There are many good things about living in Gibraltar. But like anywhere there are some things that are not so good. For many of us the environment is an area that we’ve become more passionate about over the last decade or so. I’m sad to say that overall recycling and waste management in Gibraltar is poor. On the plus side there is a growing movement here trying to make it better.
The latest official figures I can find put the recycling rate in Gibraltar at 14.41% in 2012 compared to an EU average of 35%. There seems to be some political will to change things for the better – the Government of Gibraltar have issued targets to increase recycling from 25% to 72%, reaching 50% by 2020 in line with EU guidelines. I’m assuming that they have reliable figures that put us at 25%, which if correct shows a notable improvement in the last 5 years, but is it enough? No, is the honest answer. There is definite scope for substantial improvement in recycling rates and waste management here in Gibraltar.
As much as there is major room for improvement, Gibraltar is starting to take action. As I’ve mentioned before there is a great community spirit in Gibraltar that I have not come across elsewhere. One way this manifests itself is in unofficial recycling within the community. If you have something you don’t need anymore but you think it may be useful to others, you leave it to one side outside the communal bins. Nine times out of ten someone will be able get value from it. Recently, one of our neighbours left some children’s books which my youngest daughter was thrilled to find – this included a beautifully illustrated edition of Wind in the Willows. No doubt a gift from many years ago that keeps on giving.
The community is also rallying in a more organised way. In our schools The Nautilus Project, an independent NGO ran by two wonderfully passionate clean environment champions, educate the children of Gibraltar about sea pollution – specifically plastics in the ocean. They raise awareness of the importance of taking responsibility for our rubbish and instil a passion for caring about our marine habitat. The idea is that the next generation of kids here will grow up helping to keep the beaches and waters of Gibraltar clean, both independently and by participating in community organised beach clean up events.
The Nautilus Project have also implemented a successful ‘Plastic2Paper’ campaign converting large and small retailers alike from plastic bags to paper bags. In addition, they actively try to influence government policies such as the recently announced ban on the importation of products containing microbeads into Gibraltar.
At the recent Together Gibraltar environmental panel meeting held in John Macintosh Hall, The Nautilus Project were one of four panel members discussing environmental challenges facing this small territory. The hall was pleasingly full and whilst I would have liked the event to be more question and answer between the public and the panel (as per Question Time), rather than a panel led series of monologues, it is a good start and encouraging for future public engagement on this subject. Unfortunately, however, a number of knowledgeable people who should have attended the Together Gibraltar panel event did not because of fear of government repercussions, which highlights where significant problems lie, and that is in government .
Whilst the government may have started to make efforts towards increasing recycling rates there is currently not enough practical action in the streets. Local recycling facilities are often overflowing, dirty and inconveniently situated a long way from many residents. There is little useful information about how to recycle effectively, resulting in recycling contamination and increased rates of waste going to landfill. There are no recycling bins on Main Street or around town to speak of. In 2015 the Eco Park was opened. Billed as a ‘a one-stop drop-off facility for recyclable waste’ it is great if you’re having a clear out at home, but unfortunately not many people will go out of their way to drive their recycling there. Unless the public are able to recycle easily as an integral part of their day to day lives, the Eco Park will never live up to it’s full potential. A planning application has been submitted for a waste management centre on the old incinerator site – this will hugely increase Gibraltar’s capabilities but unless there is behavioural change at a grass roots level it will also not maximise its potential.
Around the world there are fantastic examples of incredibly efficient recycling solutions. They all come down to making life as easy and convenient as possible for the consumer to recycle and low cost/high return for the government. The government here has initiated a huge round of investment in colossal new schools, epic sports facilities and substantial affordable housing across Gibraltar. Teamed with the new Ecopark, waste management centre and ongoing commercial investment in office space and residential developments, we are at a fundamental juncture whereby recycling and the use of modern technology to efficiently manage waste can be integrated into the fabric and structures of Gibraltarian society. Commercial solutions such as BigBelly Smart City technology (used in 54 countries worldwide, including the UK) could radically improve Gibraltar’s waste management efficiency and save it money. Gibraltar could be a world leader in recycling if it wants to be. The question is will this happen any time soon?