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Where there’s smoke, there’s fire 

The government is doing its utmost to justify the construction of an incinerator

The black plumes of smoke rising from the Maghtab landfill this week were caused by a ‘spontaneous’ combustion of plastic, cardboard and other waste which was ready to be exported.

It was an accident, and there is no reason why we shouldn’t believe environment minister Jose Herrera and Wasteserv CEO Tonio Montebello.

The latter explained that the Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF)  was isolated from other waste at Maghtab given that Wasteserv “knew there was a risk that when uncovered it could cause a fire.”

Therefore not only were the authorities prepared for this eventuality, but as Herrera put it, they were half expecting it given that the waste has been mounting up for months since the country is running out of space to dispose of it.

I will not go into whether the fire was preventable and how the fire has affected the environment and our health. I guess some sort of inquiry will take place and if we’re lucky we’ll get to know the answers in 10 years’ time when government will leak a cache of emails to an independent newspaper to deflect public attention on some scandal it will walk itself into.

In the meantime we just have to keep our windows shut and wash vegetables thoroughly before consuming them . There’s nothing to worry about, we just need to continue producing more and more waste.

Because that is the plan. It is all about demand and supply.  If we had to start producing less waste, there would be no need to build an incinerator.

Labour first shelved plans by the previous PN government to build an incinerator and now it has decided that exporting it is too expensive and the only viable option is to go back to the plan they criticised.

Read more: ‘If these are Malta’s best times, I’d like to know what hell is’

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has made it clear that there is no alternative. Yet, a quick glance at Malta’s performance in terms of waste generation and recycling makes it very clear that there is, in fact, an alternative.

According to Eurostat, while 45% of municipal waste across the EU is recycled only 7.1% of waste is recycled in Malta.

Moreover, Malta produces the second highest amount of waste per person in Europe (647 kg annually).

Current EU targets are to recycle 44% of municipal waste, rising to 55% in 2025 but Malta is way off in reaching these targets.

This reminds me of Labour’s obsession to build a new power plant upon being elected. If the country prioritised alternative energy and incentivised the use of solar energy in households, businesses and government buildings, then the demand for energy produced by fossil-fuels would have diminished.

But an almost complete dependency on fossil fuels and a bigger demand for energy justified the construction of the new power plant in Delimara. The Labour government said it wants to attract thousands of foreign workers to Malta – more people will mean a bigger demand for energy, more waste and, more importantly, more mega-projects to solve our ‘problems’.

Yet, these problems can be solved in other ways. Incineration is presented as the smartest way to make our trash problem disappear but several studies have shown that more than 90% of the materials that end up in incineration plants and landfills could be recycled or composted.

Not only is there a complete disconnect between people and the waste they produce but there is no plan in place to encourage and educate people on how to produce less waste and what to do with it. Instead, people keep producing more waste, and once its out of sight its out of mind.

Studies also show that incinerators in Denmark were releasing twice the amount of CO₂ than originally estimated, which led the country to miss its Kyoto Protocol greenhouse gas reduction targets.

Waste incineration plants are responsible for toxic emissions including dioxins, heavy metals and particulate matter known to cause respiratory diseases, cancer, immune system damage and reproductive and developmental problems.

And the drive to reduce waste and avoid burning it is slowly but steady gaining ground. While no new incinerators have been built in the US since 1997, hundreds of municipalities around Europe have now set Zero Waste as their new goal.

But we know better. Muscat insists that there is no alternative to building an incinerator. His word is gospel.

Any shady deals in the process of awarding the project to some private consortium and the disastrous affect it will have on the environment and our health will be presented to us as inevitable.

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