In cahoots with the polluter – Carmel Cacopardo

Malta’s current Waste Management Plan is entitled “A Resource Management Approach.” This is not simple a fancy title – it encapsulates the underlying philosophy for the management of our waste which is that waste is a resource which can be put to good use.

We have started recycling our waste. Recycling bins around the islands cater for plastic, glass, paper and metal waste. Waste collection carried out on a Tuesday is an effort to facilitate recycling in our homes. Three times a week the door-to-door collection is aimed at our organic waste.

What about recycling construction waste?

Going through the reports on the Malta Developers’ Association Meeting at Castille in mid-week, the need for dumping sites for the construction waste being generated was emphasised by all those reporting: not one word was uttered in favour of the need to recycle construction waste. Neither was there any mention of the economic and environmental benefits derived from such an exercise. Who cares!

There is a very simple reason for this attitude: why rack your brains as to how to recycle when the government is continuously undermining all your efforts by offering the easy way out through cheap rates for the dumping of construction waste?

Earlier in the week, it was reported that the management of two quarries at Għar Lapsi and Mqabba had unilaterally decided to increase their dumping charges from €8 to €15 per tonne of construction waste. In reaction, it was reported in the local media that “government had agreed to provide incentives to the quarry owners to keep the price stable at €8 per tonne for at least another year and a half”.

It seems that the government has a perverted understanding of the polluter-pays environmental principle. Instead of ensuring that the construction industry cleans up its act and adequately addresses the question of how to deal with waste that it generates, the government is irresponsibly using taxpayers’ money to subsidise their mess.

Construction waste recycling is the separation and recycling of recoverable waste material generated during construction activity. The quantity of recoverable construction waste varies and includes masonry and metal items, including steel reinforcement used in discarded concrete structures.

The officials of the Malta Developers Association repeatedly claim that they are “in favour” of sustainable development. How about putting their beliefs into practice and applying them to resolving the issue of the construction waste which they generate, thereby contributing to a reduction in the environmental footprint of the construction industry?

They will not do it until such time that they are forced to pay up in full for the mess they are creating – in other words, without discounts or subsidies. Applying “the polluter-pays principle” through environmental taxation is the only possible solution. Applied to the construction industry, this would mean taxing the extraction of stone on the one hand and simultaneously increasing – many times over – the dumping charges until the Malta Developers Association realises that it makes economic sense to recycle all the recoverable construction waste.

But the government says that it is allergic to taxes. It has a distinct preference for dishing out subsidies, especially where these are not justified.

The Malta Developers Association clearly has one formula: they plough the profits and you pay their bills. They can only keep at it as long as the holder of the post of Minister of the Environment has no clue as to what his brief is all about.

It is common knowledge that the government is in cahoots with the Malta Developers Association and that as long as the polluter is not forced to pay up in full there is no end in sight to the mess developing around us.

Carmel Cacopardo
Published in the Malta Independent – Sunday 22 September 2019