2 OCTOBER 2002
By Matthew Vella
2008 will be the moment of truth for Maltas environment when the country will have had all its environmental protection structures in place with regards to waste and sewage treatment, hunting and fuel emissions.
Yesterday marked the closure of the lengthy environment chapter in EU negotiation talks, which included the brokering of more transitional periods on waste-water treatment and sewage disposal up to 2007 and reduction of power station emissions until 2005.
The most drastic of transitions will arrive in 2003, when by the beginning of the year leaded petrol will have to be phased out and unleaded petrol used instead.
By 2005, Malta will also have to have limited the levels of nitrates and flouride in drinking water. Malta requested a transition period lasting until March 2007 to adapt to EU laws on the disposal of dangerous substances at sea, such as mercury and cadmium.
The Delimara Power Station, although mostly in line with EU standards, will have to reduce dust emissions by the end of 2005. On the other hand, Marsa Power Station must be in line with EU standards upon accession or face closing down. Compliance of the Marsa station will be achieved through the use of low-sulphur oil and a greater shift in load to Delimara. By membership, Malta will also draw up a programme to reduce other emissions, such as sulphur dioxide.
The conclusions revealed no indications of any funds that would help finance environmental restructuring. The solid waste management plan is estimated to cost around Lm70 million (EUR168 million). Funds to finance these operations and the first waste-water treatment plant in Gozo are estimated to cost around EUR8 million.
Other worries, however, will centre on another important industry in 2007. The beverage sector will be facing new challenges when minerals in plastic bottles will have to be allowed onto the market.
The conditions laid down by EU regulations on free trade demand that non-alcoholic beverages in plastic bottles are no longer prohibited. Maltas Legal Notice 183 of 1994 limits the bottling of mineral beverages to refillable glass bottles.
The EU has granted Malta a transitional period until the end of 2007 to bring beverage packaging in line with EU regulations.
The system of reusable glass bottles ensures less waste on the island, which for Maltas limited territory and huge waste disposal problems, has so far afforded the Islands an ecologically friendly and cost-efficient system.
It is now believed the introduction of plastic bottles will mean the eventual dumping of 80 million plastic bottles in landfills. Plastic is cheaper, lighter and more compact to transport, offering attractive commercial advantages to beverage companies.
This could mean local beverage companies may be inclined to meet consumer demand for cheaper beverages in one-way packages.
Speaking to The Malta Financial and Business Times, EU Affairs spokesperson for Alternattiva Demokratika Arnold Cassola said, "Saying that mineral drinks in plastic bottles would be cheaper than in glass bottles is a fallacious argument. Has the cost of eventual disposal of an extra 80 million plastic bottles a year Maltese taxpayers and consumers, been calculated in the costings of eventual introduction of plastic bottles? To dispose of these bottles safely and prevent a new Maghtab plastic bottles mountain would coast taxpayers millions of liri."
The Malta Financial and Business Times specifically asked Maltas two beverage companies whether they intended importing plastic bottles, and if this meant laying off workers.
General Soft Drinks Co Ltd managing director Brian Mizzi said no official position had been yet reached although internal discussions have been going on for the last months and are expected to reach a conclusion in the near future.
A GSD official said, "Our mission is to be the leading soft drinks company on the island. We have to adapt ourselves to the coming changes this will bring forth and to see how the island and its structures will cope. Basically we are waiting to see developments will there be an eco-tax for example, and how will this affect us? These are questions we still have to answer."
The General Soft Drinks Co Ltd employs around 200 workers. However, Anthony Tabone, Farsons deputy Chief Executive, was unavailable for comment.
Asked whether an eco-tax would help the situation or rather burden the consumer with another tax, Prof Arnold Cassola said, "An eco-tax on plastic bottles is not detrimental to the consumer. It simply discourages buying minerals in plastic containers. This would safeguard jobs that would be threatened if beverage companies opted to import beverages in plastic bottles instead of bottling them in Malta.
"If however certain consumers insisted on using plastic bottles, theres always the eco-tax which could be used for environmental improvement," Prof Cassola said.
The other heavily-battled area of contention, hunting, was the scene of endless sparring between environmentalists and hunters. Despite Governments attempt to walk the fine line between hunter and environmentalist, both were critical of the Malta-EU Steering and Action Committees negotiations.
The position agreed with the EU was that hunting in spring for turtle doves and quails would continue, as well as hunting at sea from 3 km away from the shore. Trappers will also be allowed go ahead with their sport. A moratorium on trapping licences will be in place until December 2008. Also, the Malta Ornis Committee should have established the number of wild species that may be captured in line with EU regulations to ensure sufficient genetic diversity.
This means that traditional hunting and trapping patterns will continue unhindered as long as strategies for sustainable hunting are implemented by the end of 2008.
Under EU law, hunting in Spring is normally prohibited to protect birds during migration.
Lino Farrugia, from the Federazzjoni Nassaba Kaccaturi u Konservazzjonisti expressed his dismay at the package, saying the FNKK were not happy at all. "We objected to these conclusions in the last MEUSAC meeting, having said nothing had to be changed, but as you can see our wishes were not respected."
AD spokesperson Arnold Cassola told this newspaper, "It is extremely sad - our government fought for the hunting community, not for the Maltese community at large. The agreement is a victory for the hunters and a defeat for all Maltese."