Last Updated on Thursday, 7 September, 2023 at 2:04 pm by Andre Camilleri
This summer I had the opportunity to meet with different people during the Maltese feast celebrations. Surprisingly, the Maltese people that I encountered hailed from all walks of life. It made me realise that the Maltese traditions are still quite strong within our local towns and villages, and deeply rooted in our culture. Also, Maltese people seem to seize the opportunity to get connected through such village feasts celebrations.
One evening, I was in one of the most beautiful cities to attend a musical band concert. Someone seated next to me, asked whether I hailed from the city. I replied, no. However, I told him that I grew up in the neighbourhood. We had a brief chat on Malta, its vibrant history and how this country can move forward by providing the necessary future proof infrastructure. Indeed, we both agreed that the economy must keep on expanding, even though we differed on the rate of expansion and the time factor. Also, we agreed that the management of human resources must be utilised effectively and efficiently. We agreed that Malta must provide the necessary infrastructure prior to attracting certain FDI, especially for those sectors requiring substantial planning.
We both agreed that an assessment about the optimisation of land space, to attract high quality FDI, must be part of a long-term strategy. Surely, utilising our sea for offshore renewable energy production, now that technology advanced, is a smart move by the current administration. Another interrelated green sector relates to the dismantling of technological products and the recycling of critical raw materials. Indeed, such products require advanced technology for recycling, which entails space, isolation, as well as long-term planning to advance our circular economy. The Maltese government pledged that the green transition is part of its long-term vision. It is aligned with the EU’s vision to decarbonise the continent, enhance the concept of the circular economy and optimise sustainability.
Essentially, in 2021 the EU revised the Own Resources system and introduced another financial contribution based on the recycling of plastic. Whereas before the concept related to collecting traditional Own Resources (money paid to the EU as a member state) through GNI, VAT and Customs, now we must pay the EU a fee for any unrecycled plastic. Nothing wrong with introducing such concept because it is a measure to encourage governments to exert pressure on the public to recycle. Let’s all agree that the problem of recycling is the source of what we are recycling, meaning plastic. Plastic pollution is eliminated and reduced if production is limited. However, to introduce the concept of recycling plastic in Malta, the government needed to reach an agreement on the way it would be handled. Locally, the operators were given a concession to implement the beverage containers recycling strategy.
Actually, in a small country like ours, a consortium can push the idea to control the number of reverse vending machines to limit them from spawning in each and every corner of our towns and villages. Also, it prevents unnecessary waste collection recycling trucks parked in every unrestricted space in Malta. On mainland Europe, such waste collection trucks are parked in proper areas, washed thoroughly and kept sanitised not to disturb nearby residents. Besides, the capital expenditure associated with such an investment requires some level of initial protection to have it implemented by the private sector. Surely, I brought the example of the recycling of beverage containers strategy because the collection of plastic is just one branch of the circular economy and the modelling for other recycling materials might prove equally the same.
Clearly, if we need to move forward on, for instance, the electrification model on private and public transportation, then we need to provide the required technology for the recycling of lithium-ion batteries. Technology is required to reach efficiency. If we do not use technology, we will end up with more labour-intensive industries. In the first quarter of 2023, the EU Commission submitted a proposal in relation to the European critical raw materials act because they are anticipating that the demand for rare earths will be expected to surge in the next decades. Such CRMs are crucial for the EU’s green transition and to enhance the circular economy.
Undoubtedly, the EU plans to increase the demand for base metals such as battery materials and rare earths, which connects to the geopolitical reality to transit as soon as possible from fossil fuels to cleaner energy systems. Rare earths are limited. They are predominantly concentrated in a few countries around the globe. However, the technology to recycle rare earths exists. It allows for the placement of lithium batteries into a huge processing disassembling plant, which consequently breaks down the components of the different raw materials found in lithium batteries. Crucial materials like copper, lithium cobalt oxide, aluminium and graphite are separated for the eventual recycling and reusage. However, to recycle for instance lithium-ion batteries, an isolation area is required for the storage of batteries to mitigate hazardous risks including fire. This requires strict safety protocols and standards and the storage chamber must be separated from the processing plant. Authorisation to access the building is only allowed to designated personnel.
Certainly, a small country like Malta requires space and time to recover such capital expenditure. Also, it might be an area where a new market can be explored and aid the EU on the advancement of the recycling of CRMs. Hence, an arrangement akin to the same principles of the operators of the recycling of beverage containers, to allow private investors to recover the capital expenditure over a period of time, is a possibility within the border of the competition act. Personally, I think that we must have such infrastructure in place if we truly want to transit to a greener economy and if we want to promote the right environment for the eventual means of cleaner transportation systems. There is not much room for manoeuvre given the size of our economy. We must aim at achieving higher efficiency on how to manage scarce resources.
In my upcoming articles, I intend to write about my ideas for certain localities in Malta, including the usage of public transportation, swift green lanes and green connecting hubs. Unless we think differently, we cannot advance and reach the next level of efficiency to counter some of the costs associated with economic growth.