Environmentalists have slammed the ban on single-use plastics as “not bold enough” as thin plastic bags, and some other major sources of plastic pollution, escape the cull.  

In an effort to curb pollution and limit the devastating effects to marine life, the new year saw a halt on the importation of plastic cotton bud sticks, cutlery, plates, straws, beverage stirrers, balloon sticks and polystyrene containers and cups. 

“The ban was a step in the right direction but it was not bold enough and we could do better,” environment campaigner Cami Appelgren, who has been at the forefront in the war on plastic, said.

While the ban also includes the ubiquitous plastic bag, a leading source of marine life fatalities, it exempts “very lightweight plastic bags below 15 microns” and biodegradable and compostable ones, drawing Appelgren’s criticism.

“The number one issue we have was not included,” she wrote in a social media post.

“These are the bags found in the sea at every single clean-up.

“So, we can look forward to all shops making customers overdose on the tiny useless vegetable bags. I’ve seen people using them like there’s no tomorrow.”

The director of Friends of the Earth, Martin Galea de Giovanni, echoed Appelgren saying “all SUP bags must be banned irrespective of shape, size and thickness”, explaining that reusability and redesign of products is key and this is not reflected enough in the strategy.   

“Material and resource use must be reduced in the absolute sense if we want to stop the depletion of natural resources,” he said. 

Applegren also pointed out that since Malta doesn’t have the facilities to process compostable and biodegradable bags, which can neither be recycled nor put in the organic compost bag, they often end up in the landfill where they break down very slowly and release methane as a result. 

Another issue of concern flagged by the activist was that the legislation only banned polystyrene cups and containers, meaning that many other types of plastic cups and containers that are heavy polluters will still remain available on the market. 

“And what about wet wipes and balloons,” she asked, pointing out that they were missing from the list, even though they were among common items found in clean-ups.

Galea de Giovanni added that plastic cigarette filters and take-out beverage cups made from composite materials, such as paper cups lined with plastic, were also major polluters since they were often landfilled and should have also been banned.

Video: Joe Paolella

And, apart from a ban on certain single-use plastic items, he said that more had to be done to incentivise people within the community to throw out less plastic, such as building water fountains in all localities to reduce the number of plastic bottles purchased.

According to legislation, those failing to comply with the regulations will be liable to a fine of up to €1,500. A second conviction will be met with a fine of up to €2,500.

In July 2024, the ban on single-use plastics will also en­compass plastic beverage containers including those made of composite materials with a capacity of up to three litres that don’t have attachable lids or caps. 

A spokesperson for the Ministry for the Environment told Times of Malta the reason behind this was to reduce the number of loose bottle caps from getting into the sea since they are extremely damaging to the marine environment.

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