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Organic waste: The Maltese version

Organic waste and composting may not sound like the most attractive of terms but trust us, they are some of the most important topics that we all should be discussing in 2023.

Organic waste is defined as any biodegradable material that originates from plants or animals; but in this case, we’re going to be diving a little deeper into the world of food scraps, garden waste and paper products, that are biodegradable and can be broken down by microbes - Fun I know ;). This kind of waste is typically recycled and composted for a number of reasons, the most important being:

1. To reduce the amount of material that ends up in landfills – God knows we have enough of it already here in the Maltese islands

2. To reduce the amount of methane gas, a well-known climate change contributor that is 25 times stronger than carbon dioxide, and is a byproduct from microbial breakdown

3. To recover the biogas produced and in turn generate electricity which is later fed back into the grid

In the Maltese Islands, the authority responsible for organising waste collection and separation, WASTESERV, communicated that all organic waste is to be placed in white transparent bags which should be compostable – I repeat – COMPOSTABLE. In all honesty the transparency of their statement (as you can see on the right "white bag") and means by which they communicate it is much to be desired, however they are trying their best with the resources available to them and are prioritising the removal of organic waste from the General rubbish to reduce Greenhouse gases and curb the ever-looming tidal wave of Climate change hitting our small islands at an alarming rate.

So, one might ask, why am I ranting on about Organic waste and composting in the Maltese islands in the first place? Well, if you decide to grace your weary knees after a long night sleep and head on out for a morning stroll at the un-godly hour of 7am on a Monday, Wednesday or Friday, you’ll soon realize that many of the organic bags thrown out for the morning rubbish collection by our fellow neighbors are NOT in fact compostable – but are a whole rainbow array of plastic bags, bread bags, poo bags and what not …

Here's just a few glorious examples for you to get aquatinted with #facepalmmoment

This completely defeats the purpose of maintaining the waste as organic. To explain a little more in detail - once the organic waste is collected it is transported to the Anerobic Digestion Plant (ADP) in Sant’Antnin where it is placed in the bioreactor. There the organic waste is somewhat “cooked” and in the process, microbes present in the reactor, anaerobically digest the material creating biogas which is collected and later used for the generation of electricity via combustion – Sciency, I know #hairflick.

However, when in-organic materials like, plastic bags are present in the reactor, they float to the surface and are later collected to be thrown directly into the landfill. Since these bags are neither separated or recycled, they will remain on the landfill and will take over 500 years to completely decompose or worse, end up in our environment, oceans and our food-chain in the long run (something that I feel some of us actually may deserve). Besides, this the sheer extra work of collecting and transporting the in-organic waste further adds onto the carbon footprint – something I’m sure we all want to reduce in the long-run.

The issue here is one of education and awareness – or lack of it. This, combined with an overwhelming culture of dragging our feet to any kind of minute change in our daily lives. We’re no longer in 1998 where Climate change was merely a myth that we would hear mentioned in the odd Hollywood movie about a sinking New York city. We’re literally living through overwhelming temperature fluctuations and weather anomalies daily. This is no time for us to convince ourselves that “change will come – we just need to be patient”. Sorry to say this Sharon, but that ship has sailed.

In order to address the issue of organic waste and composting, it’s important that we begin creating and cultivating a culture of sustainability whilst educating people about the importance of proper waste separation and the use of compostable bags. Where are those influencers when you really need them!?Besides this, incentives and rewards for people who properly separate their waste and compost it – can further support and incentivize change in the community. Finally, it is important to invest in technology and infrastructure that can help reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills.

To conclude this little rant – It’s great when we see Malta moving forward. Better processes to enable a more efficient waste separation system to avoid greenhouse gases and waste accumulation are always great to see (pause for applause) … HOWEVER, in 2023 it is kinda unacceptable when we begin closing a blind eye or cutting corners, so we don’t impose on the general public the tedious job of placing their organic waste in a compostable bag. Change needs to happen, whether we like it or not. We either get there by opening our minds to a more sustainable future or we’ll soon find ourselves kicking and screaming – you choose.


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