Full of it!

A video of a little girl in a poofy white dress appeared on my Facebook feed. She was strolling along the pavement in some town in Malta.

What caught my eye was not quite the girl’s innocent expression, but rather the rubbish she was involuntarily prodding through while doing something as mundane as simply walking. Her spotless white dress would become greyish at the end, after exposure to the dust wafting out of construction sites and the air pollution in general plaguing the whole island. Sorry, little one! I apologise in the name of all of us adults who failed you dismally. Instead of leaving you something as basic as a clean street where you could parade your pretty dress, we have let the clear environment bequeathed to us by our forefathers turn murky grey.

Throwing our garbage out while maintaining squeaky clean homes is an art we Maltese have honed in a Pavlovian way over the decades. Not only do we deposit garbage outside, without any care or worry, under the assumption that sooner or later somebody will pick it up, but it has also become ingrained in our mentality that the area beyond the confines of our doorstep constitutes our personal landfill. Over the years, we have also become increasingly creative as to where and what we throw out, from dead carcasses of animals to construction debris.

Recently, nine environmental awareness groups from all across the country united as a new coalition, Koalizzjoni għal Futur Sostenibbli (KFS), in the fight against litter. The coalition has been working on waste and litter in urban areas, peri-urban, rural and marine zones. The efforts by private citizens, including expatriates, NGOs and even tourists, to organise clean-ups, commendable as they are, face new piles of rubbish due to inconsiderate countrymen.

In order to be even more effective, the medicine has to be bitter: heavy fines. It is time that the government takes the bull by its horns and finally engages the long awaited green wardens who have proven to be somewhat mythical creatures, like demogorgons or hydras. A new system of refuse collection has to be implemented, replacing the outdated system in operation, which is clearly out of sync with the realities of today’s society, both in terms of population and the kind of dwellings we have. What used to be a terraced house ten years ago has now been converted into a block of flats inhabited by ten or more households, not to mention that the population of the Islands has now shot to over 500,000. The waste generated takes over pavements, with pedestrians left to zig-zag their way through piles of garbage bags.

To compound matters, waste collection schedules do not cater for the needs of one-person households, shift workers, shortterm tenants, and small businesses.

Local government was intended to deal with these issues, taking pertinent decisions to address a whole spectrum of expectations and requirements of the local community it represents. Our local councils, unfortunately, do not possess the necessary competences to fulfil these tasks. Government, directly as well as through Wasteserv Malta Limited, is continuously breathing down the necks of local councils, such that they cannot plan ahead, nor do they have the necessary leeway to carry out waste collection differently and in the most efficient manner.

A proposal last year by the Local Councils’ Association offers an alternative to the door-todoor waste collection arrangement in our towns and villages. Our restricted pavements, as things stand, are during large parts of the morning cluttered with waste bags. In many areas, they have also been taken over by restaurants to place tables and chairs and other paraphernalia. Pavements used for the mobility of pedestrians are only an afterthought, when all other exigencies have been catered for! Vulnerable persons and disabled persons with mobility problems, as well as parents with young children are often at a loss in such situations. They are the first squeezed off of pavements!

ADPD backs the proposal put forward by the Local Councils Association whereby 13,000 pickup points would be identified to cater for 250,000 households. It has been almost a year and no-one seems to know what happened to this idea. Has everything been literally swept under the carpet? It is time for things to change radically, as with each passing day, the country is looking less like a tourist destination and more like a tip. No amount of glitzy advertising on foreign TV channels will change this! We Maltese citizens and our kids, who are everyday increasingly trampling in garbage, certainly deserve better. Otherwise our quality of life will only deteriorate further, to the detriment of present and future generations. Have some pride!

Sandra Gauci
ADPD Deputy Chairperson
Published in The Malta Independent – Saturday 6 August 2022