Malta Independent on Sunday, 14th September 2008 –

One depressing trait that has remained a constant in the ubiquitous character of the Maltese is the relative disregard towards the upkeep of our public spaces. For a nation that prides itself on having the cleanest homes, we put up a miserable show in our willingness to keep this tiny island free from litter and the assorted garbage that finds itself dumped next to skips, bring-in sites and many other creative locations like byways and the countryside. Trying to understand this reluctance to behave like 21st century citizens leaves me baffled and exasperated. Is this a question of habit? Can it possibly be a part of our culture? (sic) Or is it simply unadulterated egoism and lacking a sense of civic duty? Clearly this monster is not beaten and rears its ugly head even more during the summer months.

The headline statistics make a shivering read. During the first seven months of this year, the Public Cleansing Department collected 7000 tonnes of waste from arterial roads and public spaces. This equates to an average of 33 tonnes of garbage everyday! I cannot imagine what the situation was like during the summer months. A veritable army of workers (507) are employed six days a week collecting litter and garbage that we do not have the decency to dispose of properly. The government and local councils offer a myriad of services that is costing the country a bundle.

Despite all this, the situation remains worrying. The culprits are manifold. The common garden litterlout disposes of cigarette butts, plastic bottles, paper and plastic bags with gay abandon. Business and industry also play a leading role in this sad situation. Some sectors are more prone to this misbehaviour than others. This is clearly more evident in the south of the island. A class of tourist attracted to the island make matters severely worse especially during the summer months and this is more evident in the north of the island. No place is sacred as we can all confirm. Streets, the coastline, the sea and the countryside remain firm favourites for the typical litterlouts. It is abundantly clear that as Maltese we show no restraint in controlling our urge to throw things away as far as possible from our immediate surroundings. Of course all this has direct implications not only on the quality of life we enjoy but also has clear economic ramifications. Beyond the burgeoning cost of providing a collection and cleansing service, littering damages our image as a tourist destination. Clearly, providing services will not be enough to stem this despicable habit.

All this leads to the government’s anti-littering campaign that was launched three weeks ago. In the first 15 days over 600 notices were issued. This surely is just the tip of the iceberg! This campaign is being conducted by Mepa enforcement officers, wardens and the police. Citizens are also invited to cooperate and use the 24-hour telephone line (2069 9595) and e-mail ( e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it).

Hopefully, since this initiative has been launched, it will be sustained and strengthened. There is a wide consensus among the general public that the government must grasp the nettle and meet this challenge head on. It is time for less talk and more action. Legislation is in place and it is time to enforce it and enforce it with vigour. Public opinion is behind the government four square on this issue so let’s get on with it!