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Waste management: the gulf between high and low achievers is widening

While is a fact that there are no well-established global benchmarks for solid waste management, it is also known that some countries and cities fare much better in this aspect than others. 

A survey recent report prepared by researchers Ljiljana Rodic, Anne Scheinberg, David C. Wilson for the UN-Habitat Third Global Report notes that even as we have made much progress in solid waste management and recycling over the last 40 years, it is still a challenge in many cities and “it can pose public health and environmental risks and even precipitate into political ‘crisis’ if it is neglected”.

Shifting focus in the Gulf countries makes the above statement clearer. Despite being among the richest countries in the world, the problems associated with waste management in these countries are as acute as some of the fast developing countries. Though the GCC member countries devised a uniform waste management system in December 1997, they have collectively failed to formulate a comprehensive strategy and implement in tune with the rising populations and life styles in these countries, says researcher and writer Nefisa Abou-Elseoud.

Further illustrating the facts, a presentation paper at EcoWaste 2014, the dedicated waste management event in the Middle East, notes that waste generation in the Gulf countries will go up from 22 million tonnes in 2010 to 29.07 million tonnes in 2017. The paper also notes that countries like Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar and Kuwait rank in the top ten worldwide in terms of per capita solid waste generation.

Smaller countries like Kuwait face further challenges due to lack of space for creation of waste landfills. Having started off with 18 waste landfills a few decades ago, the authorities have been forced to close down 14 of them before their scheduled time of closure due to rampant growth of residential buildings in their immediate surroundings with imminent threat of pollution. A report in Kuwait Times on May 13, 2016, quoted a World Bank report on Kuwait warning that Kuwait ranks among the highest global producers of solid waste and noted that it produces 1.4 kg of solid waste per capita daily.

Countries like Kuwait have also been slow to react to taking comprehensive steps towards recycling and scientific waste disposal. It was just about a few years ago that the government decided to set up a state of the art waste management plan at Kabad, 35 km from Kuwait city but the tender for the same is yet to be given.

Comparing this with some of the other countries shows that they might not be as rich as the gulf nations but are way ahead in terms of waste management. Two small countries – Azerbaijan and Estonia in Europe, have caught the fancy of the environmentalists.

Despite being only an emerging economy, Azerbaijan has gone ahead in leaps in bounds. The shining start in its efforts at waste management is the waste to energy plant at Baku. Built in a PPP model, the plant has been designed and built in collaboration with the French environment technology firm CNIM – among the global leaders in mid-size energy power plants has developed a “best-in-class”, top notch technology. Work on the project started in 2009 and the first firing with waste was achieved in October 2012.

"We have very good results for this project for the Baku city, so we are thinking about extension of our project on the national scale. That means the entire country and its population could soon benefit as well," says Faiq Sadigov, Environmental Specialist, Ministry of Economic Development, Azerbaijan.

This is a concrete example where good intentions from the government and choosing the right partner for waste management can eliminate the constraints of finances.

This has further been illustrated in Estonia, a tiny country in Europe but given the crown of being the far ahead of the average European waste management standards.

According to Eurostat statistics Estonia is among the best performing countries in Europe when it comes to waste avoidance and recycling along with Slovenia and Belgium, says Environment monitoring website ‘EurowasteEurope’.

According to a report by Christian Fischer for the European Environment Agency published in February 2013, Estonia managed to achieve this through privatization of the waste management system. “The collection was undertaken by private companies found by tenders. The advantage of this process was that it harnessed quick investments to collection equipment and management,” notes the report.

The onus of setting up a waste to energy plant with state of the art technologies now rests with French firm CNIM. Together with Estonian Eesti Energia, CNIM – with up to date flue-gas treatment expertise and with more than 50 patents and with the framework of the European repository BAT - Best Available Technologies to eliminate the pollutants in combustion gases, will start building the first WtE plant in Estonia this summer. It will be a 220.000 t/a capacity plant and will cost 96 million euro. There are also plans of setting up a second waste plant at Tartu of 100.000 t/a capacity.

Similar strides have been achieved in cities like Singapore and Hong Kong where much stress is given on scientific treatment of waste. CNIM has also played a pivotal role in setting up scientific landfills and burning of waste.

CNIM, a turnkey contractor of waste-to-energy plants that designs facilities and oversees construction work, has helps Singapore to burns 38% of its waste to generate electricity and recycles the remaining 60%.

These above examples are in stark contrast to the situation in the Gulf countries which are in desperate need for adequate state of art waste management projects and plants. While attempts at procuring western technologies and using it for waste management have failed in the past in this region as noted by researchers Abdallah Nassour, Abdulkader Majanny, Michael Nelles in their research paper titled “Waste management: current developments in the Arabic countries”.

The problem and its possible solution for waste management dilemma for the Gulf countries is best summed up by researcher Mohammed Saleh Al Ansari of the Department of Chemical Engineering, College of Engineering, University of Bahrain as: “there are currently many exciting and groundbreaking approaches to, and tools for, achieving resource efficiency (in waste management), However, they are generally applied in isolation. In order to develop their full potency, future efforts should attempt to integrate these techniques with each other and in the context of broader ISWM schemes.”

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