The Malta Independent 16 December 2019, Monday

Dumping at sea of most construction waste is illegal

Rebekah Cilia Sunday, 17 November 2019, 10:30 Last update: about 28 days ago

No concluded solution to the crisis

Only excavation material can be dumped at sea, according to the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA), while general construction waste found on most development sites, such as stone, glass, steel, concrete bricks and reinforced concrete, are not allowed.

In September 2019, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said that disposing of construction waste at sea could be a medium-term solution to the construction waste crisis, although it was not government’s preferred option.

A month later, the crisis reached critical proportions and was labelled as an emergency situation by the Malta Developers’ Association (MDA).

In attempt to solve the construction waste crisis, apart from dumping at sea, the government has proposed that some quarries will be taken over, with it being reported that the recommendation was to be presented to Cabinet, by Environment Minister, in October. 

Land reclamation was also being looked into, by the government, as a possible alternative. To date neither solution has been concluded. 

Muscat has also said that the Planning Authority is conducting studies on the possibility of dumping waste at sea, along with the effects this would have as well as the capacity of the designated areas at sea.

Environment Minister Jose Herrera was also in agreement with the Prime Minister's decision to consider dumping construction waste at sea, but said he did not think the situation will be such that the practice would become necessary.

However, according to the law, only excavation waste resulting from development can be dumped at sea.

When asked by this newsroom what construction waste could legally be dumped at sea, ERA replied that both the London Convention and, similarly, the 1995 amendments to the Dumping Protocol to the Barcelona Convention, allowed for “dredged material” and “uncontaminated inert geological materials, the chemical constituents of which are unlikely to be released into the marine environment” to be dumped at sea.

ERA stated that while there were other construction waste streams it considered inert (such as glass and ceramics), this did not mean they could be dumped at sea. “In this context, only dredged material and uncontaminated inert geological material (that is, excavation material) may be dumped at sea.”

It further clarified that although some material may be considered inert, if contaminated with non-inert materials, it could not be dumped at sea.

ERA also said that the Deposit of Wastes and Rubble (Fees) Regulations indicate the coordinates of the spoil ground where such dumping may take place and the mechanism through which fees can be charged for such dumping.

“In Malta, other than uncontaminated inert geological material and dredged material, only fish waste or organic material resulting from the processing of fish and other marine organisms may be dumped at sea,” ERA continued.

It also noted that Malta had only one official spoil ground, located off the Grand Harbour area.

ERA explained that disposal at sea should only be considered a last resort, and the aim should be to move up the waste hierarchy, thus incentivising a circular economy. It noted that the intentions are to conduct a study of the official offshore spoil ground in line with the requirements in Measure KNO1 of Malta’s Second Water Catchment Management Plan.

This would improve knowledge of the conditions at the site and facilitate efforts to update policies regulating dumping of waste at sea, it continued.

According to the Waste Management Plan for the Maltese Islands 2014-2020, construction and demolition waste accounted for 68% of the total waste generated in Malta in 2011, while municipal solid waste, which is composed of a variety of materials, many of which are recyclable, constituted only 22% of the total waste in that year.

Around one million tonnes of waste were disposed of at sea between 2007 to 2011. The majority of this waste was clean, inert, geological material extracted during the development of major land projects.

The same plan notes that only inert geological material, inert construction and demolition waste, and dredged material may be dumped at sea.

The graph accompanying the Waste Management Plan (above) provides an overview of the amount of material disposed of at sea — whether dredged material or geological material — each year from 2007 to 2011. In 2010, 353 tonnes of spoilt cargo, notably grain, were disposed of at sea.

It also noted that disposal at sea should be considered a last resort in view of its potential impact on the marine environment.

In order to fulfil Malta’s commitment under the Water Catchment Management Plan of 2011, any proposal made to the competent authority for the disposal of waste at sea shall be requested to undertake the following measures prior to disposal: determine the nature of the waste, that is, whether inert, non-hazardous or hazardous; carry out the necessary chemical and biological testing of the waste; and conduct an impact assessment.

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