The implementation of the Beverage Container Refund Scheme (BCRS), which was set for the end of this year, has been moved to 2021 due to certain administrative ECO Contribution issues relating to tax and delayed payments, Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia told The Malta Independent.
Back in 2018, former Environment Minister José Herrera asked the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) to draw up a strategy and legal framework to effectively address the use of single-use plastic as part of the Circular Economy Act.
A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for this scheme was then signed at the end of 2018 between Herrera, former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and the Resource, Recovery and Recycling Agency (RRRA).
A refund would be given for every plastic or glass bottle, or metal when deposited into the machines.
With the last quarter of 2020 just a few days away, The Malta Independent approached current Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia to get an update on this scheme, which has been highly anticipated by numerous environmental NGOs.
Farrugia explained that the BRCS will have to be delayed by 12 to 14 months due to certain administrative Eco-Contribution issues relating to tax and delayed payments which he came across when he was appointed Minister, meaning that the scheme will not be implemented this year but towards the end of 2021. He said the COVID-19 pandemic did not help to remedy the situation, either.
“In the seven months that I have been Minister responsible for this sector, I saw to it that these two problems are solved with the Commissioner of Inland Revenue and also with producers and suppliers of beverage containers in Malta,” he said, adding that an agreement was reached to have this system implemented in the future.
When the MoU for the scheme was signed, Muscat had said that all private sector players had come together to set a 10c price for bottle refunds. The project was expected to cost €15 million for the creation of a 4,000 square metre factory and the introduction of 450 reverse vending machines at supermarkets, shops and petrol stations, where people can go with their beverage containers which they can then recycle and be refunded.
Farrugia went on to say that he hopes to see all legal producers and agreements being signed in the coming weeks, and that he is committed to seeing this happen so that they can start working on building the factory as soon as possible.
In doing so, the scheme will supposedly be up and running in 14 months’ time, he said.
“This is an important scheme as, eventually, we will be recuperating 90% of beverages containers which will help Malta reach its international recycling targets,” Farrugia added.
Notably, when the scheme was still in its design phase, meaning prior to the MoU and ERA setting up a strategy for it, The Malta Independent on Sunday had reported that the business partner of the former OPM Chief of Staff Keith Schembri, Malcolm Scerri, was eyeing a potentially lucrative plastic bottle return system, that is the BRCS.
Scerri, through Acumen Projects Ltd – a company that he solely owned and directed – was the Malta representative of Tomra, a Norwegian multinational recycling solutions corporation.
Sources within the industry had suggested to this newspaper that once the project and tender get off the ground, they would be tailor-made for Acumen to snap up.
Acumen Projects Ltd was actually registered at the office address of Nexia BT, of Panama Papers-Mossack Fonseca fame. The phone number given was also that of Nexia BT’s offices.
Nexia, and its head Brian Tonna, had been heavily implicated in the Panama Papers revelations. The firm had housed Mossack-Fonseca Malta before the company left the country in the wake of the scandal and it had also engineered the financial machinations of Minister Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri.
Scerri had taken over the management of Schembri’s Malta-based Kasco Ltd and Kasco Engineering when Schembri was appointed the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff in March 2013.
Former Opposition Leader Simon Busuttil had asked the courts to launch a magisterial inquiry into all the information revealed by the Panama Papers and requested for all those involved, including Scerri, to be placed under investigation but they appealed against it.
The Ministry for the Environment, Sustainable Development and Climate Change had categorically denied these allegations.