Hazardous waste is accumulating in industrial areas where companies are yet to reach costly special waste export arrangements running into thousands of liri since the closure of Maghtab last year.
MaltaToday revealed last Sunday that private and state-owned companies are stocking their own hazardous waste in the absence of a streamlined process since they were stopped from dumping at Maghtab since May 2004.
While the previous, mostly unregulated, dumping at Maghtab was in itself an environmental nightmare, the new EU-imposed environmental regulations promise to turn into a headache unless urgent solutions are found.
Malta Drydocks Chairman John Cassar White said the company was storing its hazardous waste at the shipyards, under controlled conditions.
“It’s a temporary measure until we find a way to dispose of it according to the strict environmental regulations we have in place,” he said. “The problem was known before we joined the EU. We need a permanent solution because the problem is now urgent. It’s not yet a life or death situation but in our case it will become critical in a few months’ time, and exporting it to foreign disposal plants comes at a very substantial cost.”
For Toly Products, the estimated cost to ship its waste is calculated between Lm30,000 and Lm50,000 yearly, in the absence of local infrastructure.
“We have to dispose of our waste, we cannot keep accumulating it forever,” manager Edward Borg Cardona said. “Since we sent that letter we have moved ahead on our own and we’ll soon be sending our hazardous waste to an incinerator abroad. It involves a lot of procedures and strict regulations that make it more costly, but ultimately it is our responsibility as polluters to pay for the waste we generate. Government did not provide any solution to the closure of Maghtab. The only alternative is to store it at WasteServ’s facilities at a daily rent, which over the years would be unsustainable.”
The Managing Director of Oiltanking, another company that is storing hazardous waste on its site at the Freeport since May 2004, said the EU’s regulations on cross-border hazardous waste dumping warranted a solution from the government because of Malta’s particular needs.
“We’ve been complaining since last January,” Sonke Stein said. “Waste management needs a lot more improvement, especially for industry. WasteServ should help us make it possible to dispose of this waste or get it recycled. With a change in policy we can maybe start shipping to Sicily.”
The “new” regulations forbidding this dumping were not accompanied by immediate practical alternatives acceptable to Brussels.
“I can’t say we’re drowning in hazardous waste but we’ll soon be if things remain the same,” Stein said.
MEPA and WasteServ officials have met the three companies in a bid to find solutions but a spokesman for Environment Minister George Pullicino ruled out allocating land for hazardous waste disposal except for the planned Ghallis hazardous waste treatment plant that is still being evaluated for its environmental impacts by MEPA.
“Unfortunately, the request to make land available for a commercial activity, disguised under the benefit of the environment, has become widespread in Malta,” the spokesman said. “Any commercial activity must be accommodated following normal procedures with the competent authorities.
“The process for the treatment of this waste, as suggested by this commercial enterprise, takes approximately six months to complete and this implies a substantial area of land to be allocated. WasteServ strongly suggests that the companies managing or generating this waste should provide the necessary space to have this waste treated. It is desirable to see this project being implemented in close proximity to where the largest fraction of this waste is being generated. It is these same companies that should incorporate this activity as part of their daily operations. This would extend the producer responsibility and proximity principles even further.”
The spokesman said exporting industrial hazardous waste is already happening through the coordination of WasteServ.
“WasteServ is in continuous liaison with industry so that were private interest is lacking WasteServ bulks up hazardous waste for export through a private contractor WasteServ assigns,” he said.