Plastic waste in Malta increased by nearly a third over the past decade, making the island one of Europe’s worst performers when it comes to curbing plastic use. While a plastic item may only be useful to us for minutes, it takes decades to break down in the ocean.
Is it too late to start a war on plastic?
Malta used to be an island where consumers eagerly recycled glass bottle containers – a refund system ensured the collection of glass bottles by soft drinks retailers, who would wash them and refill them for re-use.
The liberalisation of the market and the introduction of plastic PET containers after EU accession in 2004 changed everything. Malta had 55 million glass bottles in circulation, which were eventually replaced in their entirety by plastic bottles. Labour leader Alfred Sant, campaigning against EU membership in 2002, had warned of a plastic “invasion”.
Today, four out of every five drink containers used in Malta are thrown away and not recycled, despite the high environmental cost of producing plastic and a wealth of information on the need for recycling. This has accelerated the irreparable damage to our local biodiversity.
How can we change?
“We seem to harbour the mentality of ‘it’s only one plastic bag or one plastic bottle.’ Our biggest challenge is changing that mindset. One plastic bag multiplied by half a million residents is turning out to be a big issue.”
On 1st January 2021, an EU directive banned imports of plastic cutlery, plates, straws and bags. By 2029, plastic bottles will have to be made of 90% recycled material. Outlets, where customers can shop plastic-free, will be granted financial assistance. Malta has signed the single-use-plastic EU 2019 directive.
In 2022, The Maltese Beverage Collection Recycling Scheme, known as BCRS, will be introduced. This scheme will see producers obliged to add a €0.10c deposit to the price of drinks, which consumers can get back by placing the used container in reverse vending machines (RVMs) which will be set up in retail outlets or specific spots around Malta.
The operator of the scheme will install 350 RVMs around Malta and Gozo, equating to roughly one RVM for every 1,500 people on the island, including tourists.
Similar systems exist in many countries around the world, including 15 EU countries, a majority of Canadian and Australian states, and 10 US states, all of which have implemented or announced plans to implement some form of bottle refund system. In the vast majority of places where schemes have been implemented, recovery rates tend to exceed 70%. Germany, Norway and Sweden, for example, all recover over 90% of the drink containers used.
While most countries have faced resistance from retailers and producers, who understandably fear a drop in sales as a result of higher prices, Malta has managed to get both these stakeholders on board.
The success of this scheme in Malta can help change the Maltese mentality and effectively contribute to a cleaner environment to be enjoyed by future generations.