The Malta Independent 24 September 2023, Sunday
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Waste can be used to strengthen Malta’s economy – EU Youth Ambassador for Bioeconomy

Marc Galdes Sunday, 12 March 2023, 09:30 Last update: about 8 months ago

Bioeconomy involves reusing waste and turning it into something useful that can contribute to Malta’s economy by creating new markets, EU Youth Ambassador for Bioeconomy Hailey Ciantar said.

The circularity of resources is at the heart of the bioeconomy… that's the beauty of bioeconomy, you can take litter and turn it into something useful that contributes to your economy,” Ciantar said.

Ciantar is a 19-year-old student activist currently studying in the Netherlands who has dedicated her time to spreading awareness about the importance of bioeconomy while also representing the voice of European and Maltese youth at a European level.

Besides the responsibilities she carries in her post, on her merit, she is also currently working on translating a children’s book about bioeconomy from English to Maltese.

The Malta Independent on Sunday conducted an interview with Ciantar about her role as a youth ambassador and the importance of bioeconomy.

Her activism began when she was 15 years old at St Dorothy’s School where she was involved in EkoSkola.

She said that she really woke up after she watched the documentary Before the Flood, which displayed the detrimental effects individual actions have on the planet. This inspired her to do something about it.

“This doesn't just depend on the government, I also felt responsible.”

When she entered Sixth Form at St Aloysius College (SAC), she co-founded the first-ever Green Council, which today is known as the Green Team.

“Our aim was to mitigate the effect of climate change at a school level but also raise awareness among students and staff about the things we can do to mitigate climate change.”

During her time with the Green Council, they engaged with students online through social media, organised a couple of clean-ups and introduced the SAC-branded reusable masks.

The call to become an EU Youth Ambassador for Bioeconomy was advertised on Agenzija Zghazagh’s page. Ciantar only saw this after her friend pointed it out to her.

She admitted that at the time she was not very aware of the concept of bioeconomy, but after doing a bit of research she realised that a lot of things that she does on a daily basis are linked to bioeconomy.

“Bioeconomy means using renewable biological resources, for instance from the land, the sea, from forests and also microorganisms which can be used to produce food, biobased materials, products and energy. But it also focuses on preserving these resources for future generations, which is something very important for sustainable development.”

“The programme was created by the European Commission, so we are highly affiliated with the European Commission to represent European youth. In my case, also Maltese youth as I feel that Maltese youth are underrepresented.”

Asked what she does on a week-to-week basis, she said that two weeks ago all ambassadors met up in Brussels to update each other and also see the next steps forward.

These meetings happen every six months or so, “but then on a weekly basis, I have quite a few meetings as I am helping to run the bioeconomy youth ambassadors’ social media accounts.”

“I’m also working on launching a podcast about bioeconomy to make sure that people know what bioeconomy is from both a political and policy perspective.”

She said that she hopes that through this podcast she can break the “so-called bubble” surrounding bioeconomy.

Moreover, she said that she also speaks at conferences, which require a lot of preparation and engages with policy-makers and decision-makers to make sure their voices are heard.

She has also attended two foresight scenarios through the European Commission which are simulations that discuss various ways the EU can move forward with regard to bioeconomy.

With regard to the children’s bioeconomy book she is translating into Maltese, she said: “Working with schools would be something I aspire to do in the future but for now it’s mostly translating the book and getting it out to schools. Doing school visits, explaining what bioeconomy is to children, is something that I am planning on doing.”

Asked whether her voice is heard and respected, she first said that her voice must represent all European and especially Maltese youth. To ensure this she said that it is important that she regularly meets youths to ensure that she is representing them to the best of her abilities.

“I would say that yes our voice is being heard but there's still a lot of room for improvement. This is why it's really important that I keep attending these conferences and engaging with the decision-makers and the policymakers.”

“Our voices are being heard but I think it deserves more of a seat at the table now. That would make my role as an ambassador quite significant.”

However, she also brought up the limited budget that the bioeconomy ambassadors have access to. “For example, we're searching for a budget for this podcast and for this translation. I am doing it out of my own free will. These restrictions make it harder for our voices to be heard.”

In light of the current challenges Malta and Europe are facing, she was asked whether member states would be inclined to shift towards a more bioeconomic model.

“This bioeconomic model is something that is still being developed even at a European Commission level. This is something that is still on the agenda; it is still on the table.”

“I would not say that Malta is behind, as this is something that should be slowly introduced through the European Union as a whole. We’re slowly starting to introduce this as it's a fairly new concept compared to other economic models.”

She suggested that as a small island in the Mediterranean Sea with limited resources, Malta should be more interdependent when it comes to bioeconomy.

“We shouldn't just depend on our government to make this shift because change can also start at home, and we as individuals can become more bioeconomy oriented.”

She said that this can be done with the simplest things such as using a bamboo toothbrush, recycling correctly, fixing items and clothing instead of throwing them away, avoiding single-use items, upcycling, and so on.

“Although these things might seem insignificant to an individual, if you multiply them even by half a million, which is around the population of Malta, there’ll be a significant difference.”

Asked whether there are enough awareness and educational campaigns promoting bioeconomy, she said: “Not really to be honest. I think this is a fairly new concept, particularly in Malta. I haven't heard much about it in Malta so I think it's something that we should really look into.”

She said that giving more importance to bioeconomy could also result in the emergence of new markets which can strengthen Malta’s economy.

Asked whether Malta is too far gone, she said: “I wouldn't start with the mindset of being too far gone because then we're blocking ourselves from seeking solutions.”

“I think Malta has a lot of potential despite the fact that we are an island with limited resources compared to other EU member states.”

She suggested that as a densely populated country that produces a lot of waste, this can be used to Malta’s advantage if Malta chooses to reuse the waste to make something useful.

Asked if she ever gets discouraged, she said that although it might be difficult to remain motivated at times, she tries to remain “positive”. “Having people who also want change around you helps.”

Lastly, she appealed to young people to reach out to her with any opinions and concerns that they may have. “To be able to represent them to the best of my abilities, I want to listen to them, not only their opinions but also their concerns.”

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