In a world of waste, it can feel overwhelming: what can we do to stop our waste from becoming even more of a problem? Thankfully, there are businesses out there helping to tackle that exact problem and, locally, Specto Ltd – a company specialising in waste management – is one such entity.
Its history goes back to 2002, when company director Francis Micallef realised that there was a gap in the market when it came to the provision of waste management services. “At the time, Government was trying to attract pharmaceutical companies to the island, and it was obvious to us that these companies would be producing waste that couldn’t be disposed of ethically in Malta. Back then, the island was negotiating its entry into the EU, and the only waste management structure in place was the Maghtab dump. We knew we could provide better options than that.”
It took the team three years to get the first permits in place, largely because nothing like this had ever been offered in Malta before. Then, in 2005, they were the first company in the country to secure a waste management brokers’ permit, which meant they had the capability to take waste away from local waste producers and send it to proper disposal sites in the EU.
Since then, Specto has exported over 5,500 tonnes of waste, including sludges, plating waste, printing waste, pharmaceutical waste, electronic waste (WEEE) and laboratory waste. “We take waste off the companies that generate it – whether they’re factories, labs or even WasteServ itself – and we send it to the right disposal or recovery site in the EU, based on the type of waste that it is,” Mr Micallef continues.
Now, the company is also moving beyond all these services and tackling education – which, Mr Micallef says, is a key issue locally. “We’re actually in the process of setting up a training academy that will start to address the lack of awareness that exists when it comes to waste management, occupational health and safety, and other related issues,” he continues. “Backed by a UK university, we will be aiming to fill a void that exists right now. My dream is to offer a range of courses, from basic options right the way up to a Masters in Environmental Waste Management.”
Specto's headquarters in Balzan
Meanwhile, Mr Farrugia talks about the company’s other dimension. “Our sister company, Arete, imports laboratory chemicals. By combining the expertise of both companies, we are able to offer a complete-cycle service to our customers. In fact, if Arete customers buy their laboratory chemicals from us, they will receive subsidised rates on disposal, which makes commercial sense. Whatever waste we are putting into the world, we will find an ethical way to get it out – it’s quite a new concept for Malta.”
Mr Farrugia also works with labs that have large amounts of chemicals to throw away – some of which have been sitting there for years and have expired. “We give people an alternative to pouring them down the drain,” he says. “That sort of problem is actually a lot more serious than you think, and can be extremely damaging. Just like in so many other aspects of our business, we want to find a solution to a horrible problem.”
Looking back over the successes of Specto so far, Mr Micallef highlights the company’s first major project in 2005, which saw them dispose of over 80 tonnes of pharmaceutical waste in an ethical manner. Since then, and among their many accomplishments, they have also taken 11.5 tonnes of waste away from university labs. “It had been accumulating for over 30 years,” the director days. “This year we took a further nine tonnes away, so that’s 20 tonnes from the university alone.”
However, challenges to that success do exist, and Mr Micallef stresses that the biggest local problems relate to regulatory frameworks and the fact that we don’t have enough enforcement, which means a lot of players across various sectors are allowed to work under the radar. “The result is that we’re poisoning the environment we live in. People are dumping as they please, and this ends up getting into the ground, into our aquifers and into the air that we breathe. It’s very short-sighted to think that out-of-sight is out-of-mind.”
Mr Farrugia believes the only way to combat this would be through enforcement and strict fines. “I hope that, in two generations’ time, we may have created citizens that are a bit more appreciative of all these concepts,” he says. “The right kind of awareness goes well beyond the disposal of our waste; we have to accept that every activity we engage in generates waste, and to reduce that significantly. We should also look at whether our waste could be a resource to someone else. For instance, in Germany, 40 per cent of dumped mobile phones have been found to be still in good working order. Couldn’t they be put to better use? As a society, we need to understand that our resources are finite – they’re not going to last forever. Both individually and as a collective we need to start examining our lifestyles and to make the shift from waste disposal to waste reduction.”
The good news is that some companies are starting to make changes. “For instance, a number of businesses have started to look at their procurement,” Mr Micallef continues. “They’ve learnt that it doesn’t make sense to buy two tonnes of material at a cheaper price and to then have to dispose of it when you don’t use it; it’s better to buy less to begin with. But that’s just scratching the surface… we have to start questioning things. After all, so much of waste is the difference between what we use and the purchases we didn’t need.”
Now, Mr Micallef hopes to further underline the bottom-up approach that he believes is needed to start making a change – by combining education and enforcement. “Whether we like it or not, the major fault lies with the authorities – they’re not setting the best example. While education is needed long-term, the right enforcement could make a difference short-term, which would be very valuable.”
And it isn’t only the environment that’s saved when you switch to a more ‘eco-focused approach’ – money is saved too. “People might think waste management is a huge cost but it’s not, so long as it’s not just about waste disposal. If you start looking at the waste you’re generating and reduce it, you will save a lot of money.”
It’s with all this in mind that Mr Micallef hopes there will be positive changes in the years to come – and that Specto will be at the forefront of that. “Commercial industry needs to spearhead these changes because it should be their responsibility. If a company is thriving, this is their way of giving back. Many companies have already risen to the occasion and we look forward to seeing more and more of that in the future.”
This article originally appeared in The Commercial Courier