In the past, disposal at sea was considered as a convenient option for disposing of waste. At that time, the sea was considered as a large sink that could take up and dilute all the wastes generated by man. Following World War II, for example, considerable quantities of building rubble resulting from demolished buildings in Malta were disposed of at sea by the British.
Fortunately, this out-of-sight-out of mind approach to waste management is no longer the case. Yet, because of Malta's small size and the shortage of waste disposal capacity on land, disposal of certain wastes at sea continues to be considered as an option. Disposal at sea is regulated by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority through the Waste Consignment Note Procedure.
During the last 10 years or so, the construction industry has been an important economic activity for these Islands. During 2004, it generated approx. 2 million tonnes of waste, largely consisting of inert limestone residues. This comes mainly form excavation, demolition and quarrying activities. In spite of persistent efforts to reduce and deviate this material form final disposal, it appears that the present economic environment is not right for this to happen. Accordingly, most of these residues are currently being used to fill up and restore disused quarries, which is of course a good thing. The challenge is that the available void space will suffice for another few years. After that, the only disposal option would be dumping at sea.
Currently considerable quantities of dredging material is also disposed of at sea which comes mainly from port maintenance activities. Other material that finds its way in the sea around our shores includes fish offal from fish farming, however plans are at hand for this material to be brought on land for disposal.
Then there is the other side of the coin. Malta's economy depends on the sea that surrounds it. The well being of the tourism sector, one of the main pillars of Malta's economy for example, relies heavily on the well being of the sea around our shores. Many of the visitors that Malta hosts throughout the year seek the transparent waters that surround us. The sea is also important for the fishery and maritime sector, not to mention that our shores are also a favourite destination for locals in particular during the long hot summer months. We also understand that dumping at sea may result in the loss of important habitats as well as priority species like Posidonia oceanica, and this at a time when we are setting up the first Marine Protected Areas.
The Malta Environment and Planning Authority has long recognised the risks involved in dumping of wastes at sea and has in 2001, as part of the preparation of the Waste Subject Plan, published a position paper on the disposal of waste at sea. The paper reviews international and national instruments controlling dumping at sea, among which the Dumping Protocol, and puts forward MEPA position on the matter. The paper recognizes disposal of waste at sea as an activity that on one hand squanders resources and on the other carries significant environmental risks. Accordingly, disposal of waste at sea is seen as an option to be considered only in the absence of an alternative disposal option, and only for inert waste. Moreover, disposal sites at sea must be designated after proper environmental assessment.
On 17 November 2005, MEPA with the kind assistance of UNEP/MAP, organised a workshop for regulatory agencies and private entities to discuss dumping at sea and the implementation of the Protocol for the prevention and elimination of pollution of the Mediterranean Sea by dumping from ships and aircraft or incineration at sea, better known as the Dumping Protocol. In anticipation for this Protocol to enter into force, MEPA commissioned Prof. V. Axiak as National Expert, to prepare a report reviewing current dumping practices in Malta as well as the main conclusions of the workshop. This report, besides establishing the baseline, identifies gaps and barriers, and means to overcome the challenges.
For furthur enquieries please contact the competent authority on contact.CN@mepa.org.mt.