Dirty Malta
When Trash Takes Over and All Hope Seems Lost

Rubbish is a touchy subject in Malta. Local residents and tourists alike all see the unsightly waste on the streets. The latter often comment on their visit to Malta, noting the amicable nation and beautiful views, but remark the lack of cleanliness. So what is behind the curious case of dirty Malta?

We all see it, we all know it’s there, but no one wants to take responsibility. No one litters, yet there is rubbish all around. The culprit is always “they”, may it be tourists or locals, the drunk youngsters or incapable local council. Everyone complains about the current state of affairs, but very few are willing to pitch in and play their part in clean Malta.

First Things First

I have to admit, the culture of leaving your trash bag on the street for the garbage truck to pick it up, is baffling to me. Say what you will, but that alone, even if neatly placed and no tears, is just plain ugly.

There are a lot of other countries still adhering to this tradition, but many others have opted for big, commonly used trash bins near houses. Benefit: a much neater look and you can take your trash out at any time of the day or night. No need to get up at 7am on a Saturday morning to make sure you don’t miss the garbage collection. Some even build cute little houses for their trash, which means only the intended users have access and no local fauna can wreak havoc.

I know what you’ll say – there is no room for big bins like these in Malta. But blocking whole streets with trash bags on a daily basis is acceptable? Ugly piles of black or grey bags with their guts spilled out laying around sometimes for days and smelling up the whole area is the better solution? I say no.

When In Rome…

Seeing how at least for the time being, the bags on the streets are here to stay, let’s try and make the best of it. All localities have regular garbage collection and the information as to what and when is collected is easy to find.

Go to the website for local councils, choose your area, click on Info/Live Stream > Administration > Services and you have the full list of days and times.

Example for Birkirkara:
Domestic waste collection (black bags) – Wed and Sat from 8am onwards
Recycled collection – Tue and Thu from 8am onwards
Organic waste – Mon, Wed and Friday from 8am onwards
Glass collection – every first Fri of the month

All you need to do is to grab the right kind of bag on the correct day when leaving for work and place it in front of your house. It’s a small price to pay for a clean, beautiful Malta, is it not?

Acceptable and Forced

I got fed up and have cleaned our tiny 65 metre long street twice now. All it took was a pair of disposable gloves, a garbage bag, a good playlist and about an hour of my life. During each time, I filled up a medium sized garbage bag with trash. Medium. Sized. Garbage. Bag. From 65 metres of a street that actually looks fairly decent. A couple of days later, it looked just as bad.

Before you give up on humanity all together based on the above, know, there are some key contributors to this sad situation.

One is indeed the unfortunate, and very common mentality of “not my problem”. If you have something in your hand that you no longer need, just throw it on the ground exactly where you’re standing. Or out the car window while driving. I’ve seen it happen and it’s even sadder when there’s a waste bin a mere 2 steps away. As this kind of a mind-set is not exclusive to Malta, how has the problem here escalated to a ridiculous level?

All too often, there just is no waste bin. I don’t mean conveniently close by, I mean nowhere.

Our street has none, for example. Zero. Nothing even remotely close either. I checked and if I was to take my own front door as the starting point, the closest place to throw away any trash is 150 meters away. That is, if you know exactly where you’re going.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

There are the cases of course where tourists come along and have no respect towards the country they are visiting. Admittedly, a problem more prevalent in areas such as Sliema, St Julians, Bugibba and alike, rather than Birkirkara, Siggiewi, Birzebbuga etc. In those more “secluded” areas, there’s no one else to blame but the residents themselves.

Now, I understand the frustration of wanting to be a good citizen, but having nowhere to dispose of your trash. You’ve finished your lemonade, look around, and have no place to throw the bottle away. OK, you put in some serious effort, walk to the nearest corner and glance towards another street. Nothing. Finally you just get angry and give up. I’ve felt that.

Just as an example, being a smoker, and a pig headed non-litterer, it is a constant struggle. Keeping the smelly cigarette bud in my bag until I reach a trash bin is not an option. But, there is a good solution. A friend of mine gave me one of those pocket ashtrays and it works! I swear, no smell whatsoever! This is a life saver for those who don’t want to litter. As for bottles, snack wrappers, napkins: please, keep them in your bag or pocket until you do get to a bin. It really isn’t that difficult.

More Bins, You Say?

So why aren’t there enough trash bins around? Plenty of local councils state in their official website that it’s their responsibility to empty the bins and sweep the streets. What if I, as a resident, would like a bin placed on my street?

Researching that exact question recently, I came upon some shocking statements. Apparently, there have been several cases where the local council has wanted to install waste bins, only to face opposition from the locals. On the grounds of “they overflow and become infested with rats”.

There is a scientifically proven link between you stuffing your whole week’s trash in a public bin and it getting full immediately.

Wait, what?? So you’d prefer people littering all over your home street rather than having a bin? Yes, I understand that an overflow in one of those is nasty. But not having one at all is not the solution. People, come to your senses. Do not boycott the bins because they get full. Ask the local council to provide trash bins AND ensure they are emptied as regularly as needed based on usage.

Oh, and by the way, using these as your own personal garbage disposal solution is a no-no. There is a scientifically proven link between you stuffing your whole week’s trash in a public bin and it getting full immediately.

Bottom Line

Sure, there is plenty of room for improvement from local councils and the government regarding garbage management, awareness and keeping the country clean. And I sincerely hope they are putting some serious effort into it.

But everyone can do their part and it does have a huge effect. Each wrapper you keep off the streets means not just a cleaner spot, but also a spreading mentality. Every time you put the trash out on time and it’s gone by the time you get home means mommies with strollers didn’t have to struggle getting past your house that day.

8 COMMENTS

  1. Great read and all very true. I also regularly clean the street in front of my house in Nadur. And tomorrow it is as if I never did…. It’s as if the people don’t even see the waste, never mind that it doesn’t bother them. Frustrated!!

  2. You bring up some valid points. Too bad you’re just wasting your breath (so to speak). There is only one direction humanity is headed, and of course it’s the wrong one, lol… Actually, it’s more of a spiral motion, not unlike the direction water flows when a toilet is flushed 😉 . I’ve always found it amusing that smokers dislike the stink of a cigarette butt, since they’ve just inhaled the entire toxin-stick directly into their lungs. Those pocket ashtrays ARE a brilliant idea, I firmly believe it should be mandated that EVERY smoker must have one tied around their neck. I wouldn’t be surprised if cigarette butts are by far the most littered item on the planet, since almost every smoker routinely throws them on the ground, out their car window, off their balcony. Not surprisingly, they even do this when there is a receptacle a few steps away. In the past, I’ve suggested to smokers that if there is no receptacle nearby, they should extinguish their cancer-stick and put it in their pocket or purse in the meantime. Invariably, I’ve been given a ‘you must be joking’ look. And lastly, for the record, I do NOT litter, and I absolutely refuse to pick up someone else’s trash. In a variation of your quote “not my problem”, I say it’s not my responsibility…

  3. In Estonia, instead of black bags with rubbish, old poor people are found on the roads begging tourist for money and wearing only tatters.

  4. Sadly Malta has a terrible litter problem, I have seen people throwing their rubbish out of moving cars on more than one occasion since being here. Empty land becomes a dumping ground for everything including old TVs, fridges, you name it. Maltese people will tell you how beautiful the country is and then go and do this. There needs to be a ‘keep Malta tidy’ campaign much like the UK had in the ’70s and ’80s and rigorous enforcement by local authorities over those who litter and dump..

  5. Hello.
    I have to point this out :
    The main problem with large bins on the street is the space. Due to high temperature level, locals here do not have the habits to keep a week garbage indoors, no more than you do. So no, they do not fill them up at once.
    There is just a majority of streets, especially in the denser area around Sliema, that cannot hold a or enough garbage bin. You either put it on the pedestrian and put pedestrian on the road’s tarmac, or you just don’t put it at all. Keep in mind that litter is not collected every day due to traffic congestion and taxes distribution, and over the weekend it has to wait 2 full days. It may sounds paradoxal, but you will reduce general hygiene and safety by leaving overfilled bins on the street and forcing pedestrian to go round it.

    I think that it all comes from this :”Researching that exact question recently, I came upon some shocking statements. Apparently, there have been several cases where the local council has wanted to install waste bins, only to face opposition from the locals. On the grounds of “they overflow and become infested with rats”.
    Apparently ?
    I do not believe your so call “research” as been done thoroughly.

    To sum it up : you just wasted your time and your post because of those few lines there. Was it intentional or just a mistake ?

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