Watch: White Flag – Is it greenwashing our beaches?

Camilla Appelgren, the woman behind Malta Clean Up, which has organised various clean ups round the country, has raised various concerns about the whole White Flag International following revelations by the Shift News.

In an earlier statement, the activist raised various concerns, such as signing up to the actual initiative itself, the lack of knowledge displayed by the Environment Minister Jose Herrera, the price of the flags and the background of the organisation as well the secrecy in which their events are shrouded among others.

Appelgren took it upon herself to write to the Ministry demanding answers.

The activist was at Għajn Tuffieħa, one of the seven beaches to be declared plastic free, on Thursday, where she cleaned up the beach from the plastic brought in by the waves. In her short 11 minute broadcast Appelgren commented that one should aim for a plastic free environment but warned against “quick-fix” solutions. The beach was recently given a white flag, by an association White Flag International.

Despite the beach being declared “plastic free” as it can be seen from Appelgren’s then live video, it was far from it. Appelgren used her broadcast as an educational video, appealing to viewers to refrain from using straws and releasing of balloons among other things. She explained that most of the plastic was probably brought in by the waves, as well as generated in the area.

Appelgren warned against only focusing on recycling and stated that the tap needed to be closed on plastic, with focus on reducing waste.

Għajn Tuffieħa was awarded a White Flag on 18 October. The event was organised by a igaming company based in Malta and WhiteFlag International according to a press notice issued by WhiteFlag themselves.

The campaign was launched, which included a video, in which both Environment Minister Jose Herrera in his dive suit as well as President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca which ended the video in appealing to the President of Portugal to take on the challenge, reminiscent of the ALS challenge.

In their press notice for Għajn Tuffieħa, WhiteFlag had explained that before the award cermony, a diving session would be organised to inspect the beach following the dive, the White Flag would be installed at Riviera Beach. The same press notice, explained that the systematic cleanup and monitoring of Għajn Tuffieħa was financed by a local iGaming company which they described as the beach’s “ocean guardian”.

In reports carried by the Shift News, it was questioned whether the whole scheme was a form of elaborate scam. According to what was the reported in the Shift News, some €25,000 per flag were paid. The Shift News also reported that the Gozo Ministry paid to have White Flag beaches, however the amount is not known. On Saturday, the Shift News reported that the President of the White Flag, Steve Abela, has severed his ties with the organisation after doubts were raised on the whole project. Abela told the Shift News that he volunteered with the White Flag.

“If she paid to clean up a beach, that’s not fraud” – Herrera caught up with Environment Minister Jose Herrera to ask him about the White Flag initiative. When asked if the Gozo Ministry paid for a White Flag, Herrera replied with “If she paid for a clean up, that’s not fraud”. He stressed that no one has turned up at the Ministry claiming that they have been defrauded. The Minister said that as for his Ministry they did not enter into any contractual obligations or pay any money to the organisation. Herrera stated that as a Ministry they would back any initiative for the environment. He further explained that if he is invited to initiative, he would attend.

Herrera reiterated that as a Ministry they try to help non-governmental organisations through sponsorship or legislative framework.

When asked to confirm what was told off-record, that WhiteFlag International would sue The Shift News, Herrera said that he only relayed the information he had to the organisation. He stressed that he met with the WhiteFlag International in good faith and because theirs “seemed a brilliant idea”.