Malta’s record on recycling: the worst in Europe?

, by Christine Mamo

Malta's record on recycling: the worst in Europe?
Plastic waste can be extremely harmful to marine life. Photo: Jedimentat44

Only 30% of plastic waste in Europe is recycled according to a 2019 Statista report. In Malta, that figure stood at a mere 7%. The EU is expecting member states to reach 50% by the end of this year. The tiny Mediterranean island is way off the mark.

By 1st January 2021, the EU will have banned imports of plastic cutlery, plates, straws and bags. By 2029, plastic bottles will have to be 90% made of recycled material. Outlets where customers shop plastic-free will be granted financial assistance. Malta has signed the single-use-plastic EU 2019 directive.

This initiative, however, is not as forceful as it is meant to be, according to Swedish environmental campaigner and founder of Malta Clean Up campaign, Cami Appelgren.

Appelgren, who lives on the island, garnered over 3,000 votes in the 2019 European elections on behalf of the Maltese Democratic Party, beating party leader Godfrey Farrugia, a sitting MP, by 1,668 first count votes.

“In Malta we are charged a fee on plastic bags with handles. But this hurdle was bypassed by companies handing out handle-less bags which break after one use, making them far worse than bags with handles,” said Appelgren.

The stakeholders involved seem to think more about the cash they can make out of this scheme rather than caring for the environment, she said.

“Although it’s a welcoming first step, I’m afraid money will somehow play a part in it.”

There are people who tend to ferret out ‘easy’ routes to avoid implementing new regulations. Such a frame of mind is leading to all sorts of rubbish in the landfill rather than reducing, reusing, and recycling. Over 83% of waste goes straight to the landfill - the highest rate in the EU.

“Not many people are aware that we don’t sort, nor treat this kind of plastic. That’s why the landfill is its final resting place. There are a lot of loopholes and I hope they are closed before the directive is implemented,” Appelgren said.

Appelgren is looking to radically change mentalities. Plastic is killing up to one million seabirds and 100,000 marine creatures annually. Apparently there are people who want to be more comfortable with what they do rather than shore up against the dangers of climate change.

“We [Maltese] seem to harbour the mentality of ‘it’s only one plastic bag.’ That’s our biggest challenge: changing that mind set. One plastic bag times 400,000 residents is turning out to be a big issue.”

It won’t be that easy to achieve such a quantum leap as changing mindsets. The battle cry has to be: the planet comes first.

“Reduction, options, then bans. That’s the way I would do it for a sustainable change,” Appelgren stated.

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