The Malta Independent 19 December 2018, Wednesday

It starts with you

Camilla Appelgren Tuesday, 10 July 2018, 09:00 Last update: about 6 months ago

You would think that, in 2018, people would understand the concept of the word sustainability. That we would always think twice before we do something, to make sure that what we do will not only benefit us but also the generations to come. The word has been around for quite some time and it has become part of what we mean when we say we want to care about our society.

Today I am going to touch a subject I normally don’t – Maltese festas – after I was told that paper confetti are mixed with plastic confetti and let go into the air. It was a windy day and much of it ended up in the sea. The Maltese law is clear when it comes to littering and in this case, due to the fact that the plastic confetti ended up in the sea where it can’t be cleaned up, they would have needed a go-ahead from someone to clean it.

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How can it be, in a time where we are so aware and have all the facts about plastic pollution, that people still don’t see the issue here? The response on social media was mostly positive but there are still people thinking “it’s just a piece of plastic, why does it matter?” We need to address this mindset as soon as possible. We must start to understand the negative impact small things can have over a period of time. After all, who thought that our plastic issue would become what it is today when it was first mentioned in 1960? Let’s learn from that mistake and do this in the right way.

The education system in Malta, when it comes to the environment, is good. I am always amazed about how much children know about the subject when I meet them and how dedicated most teachers are. However, I do think that schools are not doing enough in practical terms. Why aren’t all schools in Malta recycling? Why do we still need to cover books and copybooks in plastic? The overall sustainability isn’t there, far from it.

I urge all educators and heads of schools to have this in mind for the coming years. There are many ways to decrease waste generated in schools and it should be looked into. We can’t tell the students that environment is important and then when they look around there is no recycling bin and they have their school bags full of plastic, ordered to be bought from the ones in charge.

This is also pertinent for businesses and even some government offices. Having water dispensers to beat plastic pollution is good and these are used a lot in Malta, but what is it next to them? Usually there are single use plastic cups that in some cases are worse than a bottle which is easier to recycle. Below the dispenser there is also usually a bin with a black bag, indicating that the single use plastic will go to the landfill. Waste management is all about psychology and we need to get it right from the start. To give people the feeling that it matters, we need to send the correct signals.

It doesn’t take big changes and everyone can achieve this, no matter what the social status is. The smallest changes usually result in the biggest impact by time. This is why the smaller items are the biggest threat, because people are underestimating the impact they have. The small items are used in such big numbers that together they suddenly become our biggest issue. These items are the reason behind the plastic ocean we have today.

People need to wake up and understand that it is urgent to change their behaviour. Malta might be small but we do have an impact on the world, both indirectly and directly. Instead of seeing what each country can achieve, we need to start seeing what each human can do to turn this trend around.

Litter doesn’t only appear from a person throwing the item on the ground by purpose. It comes from our consumption and waste management. Every little action taken to decrease our negative footprint is a step forward.

It starts with you.

 

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