The waste problem

From lax enforcement to inadequate waste collection frequencies, several large localities have become filthy with mounds of garbage bags being left to accumulate on pavements and road corners

The rubbish emergency flagged by the mayors of Sliema, St Julian’s, Swieqi, Gżira and St Paul’s Bay is symptomatic of how this country goes about its business. 

These localities have experienced rapid population increases over the past decade with an influx of foreigners living in rented accommodation. The situation only gets worse in summer when tourists, some of who make use of short-let self-catering apartments, flood the areas. 

This rapid growth in permanent and semi-permanent residents has obviously strained the infrastructure and waste collection is one such problem area. 

If one were to take a parallel example, the waste situation is very similar to what happened in the financial services sector. 

Financial services grew rapidly over the past decade, becoming an important cog in the economy. The sector directly employs thousands and benefits many thousands more in an indirect way. 

But the growth in the financial services sector was not matched by parallel growth in the regulatory authorities intended to safeguard against abuse. 

The rapid growth saw dubious companies and individuals slipping through the net alongside the bona fide businesses that used Malta as their base. 

This situation led to the Pilatus Bank and Satabank fiascos and culminated into Malta’s greylisting by the Financial Action Task Force. 

The Labour administration at the time was unwilling to grab the bull by its horns and give the regulatory and law enforcement authorities the right tools to combat financial crime. The unwillingness probably also stemmed from the fact that lax regulations suited the corrupt dealings of those in power. 

It was only after Malta suffered international embarrassment and the Labour Party underwent a change in leadership that the regulatory authorities received the necessary oomph and resources to start tightening the net on financial crime, leading to several notable prosecutions. 

The same thing is happening now on waste collection. The systems in place, even if revamped last January, remain inadequate to deal with the population changes and tourist influx experienced in several towns across Malta. 

And once again the authorities have been caught napping. 

From lax enforcement to inadequate waste collection frequencies, several large localities have become filthy with mounds of garbage bags being left to accumulate on pavements and road corners. 

This appears to have secondary impacts in the form of rats seen scurrying along pavements to rummage in waste bags. 

This leader already made several suggestions for improvement a fortnight ago when dealing with the pitiful state of cleanliness across towns and villages in Malta and Gozo. 

We are certain that mayors trying to deal with the issue despite waste management being taken away from their remit, can come up with more important proposals to change the current state of affairs. 

When speaking to these mayors, two issues appear to be common across the board – the inability of local councils to order extra rounds of waste collection if needed; the authorities’ lack of enforcement. 

It is pretty obvious to anyone that localities which experience a sudden influx of tourists, or are witnessing a constant turnover of people living in rented accommodation, should have additional waste collection rounds. 

In parallel, enforcement should serve as a deterrent for those putting out the wrong waste bag on the pavement, or misuse the bring-in sites. 

As a starter, all bring-in sites should have CCTV cameras, and secondly the promised enforcement to ensure people are separating waste correctly and putting out the correct bag on the right day should kick off. 

The latter is the most difficult task since it would require inspectors sifting through waste bags. 

Sliema Mayor John Pillow’s unorthodox but highly effective campaign to name and shame residents who err when putting out the wrong bag on the wrong day is commendable. The video of him checking out a garbage bag and naming the culprit on social media went viral. 

A two-month-long concerted effort by the authorities to do a Pillow stunt and fine those who persist in their wrong ways would help to raise awareness. If need be, the authorities should deploy additional staff for this exercise. 

It can then be followed up by random spot checks and an information campaign encouraging people to report suspected abuse. 

At a third level, a massive educational campaign is required to sensitise people to the importance of separating waste and adhering to the national waste collection schedule. 

The laxity shown by the authorities and the less than optimal waste collection system should not be an excuse for people to do as they please. Everyone in society has a duty to look after the communities where they live. 

Waste does not cease to be our problem the moment it leaves our house. 

But then there is also a national discussion to be had on the impact of tourism on this country’s infrastructure. The industry is a major employer and contributor to the country’s economy but it is also causing discomfort for residents. This growing tension in a country that has seen its population explode in such a short time cannot be ignored. 

Admittedly, finding the right solutions to this dilemma is not easy but little does it help when the authorities lack the will and energy to at least tackle the gaps that develop in the country’s infrastructure. Waste management is one such gap, which requires urgent attention.