Sunday 04 December 2022

One million reasons not to recycle, and a million reasons to complain

This column first appeared in Malta Today

It is pretty apparent that since people discovered that they could use Facebook as a public platform for their woes, it has become “complaints central”; sometimes it is for very justified reasons and at other times, it is for the pettiest of claims.

Now granted, there is a lot to complain about and there have been instances when a general vociferous disgruntlement has even led to positive change. But then there are other times when I really cannot understand what the complaining is all about.

Every once in a while, a praiseworthy scheme is launched and implemented, yet it is shot down by an impatient, grumpy public before it is given half a chance. For a variety of reasons there will always be voices of resistance because some people just like to be contrary for the sake of it, however dismissing what is potentially a good idea is baffling to me.

The refund deposit scheme on beverage bottles is one such good idea. One of the first objections was that this is not really ‘rewarding’ the public for recycling, because the price of beverages has gone up by 10 cents a bottle, so you will simply be getting your 10 cents back. Yes this is true, but who is to say that the prices would not have gone up anyway as they have already done on many products across the board? A small bottle of water was already selling for anything between 70 cents to €1.20, depending on where you buy it from, whereas just a few years ago you could buy the same bottle for as little as 30 cents.

What we have to understand is that one of the main targets on a global scale is to cut down on our use of plastic – so if you are really resentful about that extra 10 cents, especially when it comes to bottled water, this could spur you to explore other options, You can install a reverse osmosis system and you can invest in filters for your tap water. Perhaps this is the right time to take advantage of an existing government scheme for the purchase price and installation of R.O. equipment which gives consumers a grant of up to €70. And if you decide to buy less sugary soft drinks it will not only benefit your wallet and the planet, but your waistline as well.

While the grey recycling bag system can still be used, I was dismayed to learn that only 20% of us actually bother to recycle despite it being collected right from our doorstep – and this is another reason for the introduction of the reverse vending machines. It gives people a real incentive to get their money back, and the incentive worked so well that it almost backfired. There were queues of people trying to recycle their bottles which would never have happened without dangling a monetary carrot. Reports told of those who have been hoarding their empty bottles and within the first day they had jammed the machines so others were finding them full. The machines were not being emptied fast enough so we were back to the problems which we used to have wherever there were recycling skips – selfish people just left their bags of empty bottles near the machines, turning them into mini landfills.

I can hear the protests ringing in my ears: “What? Take them back home with me? As if!” This is where we always, inevitably, falter – our sheer lack of civic duty and responsibility towards our environment. This is what has led to empty bottles in our countryside and in our seas, which are then collected by the altruistic volunteers who carry out never-ending clean-ups. It is no use complaining that Malta is a filthy country and then when we have the chance to do something about it we either try to poke holes in the idea with a million reasons not to do it, or else try to sabotage it by littering the very areas which are supposed to be designated for recycling.

This is not to say that the launch has worked smoothly – there have been a number of problems which need to be ironed out such as machines which are out of order or not emptied. There has also been the valid point made that those who are not mobile will not be able to take their bottles to the machines which are mostly located on the outskirts of town (although I can see no reason why we cannot help family and friends out who are in this situation by taking their bottles for them). Another complaint has been that not everyone has the space at home for the accumulation of the bottles which cannot be squashed, but I think with a little imagination even this can be solved. You can collect them in your car boot, for example, until you have enough to merit a trip to one of the machines. There is always a solution if we really look for it.

The truth is that we can find a million reasons not to recycle, reuse and reduce (reminiscent of the million reasons for always using our private car, not carpooling and never using the bus). The crux of the matter remains: do we really want Malta to remain as dirty and unkempt as it is? As frequent travellers we always come back with tales of how spotlessly clean other countries are, but if you think this is a fluke, it’s not. It is a result of decades of similar incentives to get people to recycle, nationwide campaigns which are drilled into children’s minds not to litter, exorbitant fines for littering and dumping and measures aimed to reduce dependence on plastic. Oh, and the collection of domestic rubbish is also taxed by the way.

So we can keep complaining, or we can do our part. Like with most national problems which need fixing, it always starts with each individual. No more excuses, please.

Racism dressed in a uniform

The purpose of wearing a uniform by members of our disciplinary forces is to give them a certain air of authority – this is obviously necessary to signal to citizens that the uniformed person is there to maintain law and order. It is what prevents society from breaking down into sheer anarchy. However, in the wrong hands, this uniform can spell trouble when officers go rogue, taking the law into their own hands as a result of their own prejudices and anger issues.

We have had two ugly cases recently, one in which three police officers are accused of abducting and beating up foreign nationals and the second where Transport Malta enforcement officials beat up a driver, which was captured on film. In both cases the victims were black migrants.

The arguments put forward by one of the defence attorneys in the first case was that these were “young officers, working in a tough district, in a system that had gone to the dogs in Marsa and Hamrun.” Now, I can see how working in difficult neighbourhoods can be very challenging, but it is for this reason that whoever is assigned there must be mature, properly trained and experienced. We cannot have a situation where those who have to handle volatile situations end up escalating the problem themselves through their (alleged) out-of-control behaviour.

In the second case, the victim who was driving a leased car, seems to have been stopped for driving under the influence.  The video taken by someone from a nearby building and shared on social media, shows an officer getting off his motorbike and running towards the man, punching him on the head, and another officer joining in within seconds. Despite lying on the ground with outstretched arms, the man is punched around the head and other parts of his body before another official is seen stepping in to restrain them. Attempts to find the victim have failed as he did not file a report and he has apparently left the country.

In both of these violent incidents, the police officers and the TM officials have been suspended from their duties although in the latter case it is still not clear whether they can be arraigned unless the victim testifies. I find this reasoning rather bizarre considering the graphic footage which we have all seen with our own eyes, which clearly shows what happened.

I have no doubt that being a police or enforcement officer is one of the most difficult jobs around – it is not for the fainthearted and not everyone can do it because you have to keep your cool when dealing with those who are unruly. It is for this reason that those who are finally chosen to don that uniform need to have the right mindset and those who have a propensity for lashing out based on the colour of someone’s skin have to be weeded out. Today they might flip because they have something against blacks, but tomorrow it could be because you are a woman or because you are gay, or simply because you have looked at them the wrong way. Those in uniform should make us feel safe, but these violent outbursts are doing anything but that.

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