This article first appeared on Malta Today
Like many people, I am squeamish when it comes to dirty places, bad smells make me gag and I get easily grossed out in filthy surroundings. So the fact that I volunteered to help out with the Clean up Malta campaign organized by Camille Appelgren and the team from the NGO Junior Chamber International (JCI) Malta, was quite a challenge.
So, you may ask, why did I do it? Why did I volunteer to pick up what is, frankly, other people’s trash? That is a good question and one which I found myself asking repeatedly last Saturday as I was doing my bit. Plastic bottles and cigarette butts were the least of it – all sorts of objects, what looked like soiled nappies, and decaying unrecognizable well, just things, were visible in the soil, which had obviously been there for years. Ewww. What on earth was I thinking?
But I had given my commitment, so I wore thick gardening gloves over the latex ones which had been provided, bit the bullet and plowed on. I soon got over my squeamishness until another feeling took over – the sheer amount of rubbish, debris and litter filled me with an air of complete hopelessness. It felt like I was digging a tunnel using a tiny plastic spoon; no matter how much we collected, there was always more, everywhere, all around us, and the task seemed unsurmountable. It is difficult to realise just how bad things are unless you are walking along and seeing it in close quarters, as so many people do when they are out for their daily walk or run. Driving by in a car does not allow you to register the full impact of what is out there. But we kept on going, our little group of volunteers which had gathered on the road near Lidl Mosta, doing what we could, filling up as many bags as possible. The satisfaction of how much we had done came later, when we saw the mounds of bags waiting to be collected. There was also pride when I started seeing all the photos and updates on FB of the clean up from all over the island – it was nice to know that I had been a small part of it, and that I had contributed tangibly in some way. You know, rather than just writing endless columns about it and commenting on FB.
Because the thing is, it’s all very well to post photos of the rubbish we see on a daily basis, tut tut our disgust and use an ‘angry face’ emoticon to express our feelings. It may make us feel temporarily better that we have used FB to join in the chorus of “something has to be done”, but that trash is not going to go away or magically disperse all by itself. Someone has to physically go out there and pick it up.
OK, I know, I know, I can hear your protestations as I write.
Why should it be us, I hear you ask, when we pay taxes and the Government employs staff with the Cleansing Directorate whose job it is to ensure we have a clean country? What about the local councils, what are they doing, and why were they elected? You are right to ask these questions because I ask them all the time, myself. Ideally, it should not have to come to this. But a representative of our Mosta Local Council who came to the clean up told me that half their budget goes towards cleaning the town, and they simply cannot keep up. Recycling bins have been set on fire, they have had to be moved from various areas because they became a magnet for household rubbish and the public still cannot seem to grasp the concept that these are not a place to dump your black garbage bags every time you forget to take out your rubbish. The Cleansing Directorate is running a very good awareness campaign headed by an indefatigable Ramon Deguara called Garby & Tidy, in which they are reporting cases of rubbish dumping and action against the culprits is being taken.
And yet, all this is not enough, and it will never be enough for two basic reasons:
1. Complete lack of civic pride (you should never litter or dump rubbish because, well, simply BECAUSE). We have free rubbish, recycling and bulky refuse collections so there are no excuses
2. Lack of hefty enforcement – and by that I would put it at around 1000 Euro and more.
Oh, and one final thing. I do not often use the phrase “ashamed to be Maltese”, as I find it a rather over-used and misplaced cliche. But last Saturday I felt myself prickling with embarrassment at talking to foreign nationals who had come out to clean our country. From reports of the clean up it quickly became clear that foreigners joining in the clean up outnumbered the Maltese. In fact it had to be a woman from Sweden to organize the whole thing in the first place. Speaking to an Italian woman who could not understand why we litter and why Malta is so dirty, I could only nod my head in agreement and cringe.
If foreigners living here are so concerned about our island, and want to make it look beautiful, why don’t enough of us care? Where are the real Patriotti Maltin?