Saturday 04 February 2023

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to follow a collection schedule

This column first appeared n Malta Today

It seems the new year has not brought about many ‘new me’ resolutions which will lead to having some sense of civic pride in our communities.

The new simplified rubbish collection schedule has been promoted and publicised all over the place, and yet photos being shared on social media show just one big fat mess in certain areas where people are taking out whatever colour bag strikes their fancy. Organic? Black? Grey? Who cares? As long as I get the rubbish out of my house right? You can put it down to negligence, ignorance or simply what is known as the “me ne frega” attitude (an Italian expression which can be loosely translated as, “I don’t give a s**t”).

After this week I think enforcement should come down fast and hard on abusers, because there is absolutely no excuse for the mounds of different coloured bags and accumulating rubbish. Our rubbish collection, while it may not be perfect, can and should work if everyone separates their waste as has been instructed for many years now, and if we all follow the schedule. It will obviously not work if everyone insists on being defiant and bloody minded.

Is there room for improvement? Yes, always. But we have yet to come up with a better idea than having the rubbish collected from in front of our doorsteps, which has been the system in Malta ever since I can remember. One initiative could be for new apartment blocks to have different wheelie bins inside the garage where residents can place their waste, but that would entail someone taking the appropriate bins out for the rubbish truck. It always boils down to the perennial question: who’s going to do it?

It has often been suggested that rather than leaving bags on the pavements, different coloured skips should be placed in the main streets of our towns and villages, where people can go and dispose of their waste accordingly. This is the system adopted in Rome, which we visited recently, but unfortunately, the tendency to leave bags of stinky rubbish near the skips when they are full seems to be a common practice there as well. The indifferent mentality towards rubbish disposal appears to be similar to ours, according to the website www.wantedinrome.com, which points out, “Without a better circular economy, AMA (Rome’s environmental agency responsible for rubbish collection) has been unable to keep on top of the colossal 2,700 tonnes of non-recyclable rubbish produced by the city every day – all of which needs to be treated and sorted before being sent to landfills. Years of jumping from one environmental crisis to another has created a reluctance for people to take personal responsibility for poor waste disposal habits in the city. Many Romans are quick to blame the mountains of rubbish on AMA but do little to change their own behaviour…”

It all sounds depressingly familiar doesn’t it?

And let’s not forget that in Malta the skip system has been tried before (just for recycling) and they all ended up turning into mini-Magħtabs much to the anger of nearby residents as people persisted in dumping all sorts of waste next to them. After many understandable objections, they were eventually removed. I cannot blame the residents, after all no wants to live next door to a landfill. But it invariably exasperates me that not enough people care about the problems being created by living in a country which always looks so dirty.

It feels so repetitive to keep saying the same thing as we flip the calendar to another year…but it bears repeating. It is we who are responsible for the rubbish we generate, so it is our obligation to cut down on waste when we can, separate it into different bags and take it out on the correct day. In the same way that the traffic being generated is due to the over-use of our private cars, which means the solution is up to us, it is also up to us not to contribute to the generation of unsightly mounds of rubbish. And much like complaining about traffic while being part of the traffic is a contradiction in terms, the same can be said for complaining about the uncollected rubbish of wrong bags we have to navigate on our pavements when we ourselves simply refuse to adhere to the correct schedule.

Print out the new schedule stick it to your fridge and stick another copy to the common area if you live in a block of flats. If your neighbours are oblivious to the changes, just politely inform them. We need to get a grip on the rubbish problem – it has to be our collective national new year’s resolution.

Getting some perspective

We finally had a much needed break away from the island and it took me a couple of days to realise why I immediately felt so much more relaxed. Apart from the obvious: getting away from one’s routine, a change of scenery, the greenery and wide open spaces which are always so necessary, it dawned on me that the lack of roadworks and constant construction had calmed my nerves. You don’t realise until you get away just how much sensory overload we have here, where we are bombarded at every turn by the heavy machinery cluttering the roads, the relentless noise, the construction sites everywhere you look and the ever changing road diversions making your journey even more nerve-wracking.

Naturally, the sheer majesty of the famous sites in Rome which you come across almost casually, at every turn, are enough to leave you in awe no matter how many times you visit. But mostly, it is the uniformity of the old, residential buildings which I find somehow speaks to something in my soul. There is a respect for the patina of age on these buildings and there is no attempt to tear them all down to construct something else in dubious taste. You don’t have weird colour combinations juxtaposed against each other just because someone decided that bright yellow and purple would look really amazing. What you have are a handful of weather-beaten, muted colours which all blend together. The apartment blocks may all look the same, one building after another, but there is something reassuring about the sameness. I like the fact that there is no attempt to be daring or clever with the facades, but that they have just left everything as it is, as it always has been.

Old cities have an inexplicable grandeur and style which cannot be replicated because the architecture has been hewn over centuries. The reverence towards what is old and antique is why I love European cities so much and why it breaks my heart that in Malta we cannot leave well enough alone but are at the mercy of a handful of mercenaries who are determined to destroy and plunder what is left. There is such an absence of sentiment and respect towards houses and buildings which carry with them a certain history, which could and should be restored and preserved with some TLC. Instead the mantra is tear it all down, replace it, build something shiny and modern (and too often, which is also ugly). There is rarely an attempt to make sure of a certain hegemony when new buildings go up next to older, existing structures, and instead it’s like a confused hotchpotch of Lego bricks. The applications for more and more development and, inexplicably, more and more hotels have not stopped, when really there should be a moratorium on any more new buildings for the foreseeable future.

Our senses need to have a break, and while travelling is always enjoyable, we really should not have to get away from our own country in order to be given a reprieve from this assault on our nervous system. In fact, our only saving grace is that we are surrounded by the crystal clear waters of the sea which we can reach within minutes from anywhere on the island. I find that is often only by gazing outwards from the shoreline that we can give our backs to so much atrocious, haphazard building which goes against every principle of beauty and aesthetics.

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