Sunday 05 April 2020

No one wants to live surrounded by rubbish

This article first appeared in Malta Today

One of the Labour Party’s fancy pre-election billboards in March 2013 proclaimed, loud and proud: Labour – So that the environment truly becomes a priority

And yet, six years down the line, not a day goes by that we don’t see photos of some area which looks like a slum in terms of litter and uncollected rubbish bags, be they black, grey or organic.

Sliema and St Julian’s are stark examples but so are Bugibba and Qawra, and any other densely congested town which has seen a sudden population growth. These seaside towns have always been prone to increased pollution as a result of seasonal tourism, but now, with more long-term residents occupying properties on a rental basis the numbers (and the rubbish) have swelled permanently. Meanwhile, the original residents who have seen their once appealing towns change for the worse, feel helpless as they experience daily frustration and exasperation. And yes, that also goes for the much-maligned Bugibba and Qawra which used to be pleasant summer home getaways for many Maltese in the past, and which have been home to many permanent residents for a long time.

It irks me when the loudest complaint is that the rubbish-strewn streets are shameful because “what will the tourists think?” I think our major concern should be for ourselves, because we as residents should not have to live surrounded by rubbish and neglect in the first place. It is also useless to keep pointing fingers and squabbling about who is to blame for this dumping of rubbish. That’s not getting us anywhere. What is needed is for a concentrated task force to carry out a major clean up street by street followed by strict, continuous and consistent enforcement. This should come from the state, because although privately-organized clean ups are doing an amazing job, it is a never-ending, thankless task, and as has been pointed out, it is not eliminating the selfish mindset of “oh, just throw it there”. It is irrelevant whether it should be the local councils or the central government which should take care of this, but it needs to be done. If local councils are not being given the necessary funding then the government should step in because it is unfair to expect them to cope with a problem which seems to be increasing in magnitude. A problem, may I point out which was not of their making, because no one could have predicted how certain areas would increase in population almost overnight. If a street with rows of houses has now become a street with rows of apartment blocks, it should be obvious that the sheer quantity of waste being generated has multiplied proportionately.

Green wardens which were promised way back in 2005 either have never really materialized or they must be wearing some invisible cloak, because I have never seen one, let alone a warden actually giving out a citation.

When photos appeared on social media of a dumping site in St Paul’s bay earlier this year, enforcement officers from the Environment and Resources Authority were despatched to monitor the area, and three people were duly fined for taking out their black bag on the wrong day. But one-off fines won’t solve this mounting problem. It has to be relentless, daily, and all across the board, from taking a bag out on the wrong day, to dumping unwanted items on the pavement to throwing an empty packet of crisps out of your car window. It has to be draconian and the fines have to be huge for the message to be driven home so that even those who have literally just arrived at the airport and claimed their luggage, will quickly learn that littering and illegal dumping of rubbish are simply not tolerated.

Green wardens should be swarming everywhere, non-stop, to curb this problem, to educate and to enforce. Instilling a civic-minded mentality to replace the me ne frega attitude of the local population presents its its challenges – if no one has ever taught you to care for the environment, it simply does not register in your consciousness. But it has to be done.

One cannot realistically expect the population of this island to multiply in size as it has without ensuring that serious structures and human resources are in place to manage the increased volume of waste being generated. Rubbish breeds more rubbish…the above-mentioned dumping site which was compared to Maghtab in St Paul’s Bay grew because, once it was not removed and no one was fined, others simply added their own waste to the pile, including an unwanted mattress. Anyone who has just relocated would take one look at that and think, well, maybe that’s how they do things here. As long as offenders keep getting away with it, it will not stop but will only get worse, ruining once pretty neighbourhoods and posing a health hazard to boot.

And now this is where tourism does come in. Would you want to stay at a resort where you have to wade through rubbish and see litter every time you leave your hotel or holiday apartment? Even if you gritted your teeth because your holiday was paid for, you would complain about it and badmouth Malta to everyone you met, and you would certainly never come back. I know I wouldn’t.

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