width of a human hair or even less, have been found in a large range of products, including processed foods, bottled and tap water as well as soft drinks. More than 90 per cent of all birds and fish are said to have plastic particles in their stomach.

Prince Charles made the international headlines when, taking part in an ocean summit in Malta in October last year, said that, today, “plastic is on the menu” due to the increasing amounts of the material found in fish caught for the dinner table. He noted that all the plastic that had ended up in the sea since 1950s was still with us in one form or another “so that wherever you swim there are particles of plastic near you and we are very close to reaching the point when whatever wild-caught fish you eat will contain plastic”.

A detailed investigation of floating marine litter in coastal and inshore waters in Malta and Gozo has shown that plastics amounted to 86 per cent of all items of floating litter recorded.

As in other countries, Malta would need to tackle the problem on various fronts. The first is through education, encouraging people to use less plastic. It is also time to launch the planned beverage container refund scheme, which could prove unpopular at first, but will definitely help to reduce plastic waste even further.

Hopefully, it will not take too many years before new rules proposed by the European Commission to ban single-use plastic items, such as plastic bags, cutlery, cups and other disposable items, are brought into force.

Malta should start taking action in this direction ahead of the coming into force of any EU directive. There is not time to waste.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial


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