The Malta Independent 20 January 2020, Monday

No shortcuts to success

Camilla Appelgren Tuesday, 16 April 2019, 09:19 Last update: about 9 months ago

“Hi Cami, do we recycle plastic bottles in Malta and where can I dispose of it if so?”.

Yes, this message was received on my social media page some days ago and it was not a joke. In my environmentalist bubble, I for a long time thought that everyone knew about civic amenity sites, bring-in-sites and curbside collection and so on. They don’t. There is a reason behind the bad recycling rate of 7% in Malta and it seems like the government aren’t willing to address it and I am struggling to understand why.


They have failed the Maltese society by thinking that you can solve it by putting a list together on their webpage or on a billboard with the words “sort it out”. When it comes to changing mentality, you need a different approach. You need to tackle the society from all angles and on all platforms, at the same time. Why not start with the basics?

There is a hearsay in Malta that nothing is recycled. We can pretend it’s not there, but that would hurt the environment immensely. I was looking into following the journey of a garbage bag from curbside to end station, I gave up after being sent around like a frisbee thrown non-stop from one person to another. The contractors don’t want an outsider to analyse possible dodgy things such as illegal workers or black fumes from their collection trucks as a starter. Then when it comes to separation, is the industry willing to show how much of the items put in the recycling bag is destined for landfill due to contamination caused by the single-stream collection? I understand that they aren’t very keen on putting all cards on the table, fearing that people will be demotivated to recycle. But you know what, they won’t be if we at the same time educate the society in how and why to recycle properly. We can’t think that the recycling rate will increase if we don’t address the issues with education and awareness.

We can sit around and wait for people to start recycling on their own after extensive research, but why shouldn’t there be a push from the decision makers? Where are the nationwide big campaigns with an overall picture given?

It’s easy to say that the information is there, people should look it up. The law of littering is there, people should bring their trash with them home. But not all do that and we have to look into why they aren’t doing that to solve the issue long-term. Fines are solving some cases, but far from all. Fines means that the law enforcement officers have to catch the people red handed. So with fines only, you just drive the issue to happen when no one is around. We need a holistic approach which tackles the whole population from different angles at the same time. There are no shortcuts for this, we need a long term vision and let go of the pride and work together.

Yes, people should recycle and yes, people should bring their trash home and not litter. But we have to see to the damage they create if they don’t abide the law/unwritten laws of the society. If the damage is big enough we have to enable things to mitigate the risk of damage. We can’t teach people to run, before they know how to walk. Unfortunately the human mind works like this and we don’t have time to wait for evolution to do its thing, we need to act now. By enabling things that mitigate the risks, we are saving the environment. However, don’t see this as an end station. Removing waste from our street is equal to take out the fire, it’s far from a long-term solution. What we need is to decrease the chance of the litter to end up on the street and for people to reduce, reuse and recycle more of their waste. We need the ground pillars of education, enforcement and empowerment to be seen to as soon as possible. There are not ifs or buts, this has to be done and it will take time. Reducing unfortunately means that it’s not money making in the short-term, so the decision makers will have to step aside from their pride and greed to make this happen.

The waste and litter issue in Malta can be solved if there are people willing to be unselfish and helpful. We need to promote Malta as our home, not just let that word reflect what’s between the four walls of our house.

Time has come to stick to our goal of a clean Malta, and every single one of us have to do what we possibly can. People in power play an important role.

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