The Auditor General, Charles Deguara, presented the performance audit Report highlighted in caption to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Anglu Farrugia. The report concludes that Malta is lagging behind in attaining national and European Union (EU) waste management targets, including those related to plastic waste. Inadequate waste separation at source practices result in potentially recyclable waste being landfilled, which is by far the most expensive solution in financial and environmental terms. Contrary to the polluter pays principle advocated in the waste management regulatory framework, in practice Government is shouldering the lion’s share of waste management related costs. This Report forms part of a cooperative audit initiative undertaken jointly with another 11 European State Audit Institutions (SAIs) under the auspices of the European Organisation of Supreme Audit Institutions Working Group on Environmental Auditing (EUROSAI WGEA).

Government is allocating a yearly subvention to WasteServ, which in 2019, amounted to €33 million, which includes the financing of compensation agreements between WasteServ and the two local Packaging Waste Recovery Schemes, which do not reflect the actual plastic packaging waste treatment costs and the cost to derive and export Refuse-Derived Fuel. Moreover, landfilling gate fees, whereby WasteServ charges €20 per tonne, do not reflect the actual costs, which are estimated to amount to €74 per tonne. National authorities contend that the deviation from the polluter pays principle is due to socio-economic circumstances.

The recent collapse of the recyclables’ market and operational difficulties brought about by the incident at Sant’ Antnin Waste Treatment Plant in 2017 meant that WasteServ’s revenues decreased disproportionally, and thus the entity remained far from recovering its waste treatment costs. These circumstances also raise questions regarding the equitable sharing of risks and responsibilities through WasteServ’s agreement with the Schemes.

Government acknowledges concerns in the area of waste management and there has been a strong political commitment to allocate around €500 million to extend and upgrade Malta’s waste treatment facilities. Such an investment, however, will not deliver its full potential unless it is complemented with the increased adoption of circular economy principles, which in turn will facilitate the attainment of Sustainable Development Goals targets. The health and environmental risks of plastic can only be mitigated through a consorted effort by all stakeholders, including political, administrative, the industry and consumers, as well as an effort to reduce its production at the outset.

The Report proposes a number of recommendations aimed at strategic and operational levels.

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