Reducing plastic waste in Malta

A local blog entry on living plastic-free a whole month has been on my mind for a while. Being in the Mediterranean makes me more aware of plastic waste. In Egypt, gorgeous observation points and splendid buildings were often marred by piles of plastic waste accumulating around them. In Israel, all vendors insisted on packing everything in plastic. I collected these bags and took them with me to the market, but even with my restrictive habits, I had to vacate a full cupboard section of plastic bags before I moved out.

Now in Malta plastic bags are typically given by default, and they are not like the super useful Lithuanian plastic bags with handles, that can be used for carrying stuff and are easy to tie. On a windy morning, carelessly discarded garbage becomes a chaotic orchestra, with papers swishing about, cans rattling and plastic bags rustling. The news came out today that recycling has dropped in Malta, one of the least recycling countries in the EU, and so the crowded beautiful island is drowning in garbage. I’d like to imagine that perhaps the figures quoted in the newspaper are partly to do with people using less plastic and having less to discard, but I strongly doubt it.

To be honest, I think that plastic bags are generally a great product. They are excellent for separating things and keeping them clean. They protect stuff from the elements. I always try to have plastic bags with me and reuse them for many purposes – protecting my stuff from spills in my suitcase, isolating anything that may spill or doesn’t smell right (including brushes for oil colours), protecting my laptop of I suspect that my backpack may be vulnerable to strong sideways rain, protecting my feet if I feel that my shoes have started leaking, and there’s still a long way to go, storing seasonal items that may be exposed to dust, and transporting all kinds of objects. I really wish that one day we have a cheap biodegradable product to replace it.

I think that with growing awareness the problem of plastic bags will be easier to solve than others. After all, plastic bags are easy to clean, reusable and very useful at home. I would argue that packaging is a bigger problem. Looking at various products at a supermarket today, I realised that the majority of them had at least a patch of plastic. Also, things like cheese are rarely sold in anything else than plastic. I remember once seeing someone selling Maltese gbejnet from an open container, exposed to flies. It looked quite unappealling, so it would take a genuine commitment to plastic-free life to choose this over the neat two-piece packs at shops.

Plastic boxes used used for strawberries and various other fruit or vegetables are not a huge problem. I’ve always found it easy to give them away to vegetable vendors in Malta.

Plastic tubes, bottles and vacuum packaging are a bigger problem. Even organic products are sold in plastic. Theoretically some of it is reusable, but I’m yet to see an organic shop that offers refills.

So I guess it means back to the good old upcycling and reusing for now.

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