A gas cylinder, a long, pointed knife and an industrial fan were among the highly dangerous objects that made their way into the grey recycling bags this month.
Wasteserv, the waste management company, continues to grapple with tonnes of highly flammable or hazardous objects that are illicitly thrown in the grey bags and that could set the recycling facility up in blazing flames.
Yet, WasteServ CEO Richard Bilocca said he believes the country has largely improved its separation of waste and is set to reach record recycling figures this year.
A visit to the WasteServ facility in Magħtab this week showed the high technology being used to separate the increasing waste being generated by an increasing population. Yet, despite a continuous educational campaign for both households and industry, WasteServ keeps weeding out dangerous and potentially explosive material.
Recycling in the grey bags must double
“Let me tell you how serious this is. If the gas cylinder gets pinched in the machinery of the garbage truck or in one of the machines in our recycling plant it could explode or flare up in an instantaneous fire,” Bilocca explained, holding up a heavily dented, orange gas cylinder.
“Imagine a cylinder like that exploding in the truck near a school or in a narrow residential road, or in the vicinity of our workers here. It is dangerous for our workers, it contaminates the recyclable material and it could cost us the entire plant. To throw away an object that could explode in someone’s hands is a criminal activity.”
Over the past three weeks, WasteServ employees sourced the following from grey bags: industrial fans, large knives, laptops with batteries, tyres, computer keyboards, appliances, ropes, fishing nets, a flat screen television, car stereos, a camping stove with a gas cylinder still inside it, aquarium CO2 tanks and thousands of shoes, clothes and bulky children’s toys.
On worse days, WasteServ employees have even fished out animal heads, internal organs or whole carcasses from the grey bags. The more gruesome waste tends to increase whenever there is negative press about waste management, Bilocca said.
“It happens much less frequently nowadays, but whenever someone unjustly publicly accuses WasteServ of not separating waste or mixing everything together, for instance, we notice a dip in the quality of the recyclable waste we receive in the following week.”
Wartime pistol cartridges and Chinese flares
Earlier this month some 140 tonnes of recyclable waste had to be dumped after a Chinese flare and other wartime flare pistol cartridges were found in the grey bags.
Workers had to call in the army to detonate the flammable objects in a controlled explosion.
“We couldn’t know for sure there weren’t other flammable objects that went unnoticed in the waste that came in with the explosives, so we were forced to dump the whole lot for safety reasons,” Bilocca explained.
Every dangerous object could have been disposed free of charge in civic amenity sites or collected through the bulky refuse service, which is also easy to use and free of charge, he said.
40,000 tonnes of recyclable waste
WasteServ’s Ecohive recycling plant in Magħtab can process around 40,000 tonnes of recyclable waste every year.
Machines are meticulously programmed to work in synergy with each other to process the largest possible amount of waste in the least possible time.
So even the objects that cannot catch fire – like ropes and fishing nets – could still jam the machines, essentially bringing the entire plant to a halt, costing huge backlogs and expensive repairs, he said.
Despite the irresponsible dumping, WasteServ is expected to export the highest tonnage of recyclable waste in its 20-year history, despite the new BCRS scheme taking a substantial amount of what used to be WasteServ’s exportable plastic and aluminium cans.
The numbers could, however, increase. A lot of what is thrown in the black bags could be disposed in the grey or organic bags.
Recycling in the grey bag must double and a fifth of black bags from households still contain waste that could go in the organic bags. Shops and businesses are doing worse, with almost a third of their black bag contents that should be redirected in the organic bag.