The Menace of Plastic Water Bottles

During the holy month of Ramadan, the use of drinking water increases many folds as water bottles are supplied and provided especially at ‘Fatoor’ and dinner at religious places, hotels, Ramadan tents and private homes. The main consumption is however, at the religious places due to longer stay of people in offering special night prayers (taraweeh and Qiyam ul Lail). These water bottles are provided in bulk by philanthropists, sponsors and people at religious places to quench the thirst of people who gather for the long prayers.

In the Middle East, it is common to see people greatly misuse this resource considering it free, taking a bottle, sipping it half and leaving it at the venue. These used and partially consumed water bottles are then collected and thrown away in municipal garbage bins from where  it is collected and transported to Askar municipal landfill site located some 25 km away from the city center. These water bottles thus have a high carbon footprint and represent enormous wastage of precious water source and misuse of our other fragile resources. In many cases, these water bottles are being littered around the commercial and religious places.

Plastic water bottles are a common feature in our urban daily life. Bottled water is widely used by people from all walks of life and is considered to be convenient and safer than tap water. A person on an average drinks around 2.0 liters of water a day and may consume 4-6 plastic bottles per day. UAE is considered as the highest per capita consumer of bottled water worlwide. 

We need to understand that plastic is made from petroleum.  24 million gallons of oil is needed to produce a billion plastic bottles. Plastic takes around 700 years to be degraded. 90% of the cost of bottled water is due to the bottle itself. 80% of plastic bottles produced are not recycled.

Globally, plastic recycling rate is very low and major quantities of plastics are being disposed in the landfills, where they stay for hundreds of years not being naturally degraded. Recycling one ton of plastic saves 5.74 cubic meters of landfill space and save cost of collection and transportation.

Water bottles manufacturing, transportation, distribution and again collection and disposal after its use create enormous pollution in terms of trash generation, global warming and air pollution. The transportation of bottled water from its source to stores alone releases thousands of tons of carbon dioxide. In addition to the millions of gallons of water used in the plastic-making process, two gallons of water are wasted in the purification process for every gallon that goes into the plastic bottles.

The first step is that once you open a water bottle, you need to complete consume it to fully utilize the resource. Do not throw the plastic bottles as litter. The solution to the plastic bottles usage lies in its minimum use and safe disposal. Alternatively, a flask, thermos or reusable water bottle can be used which can be refilled as required. It is suggested that religious places, hotels and malls should have efficient water treatment plants to reduce the use of plastic water bottles.

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Waste Management Outlook for Qatar

Qatar is counted among the world’s fastest growing economies as well as richest countries in the world. The rapid industrialization of the country and high population growth generates a lot of wastes in the form of municipal wastes, construction & demolition debris, industrial wastes etc. Annual solid waste generation in Qatar has crossed 2.5 million tons, which corresponds to daily waste generation of more than 7,000 tons per day. The country has one of the highest per capita waste generation worldwide which ranges from 1.6 to 1.8 kg per day.

Solid Waste Management Scenario

Solid waste is mainly comprised of organic materials while the rest of the waste is made up of recyclables like glass, paper, metals and plastics. Waste is collected from across the country and predominantly disposed off in landfills. There are three landfills in Qatar; Umm Al-Afai for bulky and domestic waste, Rawda Rashed for construction and demolition waste, and Al-Krana for sewage wastes. This method of waste disposal by landfill is not a practical solution for a country like Qatar where land availability is limited and only 8% of the waste is recycled.

One of the promising developments in solid waste management sector in recent years has been the creation of Domestic Solid Waste Management Centre (DSWMC) at Mesaieed. This centre is designed to maximize recovery of resources and energy from waste by installing state-of-the-art technologies for separation, pre-processing, mechanical and organic recycling, and waste-to-energy and composting technologies. It will treat 1550 tons of waste per day, and is expected to generate enough power for in-house requirements, and supply a surplus of 34.4 MW to the national grid. 

Government Strategy

The Qatar Government has identified the need for better waste management and has made plans to address this issue in Qatar National Development Strategy 2011-2016. According to this plan the Government proposes to contain the levels of waste generated by households, commercial sites and industry and to recycle much more of the waste generated. Accordingly, the plan prioritizes actions to reduce the pressure on the environment, with the most preferable goal being the avoidance of waste. Where waste cannot be avoided, the preferred goals would be to reduce it, reuse it and recycle it, and the least desirable action is to dispose of materials.

The plan also proposes to initiate new policies to encourage firms to export recycled items and manufacturers to use recycled material. The Government is to consider providing subsidies to encourage more firms to enter the recycling business and public awareness campaigns to encourage waste separation. It also plans to improve collection networks and to provide recycling bins.

To generate new recycling activity sponsored demonstrations and public awareness activities are planned. Citizens will be made aware of the opportunity to use recycled products, such as furniture made from recycled wood or compost produced daily in Mesaieed. Citizens are to be encouraged to see waste reduction and recycling as a duty with the welfare of future generations in mind.

The critical step in establishing a solid waste management plan will be to coordinate responsibilities, activities and planning. The plan, to be aligned with the Qatar National Master Plan, will cover households, industry and commercial establishments, and construction and demolition. The plan will also provide classifications for different types of domestic and non- domestic waste, mapping their sources.

Future Perspectives

When the Qatar National Development Strategy 2011-2016 was conceived, the plant at Mesaieed might have been seen as an ideal solution, but by the time the project was completed the capacity of the plant to handle waste has been overwhelmed. The centre in Mesaieed can treat only 1550 tons of the 7000 tons generated everyday and this is only going to increase in future. Qatar needs a handful of such centers in order to tackle the growing menace of urban wastes.

While steps are being taken to handle waste generated in future, the Government needs to focus on creating mass awareness about 4Rs of waste management viz. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Recovery. If this can be achieved then the public can be expected to play its part in helping to reduce the generation of waste and in recycling waste by making the process easier by segregating waste at the source. The public needs to be made aware of its responsibility and duty to the future generations. Since Qatar is predominantly a Muslim country, the government may also take help of Islamic scholars to motivate the population to reduce per capita waste generation.

Improvement in curbside collection mechanism and establishment of material recovery facilities and recycling centres may also encourage public participation in waste management initiatives. After a period of public education and demonstration, segregation-at-source needs to be implemented throughout the country. Legislation needs to be passed to ensure compliance, failure of which will attract a penalty with spot checks by the Government body entrusted with its implementation.

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Energy Efficiency in Saudi Cement Industry

Saudi Arabia is the largest construction market in the Middle East, with large development projects under way and many more in the planning stage. The cement industry in the country is evolving rapidly and is expected to reach annual clinker production of 70 million tonnes in 2013 from current figure of 60 million tonnes per year. The cement industry is one of the highest energy-intensive industries in the world, with fuel and energy costs typically representing 30-40% of total production costs. On an average, the specific electrical energy consumption typically ranges between 90 and 130 kWh per tonne of cement. Keeping in view the huge energy demand of the cement industry, the Saudi Arabian government has been making efforts to reduce the energy consumption in the country towards a more sustainable.

Energy Demand in Cement Production

The theoretical fuel energy demand for cement clinker production is determined by the energy required for the chemical/mineralogical reactions (1,700 to 1,800 MJ/tonne clinker) and the thermal energy needed for raw material drying and pre-heating. Modern cement plants which were built within the last decade have low energy consumption compared to older plants.  The actual fuel energy use for different kiln systems is in the following ranges (MJ/tonne clinker):

  • 3,000 – 3,800 for dry process, multi-stage (3 – 6 stages) cyclone preheater and precalcining kilns,
  • 3,100 – 4,200 for dry process rotary kilns equipped with cyclone preheaters,
  • 3,300 – 4,500 for semi-dry/semi-wet processes (e.g. Lepol-kilns),
  • Up to 5,000 for dry process long kilns,
  • 5,000 – 6,000 for wet process long kilns and
  • 3,100–6,500 for shaft kilns.

Energy Efficiency in Cement Industry

With new built, state-of-the-art cement plants, usually all technical measures seem to be implemented towards low energy consumption. So, how to reduce it further?

Energy efficiency is based on the following three pillars

  • Technical optimization
  • Alternative raw materials for cement and clinker production
  • Alternative fuels

In Europe, the new energy efficiency directive from 2011 intends to reduce the energy consumption of the overall industry by 20%, achieving savings of 200billion Euros at the energy bill and with the goal to create 2 million new jobs within Europe. This approach will have a significant influence also on the cement industry. Saving 20% of the energy consumption is a challenging goal, especially for plants with state-of-the-art technology.

In older plants modernizations in the fields of grinding, process control and process prediction can, if properly planned and installed, reduce the electricity consumption – sometimes in a two digit number.

Alternative Fuels

Alternative fuels, such as waste-derived fuels or RDF, bear further energy saving potential. The substitution of fossil fuel by alternative sources of energy is common practice in the European cement industry.The German cement industry, for example, substitutes approximately 61% of their fossil fuel demand. The European cement industry reaches an overall substitution rate of at least ca. 20%.

Typical “alternative fuels” available in Saudi Arabia are municipal solid wastes, agro-industrial wastes, industrial wastes and some amount of crop residues. To use alternative or waste-derived fuels, such as municipal solid wastes, dried sewage sludges, drilling wastes etc., a regulatory base has to be developed which sets

  • Types of wastes/alternative fuels,
  • Standards for the production of waste-derived fuels,
  • Emission standards and control mechanism while using alternative fuels and
  • Standards for permitting procedures.

Alternative Raw Materials

The reduction of clinker portion in cement affords another route to reduce energy consumption. In particular, granulated blast furnace slags or even limestone have proven themselves as substitutes in cement production, thus reducing the overall energy consumption.

To force the use of alternative raw materials within the cement industry, also – and again –standards have to be set, where

  • Types of wastes, by-products and other secondary raw materials are defined,
  • Standards for the substitution are set,
  • Guidelines for processing are developed,
  • Control mechanisms are defined.

Conclusions

To reduce the energy consumption, an energy efficiency program, focusing on “production-related energy efficiency” has to be developed. Substantial potential for energy efficiency improvement exists in the cement industry and in individual plants. A portion of this potential will be achieved as part of (natural) modernization and expansion of existing facilities, as well as construction of new plants in particular regions. Still, a relatively large potential for improved energy management practices exists and can be exhausted by determined approaches.

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The Menace of Marine Litter

Marine litter, long a neglected topic, has started to garner some attention. Marine litter is composed of a diverse mix of items from various sources and so a one-size fits all solution is unlikely to be effective. Abandoned, lost and discarded fishing gear (ALDFG), plastic packaging (bottles, caps, bags, etc.) and plastic manufacturing pellets are amongst the most common and persistent items found. Comparing the feasibility and the financial case for recovery versus prevention for each of these groups reveals a worrying gap in our attempts to deal with the problem.

Scale of the Problem

Abandoned, lost and discarded fishing gear (ALDFG) is arguably the most damaging type of marine debris as it continues to fish the oceans, trapping and killing animals for years after it goes overboard. Nets are often located in high numbers around known fishing grounds making targeted recovery possible. Even in such hotspots, recovery is costly and tends to fall to the third sector. An effectively priced deposit scheme with port and shore facilities to support the collection and recycling of damaged gear should reduce the amount of fishing gear discarded and fund the recovery of the remaining items.

While it is thought that 80% of marine litter originates on land, it seems clear that there is an on-going flux between terrestrial and marine environments. Floods can increase the flow of litter down rivers to the sea, while storms stir up the ocean, leading to litter that has already entered the marine environment being deposited in greater than usual amounts on beaches.

In 2013 the European Commission published three studies looking into the composition and sources of marine litter in European seas. In a chapter integrating the results it noted that:

“Plastics are the most abundant debris found in the marine environment and comprise more than half of marine litter in European Regional Seas. More than half of the plastic fraction is composed of plastic packaging waste with plastic bottles and bags being predominant types of plastic packaging…

Therefore, measures within a strategy to close the largest loopholes in the plastic packaging cycle should target plastic bottles and plastic bags.”

Capping the Problem

Plastic packaging is one of the most common items of marine debris with grave impacts upon marine wildlife. Foraging birds are known to ingest large quantities of plastic, especially caps and lids, turtles eat plastic bags mistaking them for jellyfish, and many species are recorded as trapped and disfigured by beverage can yokes.

However the impacts are even further reaching. As plastics break down they are ingested by smaller and smaller organisms. Recent studies have found that plankton ingest tiny fragments of plastic which are then passed up the food chain through predation. In fact, there may already be plastic in the tissue of the fish that we consume.

Despite hype about profitable schemes that will clean the ocean gyres in five years, the breakdown of material makes recovery almost impossible. Plastic debris may outweigh plankton by a ratio of 6:1 in the areas of highest concentration but widespread skimming of the ocean surface will also harvest vast amounts of the phytoplankton, zooplankton and other organisms living there. The majority of marine life lives at the surface and so, considering the risk of disruption to the entire marine food chain, the plankton baby is one that you really don’t want to throw out with the plastic-polluted bathwater.

Whilst debris recovery efforts may be able to remove small quantities of plastic packaging, in particular the larger items, it cannot deal with the full spectrum and so is largely ineffective as a response to the litter problem. The real challenge is not to clear litter once it is in the ocean doing damage, but to prevent it from getting there in the first place. Container deposit schemes and plastic bag levies have been shown to be highly effectual means of reducing litter on land; and by extension, will help to prevent marine litter.

Ex-Pellets from the Oceans

Plastic manufacturing pellets, or nurdles as they are known in the industry, are often underreported debris items as they are so small that they often escape observation. They are typically less than 5mm in diameter and unusually for marine debris are from known sources as they are only used in the manufacturing of plastic products.

Locating and separating such small objects from the world’s oceans is clearly a mammoth task of considerable expense. Instead the manufacturing industry has initiated a programme of environmental responsibility to limit the loss of the pellets. Praised as an effective and affordable program, the initiative would have even greater impact if adopted as an industry standard world-wide, especially if combined with further efforts to reduce pellet loss during transport.

There are no effective natural processes that remove marine debris. The flow of material into the oceans vastly exceeds any practicable man-made method of extracting this growing soup of litter. The only way to tackle the issue is to prevent litter entering the oceans in the first place. Effective measures to prevent this pollution at source already exist. Some, such as levies on single use carrier bags, are becoming more widespread, but others such as deposit refund schemes are still very limited, both in terms of geography and the types of packaging targeted. 

 

Note: The article is being republished with the kind permission of our collaborative partner Isonomia. The original article can be viewed at this link.

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Community Engagement in Recycling Initiatives in Qatar

The current state of environmental custodianship in Qatar leaves much to be desired from the national government and other institutions that publicly endorse initiatives with much fan-fare but do not commit to sustained action. My previous piece titled “Environmental Initiatives in Middle East – Challenges and Remedies” illuminated some of these gaps, but did not provide a detailed description of what underpins this trend and possible solutions might look like. Thus, this article seeks to delve deeper into how state institutions and civil society in Qatar may be able to work cooperatively in staving off further environmental degradation, especially with regards to waste management and recycling.

I believe that real success will be achieved through popular buy-in and a paradigm shift towards recognizing the interconnectedness of humans with their surroundings, which can be encouraged through education. Perhaps more importantly, there needs to be a public acknowledgement that all individuals residing in Qatar have a vested interest in pushing for greater environmental protection enforcement and accountability. In a region that is already faced with a lack of potable water and arable land, allowing the existing course to be maintained is not only risky, it is flat-out dangerous to the nation’s survival.

An Uphill Battle, But a Necessary One

Individuals that either live in or visited a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nation, especially a hydrocarbon-rich rentier state like Qatar, are probably quite familiar with the inadequacies of current recycling initiatives. As someone who has visited the country on three different occasions I can tell you that I have searched high and low for something resembling a recycling bin, can, or other receptacle but to no avail, save for a few located in Education City. One might imagine this to be exceptionally jarring coming from the hyper-attentive, green-obsessed Washington, DC where trash and recycling cans typically are placed together on streets and in buildings.

Further adding to my chagrin is the apparent disconnect between high level, widely publicized recycling improvements and the realities (and consequences) manifesting among general society. For example, last year there was much excitement surrounding the announcement of upcoming environmental reforms in July 2014, but it appears nothing further came to fruition.

The article touches upon some of the apparent hindrances for recycling programs and other environmental initiatives: bureaucracy; paperwork; budgetary constraints. I would add to this list based upon personal experiences: general apathy towards recycling; inaccessibility of bins; perception of additional costs to conducting business.

Fair enough – I acknowledge that some of these issues are out of citizens’ and expats’ hands, but that is no excuse for giving up. The predicted 6.8% GDP growth spurred by the upcoming 2022 FIFA World Cup and hydrocarbon exports will surely put further pressure on an already fragile ecosystem and lead to an uptick in waste production. This is not meant to stoke unnecessary fear, but the equation here is straightforward; more people present in Qatar, more trash will be created from residential and commercial zones. As noted by fellow EcoMENA contributor, Surya Suresh, the nation presently possesses one solid waste facility at Mesaieed and three landfills devoted to particular items, which now seem to be overwhelmed by growing waste inputs.

Possible Solutions: Personal and Community Action

Given this lag in state responses to the existing recycling crisis and future issues stemming from it, readers may be asking what they can do to help. At the personal level, I would encourage Qatari residents, as well as others in neighboring nations, to begin with educating themselves about the current state of recycling initiatives and conducting an inventory of their daily waste generation. EcoMENA website offers a variety of informative pieces and external resources useful to individuals seeking more information.

My latter point about doing a personal inventory is about consciousness-raising about how we each contribute to a wider problem and identifying means of reducing our impact on the environment. Examples from my own life that I believe are applicable in Qatar include counting the number of plastic bags I used to transport groceries and replacing them with a backpack and reusable bags. I also frequently re-appropriate glass jars for storing items, such as rice, spices, and coffee – make sure to wash them well before reuse! It has taken me several years to get to past the social stigmas surrounding reusing containers and to cultivate the future planning to bring my reusable bags with me, but knowing my actions, aggregated with those of my friends and family, positively affect the environment is quite rewarding and reinforces good behavior. Give it a shot and see what happens.

Furthermore, it may be beneficial for the community at large to begin discussing the topic of recycling and what they would like to see, rather than solely wait on state agencies to address issues. Doing so could initially be formulated on a level that many Qatari residents are probably most familiar with: their place of employment, apartment, or neighborhood. After all, if individuals, specifically employers, are expected to bear the increased costs associated with improved recycling then an understanding of what people want is necessary in hopefully resolving issues effectively and with greater community enthusiasm.

Because of the nature of nation-states’ institutions typically being reactive entities and incapable of being aware of every societal problem, it is up to community-level groups to voice their concerns and be committed to change. Organizations such as the Qatar Green Building Council and the Qatar Green Leaders, offer a variety of informative pieces and training services that may help in establishing dialogues between groups and the government. Perhaps this is too idealistic right now, but Qatari residents have organized popular support for other initiatives, notably in the initial pilot recycling program in 2012. Now let us make that a sustained commitment to recycling!

 

References

  1. Andrew Clark, “Environmental Initiatives in Middle East – Challenges and Remedies,” on EcoMENA.org, http://www.ecomena.org/environment-middle-east/.
  2. Doha News Staff, “Official: New, Sorely Needed Recycling Policies in Qatar Afoot,” on Dohanews.co, http://dohanews.co/official-new-sorely-needed-recycling-policies-in/.
  3. Qatar National Bank, “Qatar Economic Insight 2013,” on www.qnb.com.qa  
  4. Surya Suresh, “Waste Management Outlook for Qatar,” http://www.ecomena.org/waste-qatar/
  5. Doha News Staff, “Responding to Community Calls, Qatar Rolls Out Pilot Recycling Program,” http://dohanews.co/responding-to-community-calls-qatar-rolls-out-pilot/.

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New Fines for Littering in Bahrain

Littering is a common phenomenon both in urban and rural areas of Bahrain. Streets, sidewalks, parking lots, roads and highways are mostly covered with food wrappers, soft drink and water bottles, plastic bags, handbills, cigarette butts, tissues, papers etc. Litter has the potential to cause harm to human health, safety, welfare as well as the environment. Littering can be a fire hazard and it attracts pests and rodents. Litter also cause accidents on roads as drivers avoid litter on road. Litter also harm plants, vegetation and natural areas. The temptation to ‘litter’ is usually motivated by disrespect to the law and its enforcement as well as ignorance and arrogance in our attitude, thinking that municipalities will clean our mess.

There are several factors that may impact on littering behaviour including inconvenience and laziness, absence of ownership or pride for the area, feeling that someone else will pick it up, number, placement and appearance of litter bins at or near the site, absence of realistic penalties, enforcement of legislation, lack of social pressure and lack of knowledge of the environmental impacts of littering.

New Littering Fines in Bahrain

The local authorities in Bahrain have now taken cognizance of the situation. Now littering on Bahrain's roads could carry fines of up to BD300 if a new draft law is passed by parliament. The National Cleanliness Law was approved by the Capital Trustees Board last week and includes tougher punishments for dumping waste, leaving animal faeces on the streets, and disposing of medical or hazardous substances in public. The new law will give more judicial power to the municipal officials to penalize the offenders.

Under the existing law which is almost three decades old, offenders are fined only BD10 for littering. However, if the new rules are implemented, then fines for minor offences will range between BD100 and BD300 and for serious offences will be between BD500 and BD1,000.

Capital Trustees Board chairman has very rightly mentioned that ‘Dumping and littering have become a habit for a number of people and it needs immediate action, especially with fines not matching the offences. The fines once imposed will be monitored by the Capital Trustees Authority, and Bahrain's three other municipalities.

Thus, dumping and littering whether on main roads or neighborhoods, on pavements or alleys, at beaches or wasteland are prohibited. Also, dumping anything that may obstruct traffic or prevent people from movement is illegal whether it is garden waste, construction waste, furniture, vehicles or any other materials.

Conquering Litter

Litter can be conquered. People can make a difference. It is our responsibility to clean up the litter in an ‘earth-friendly manner.’ Clean communities have a better chance of attracting new business, residents and tourists. There is no reason for any of us to litter because we can always find a litter bin to throw the trash away.

Let us set an example for others, especially children, by not littering and by carrying a litterbag in our vehicle, securely covering trash containers to prevent wind or animals from spreading litter, when visiting parks and recreation areas make sure to leave the area clean for the next person to enjoy and restricting the distribution and disposal of handbills.

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Waste Management Implications of 3D Printing

The rapid deployment of 3D printing is one of the most exciting developments since the appearance of the smart phone. This is technology with some serious potential to change how and where goods are manufactured, transforming supply chains. The New Scientist has gone so far as to herald 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, as ushering in a second industrial revolution. But is anyone thinking about how what this new development means for the waste sector?

Whilst the technology is already being put to some dubious uses, the ability to manufacture pretty much anything wherever and whenever it’s needed is certainly appealing. Interest isn’t confined to those frustrated inventors whose imaginations have been constrained by the tools they can fit in the garden shed; there’s likely to be take-up from businesses, householders – and even space agencies, apparently.

Insights into 3D Printing

By building up layer upon layer of material, a 3D printer can produce objects to any pattern, up to the maximum size it can handle. However, the applications to which these objects can be put to may be limited by the physical properties of the materials that will inputted in to 3D printers – the equivalent of the ink in the printers we’re all familiar with. Clearly, you can’t print a toaster if your 3D printer only uses plastic – but an oven knob, or even a wind-powered robot with dozens of moving parts, is no problem.

A quick scan of 3dprinter.net helpfully outlines the different methods 3D printers are able to deploy, which I’ve summarised here. Each appears to require its own TLA (Three Letter Acronym). Perhaps in the future terms such as Stereolithography (SLA), Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM), Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) and PolyJet photopolymer will become as ubiquitous as DVD and VHS have been in the past. Each of these techniques is compatible with a selection of materials, primarily plastics – but some are able to use metals, ceramics or even play-dough.

Environmental Implications

Moving significant amounts of manufacturing away from factories (predominately in Asia) to our own door steps will no doubt have profound impacts on the balance of goods and services across the globe. The economic and social implications of the technology have the potential to be significant– as do the environmental implications.

There is potential for greenhouse gas emissions savings from reduced shipping – not just cutting the number of products that make the long journey across the seas from China, but also reducing road freight. Fewer trucks on the motorways could be one of the unexpected effects 3D printing. But what are the waste management issues associated with mass deployment such technologies. And if we are future gazing, is their deployment consistent with the ‘zero waste economy’ envisaged by governments across the Middle East?

For those who haven’t yet thought too hard about what the technology is; think of it like the ‘replicator’ devices as featured in Star Trek. The replicator was a machine capable of creating objects by voice command, from what appeared to be thin air. 3D printing is only a shade less magical.

Waste Management Perspectives

3D printing is something of a double-edged sword when it comes to waste. It creates new recycling problems, but has considerable potential to help prevent waste. It could even be an outlet for recycled plastics. The opportunity for DIY repairs, especially to everyday items that we might otherwise decide were uneconomic to fix, appears enormous.

But with the higher profile that waste management has these days, I feel that we ought to be making 3D printing the first technology to be designed with recycling in mind. The waste management industry is a service industry; and typically it has had to adapt retrospectively to technology changes that it has not been able to influence. After more than a decade, we’re still catching up with the introduction of plastic milk bottles in lieu of glass. But this reactive approach clearly isn’t the best way to achieve a zero waste economy.

3D printing offers numerous challenges and opportunities to the waste management industry. As we, as a society, become more aware of material security, I’d suggest that the best approach would be for the waste management industry to engage positively with the designers and manufacturers of the 3D printing devices, trying to identify opportunities to ensure that the circular economy doesn’t become an afterthought.

The most appealing possibility would be if the machines could recycle waste polymers themselves, and re-use them as feedstock. Could we see a scenario where the machines become the recycling facility, thus greatly reducing the need for even the print medium to be transported? Bringing the nascent 3D printing industry together with experts in waste management could help to make this new technology contribute to rather than challenge our ambitions for a zero waste economy.

Note: The article is being republished with the kind permission of our collaborative partner Isonomia. The original article can be viewed at http://www.isonomia.co.uk/?p=2512

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Guide to Green Shopping

With the advent of December, many festivities, celebrations and seasonal parties are planned globally. These events require feverish shopping leading to usage and wastage of more resources. In addition, December is also famous for the shopping mania that grips people from all walks of life. ‘Shopping’ is certainly one of the most famous ‘indoor sport’ being practiced equally by people of developed and developing countries depending on their life style and budget and is mainy being done by the female gender.

‘Going green’ is a way forward for all of us as it is a life style change including improving our shopping and purchasing habits so that the additional environmental burden can be reduced. The market forces, industries, manufacturers are supported by extensive media and marketing campaigns which lure us to buy more and unnecessary commodities.

The responsibility of environmental stewardship lies on us to control and behave and move to ‘green shopping’ altering our pampered purchasing habits. Start by auditing your lifestyles and shopping list and see where improvement can be achieved to reduce pollution.

Being a green consumer we need to conserve resources, save  energy, and prevent waste by buying  products that are energy efficient, are used or reusable, made with  recycled content or are  recyclable and have no  or less packaging.

Green shopping involves learning how to buy smartly and keeping environmental considerations in mind. Here are some useful eco-friendly shopping tips:

  • Check if the item is ‘really’ or ‘urgently’ required. May be you do not have an immediate use or can postpone it to any later date.
  • Check what quantity and content of the item is required and for what duration?
  • What are the alternatives to the item in terms of cost, size, number etc?
  • Buy durable products instead of disposable items. Buy things which last longer and can be reused like rechargeable batteries and avoiding plastic cutlery and plates.
  • Avoid excess packaging. Look for products that have less packaging or buy in bulk meaning less garbage generation, disposal and transportation.  
  • Share items with friends. Another way to save resources and energy is to swap and exchange with friends and family instead of buying brand-new products. This includes sharing video games, CDs, DVDs etc. instead of individuals owning them.
  • Buy energy-efficient appliances and electronic items and promote energy-efficient products.
  • Buying useful presents and gifts aiming at its use and not cost.
  • Select items made with recycled-content materials.
  • When selecting between two similar products, go for the one you can re-use or re-fill later, or the one that hasn't wasted resources on a wrapper you'll throw away as soon as you get home.
  • Buy sustainable products which have the ability to be produced (over and over again) without doing much harm to the environment.
  • Buy locally made or grown food. Local foods are fresher and keep local farmers in business, while avoiding the pollution caused by transporting products around the country or region.

Let us inspire ourselves to live a greener more environmentally friendly, healthy and sustainable lifestyle.

Become a Green Shopper. Explore, Enjoy and Make A Difference! 

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Environmental Best Practices for MENA Cement Industry

Cement production in MENA region has almost tripled during the last 15 years, mainly on account of high population growth rate, rapid urbanization, increasing industrialization and large-scale infrastructural development. The growth of cement industry in MENA is marked by factors that are directly connected with sustainability, energy efficiency and raw material supply. Although the factors differ from country to country and cannot be generalized, there are major concerns regarding shortage of raw materials, GHG emissions, dependence on fossil fuels and lack of investment in technological innovations.

For the MENA cement sector, key points for an environment-friendly industry are use of alternative raw materials and alternative fuels, energy-efficient equipment and green technologies. As the use of alternative fuels and raw materials is still uncommon in the Middle East, guidelines and regulatory framework have to be defined which can set standards for the use of alternative or waste-derived fuels like municipal solid wastes, dried sewage sludge, agricultural wastes, drilling wastes etc.

Sewage Sludge

An attractive disposal method for sewage sludge is to use it as alternative fuel source in a cement kiln. Dried sewage sludge with high organic content possesses a high calorific value. Due to the high temperature in the kiln the organic content of the sewage sludge will be completely destroyed. The resultant ash is incorporated in the cement matrix. Infact, several European countries, like Germany and Switzerland, have already started adopting this practice for sewage sludge management.

The MENA region produces huge quantity of municipal wastewater which represents a serious problem due to its high treatment costs and risk to environment, human health and marine life. Sewage generation across the region is rising by an astonishing rate of 25 percent every year. Municipal wastewater treatment plants in MENA produce large amounts of sludge whose disposal is a cause of major concern.

For example, Kuwait has 6 wastewater treatment plants, with combined capacity of treating 12,000m³ of municipal wastewater per day, which produce around 250 tons of sludge daily. Similarly Tunisia has approximately 125 wastewater treatment plants which generate around 1 million tons of sewage sludge every year. Currently most of the sewage is sent to landfills. Sewage sludge generation is bound to increase at rapid rates in MENA due to increase in number and size of urban habitats and growing industrialization.

The use of sewage sludge as alternative fuel is a common practice in cement plants around the world, Europe in particular. It could be an attractive business proposition for wastewater treatment plant operators and cement industry in the Middle East to work together to tackle the problem of sewage sludge disposal, and high energy requirements and GHGs emissions from the cement industry.

Use of sludge in cement kilns will led to eco-friendly disposal of municipal sewage

Use of sludge in cement kilns will led to eco-friendly disposal of municipal sewage

Sewage sludge has relatively high net calorific value of 10-20 MJ/kg as well as lower carbon dioxide emissions factor compared to coal when treated in a cement kiln. Use of sludge in cement kilns can also tackle the problem of safe and eco-friendly disposal of sewage sludge. The cement industry accounts for almost 5 percent of anthropogenic CO2 emissions worldwide. Treating municipal wastes in cement kilns can reduce industry’s reliance on fossil fuels and decrease greenhouse gas emissions.

Municipal Solid Wastes and Biomass

Alternative fuels, such as refuse-derived fuels or RDF, have very good energy-saving potential. The substitution of fossil fuel by alternative sources of energy is common practice in the European cement industry. The German cement industry, for example, substitutes approximately 61% of their fossil fuel demand. Typical alternative fuels available in MENA countries are municipal solid wastes, agro-industrial wastes, industrial wastes and crop residues.

The gross urban waste generation quantity from Middle East countries has crossed 150 million tons per annum. Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar and Kuwait rank in the top-ten worldwide in terms of per capita solid waste generation. Solid waste disposal is a big challenge in almost all MENA countries so conversion of MSW to RDF will not ease the environmental situation but also provide an attractive fuel for the regional cement industry. Tens of millions of tyres are discarded across the MENA region each year. Scrap tyres are are an attractive source of energy and find widespread use in countries around the world.

Agriculture plays an important role in the economies of most of the countries in the Middle East and North Africa region.  Despite the fact that MENA is the most water-scarce and dry region in the world, many countries in the region, especially those around the Mediterranean Sea, are highly dependent on agriculture. Egypt is the 14th biggest rice producer in the world and the 8th biggest cotton producer in the world. Similarly Tunisia is one of the biggest producers and exporters of olive oil in the world. Such high biomass production rates should be welcomed by the cement industry since these materials comprise cotton stalks, rice husks and rice straw which serve ideally as alternative fuels. However it is ironical that olive kernels – the waste from Tunisian olive production – is exported to European power plants in order to save fossil fuel-derived CO2 emissions there, while Tunisia imports approximately 90% of its energy demand, consisting of fossil fuels.

Drilling Wastes as Alternative Raw Material

The reduction of clinker portion in cement affords another route to reduce energy consumption. In particular, granulated blast furnace slags or even limestone have proven themselves as substitutes in cement production, thus reducing the overall energy consumption. The Middle East oil and gas industry has made a lot of effort in order to reduce the environmental impact of their activities. The use of drilling wastes and muds is preferable in cement kilns, as a cement kiln can be an attractive, less expensive alternative to a rotary kiln. In cement kilns, drilling wastes with oily components can be used in a fuel-blending program to substitute for fuel that would otherwise be needed to fire the kiln.

Conclusions

The cement industry can play a significant role in the sustainable development in the Arab countries, e.g. by reducing fossil fuel emissions with the use of refused derived fuels (RDF) made from municipal solid waste or biomass pellets. The cement companies in the Middle East can contribute to sustainability also by improving their own internal practices such as improving energy efficiency and implementing recycling programs. Businesses can show commitments to sustainability through voluntary adopting the concepts of social and environmental responsibilities, implementing cleaner production practices, and accepting extended responsibilities for their products.  

The major points of consideration are types of wastes and alternative fuels that may be used, standards for production of waste-derived fuels, emission standards and control mechanisms, permitting procedures etc. Appropriate standards also need to be established for alternative raw materials that are to be used for clinker and cement production.

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Solid Waste Management in the Middle East – Major Challenges

Middle East is one of the most prolific waste generating regions of the world. Lavish lifestyle, ineffective legislations, infrastructural roadblocks, indifferent public attitude and lack of environmental awareness are the major factors responsible for growing waste management problem in the Middle East. High standards of living are contributing to more generation of waste which when coupled with lack of waste collection and disposal facilities have transformed ‘trash’ into a liability.

Major Hurdles

The general perception towards waste is that of indifference and apathy. Waste is treated as ‘waste’ rather than as a ‘resource’. There is an urgent need to increase public awareness about environmental issues, waste management practices and sustainable living. Public participation in community-level waste management initiatives is lackluster mainly due to low level of environmental awareness and public education. Unfortunately none of the countries in the region have an effective source-segregation mechanism.

Solid waste management in the Middle East is bogged down by deficiencies in waste management legislation and poor planning. Many countries lack legislative framework and regulations to deal with wastes. Insufficient funds, absence of strategic waste management plans, lack of coordination among stakeholders, shortage of skilled manpower and deficiencies in technical and operational decision-making are some of the hurdles experienced in implementing an integrated waste management strategy in the region. In many countries waste management is the sole prerogative of state-owned companies and municipalities which discourage participation of private companies and entrepreneurs.

Though Islam put much stress on waste minimization, Arab countries are among the world’s highest per capita waste generator which is really unfortunate. Due to lack of garbage collection and disposal facilities, dumping of waste in open spaces, deserts and water bodies is a common sight across the region. Another critical issue is lack of awareness and public apathy towards waste reduction, source segregation and waste management.

A sustainable waste management system demands high degree of public participation, effective legislations, sufficient funds and modern waste management practices/technologies. The region can hope to improve waste management scenario by implementing source-segregation, encouraging private sector participation, deploying recycling and waste-to-energy systems, and devising a strong legislative and institutional framework.

Silver Lining

In recent year, several countries, like Qatar and UAE, have established ambitious solid waste management projects but their efficacy is yet to be ascertained. On the whole, Middle East countries are slowly, but steadily, gearing up to meet the challenge posed by waste management by investing heavily in such projects, sourcing new technologies and raising public awareness. However the pace of progress is not matched by the increasing amount of waste generated across the region. Sustainable waste management is a big challenge for policy-makers, urban planners and other stake-holders, and immediate steps are needed to tackle mountains of wastes accumulating in cities throughout the Middle East.

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Waste Management Perspectives for Egypt

Egypt occupies 7th position in the list of countries with the most mismanaged plastic waste, according to a recent report published in Science magazine. The report was based on data collected in 2010 and one must wonder whether the results of the report would have been different if the zabbaleen had been allowed to continue their work unhindered.

A History of the Zabbaleen

The zabbaleen, or garbage collectors, are the descendants of farmers from Upper Egypt who moved to Cairo in the 1940s. Together with another migrant group, they have made a living in Cairo collecting, sorting, salvaging, and recycling the waste of the city's nearly 20 million residents. With the help of NGOs, the zabbaleen recycled up to 80% of the waste they collected, more than three times the amount of waste recycled by garbage collectors in major cities in developed nations. The zabbaleen collected the garbage free of charge; they were part of Cairo's informal public sector. Their work was not supported by the government. Their income came from selling the recyclable material and from the pigs they raised on the organic waste. Many residents also gave monetary tips to the garbage collectors. This meager income barely supported the zabbaleen, who live together in different settlements around the city, all of them extremely poor.

Believing the zabbaleen's system to be backwards and unhygienic, in 2003, the government sold contracts to three multinational companies (and one local company) to collect Cairo's waste, pushing the zabbaleen out of the system. These companies were required to recycle only 20% of the waste collected, the other 80% making its way to landfills. It did not take long for residents to complain about this new service. They now had to pay for their garbage collection and that did not include door-to-door pick-up. There were not enough bins in the streets to hold all the waste and streets quickly filled with the overflowing garbage. The new companies simply could not keep up with the waste being produced. Not only did this have a devastating effect on the waste management situation in Cairo, it destroyed the zabbaleen's way of life as they lost access to the garbage that was the foundation of their economic activities. At one point, the private companies realized they needed the zabbaleen and tried to subcontract them, but the zabbaleen were highly underpaid and the system failed. Some residents, though, continued to hire the zabbaleen on their own.

Adding to both the city's garbage woes and the plight of the zabbaleen, in 2009, in response to the H1Ni influenza outbreak, the government ordered the culling of all the zabbaleen's pigs. These pigs were an essential part of the zabbaleen's recycling program. The pigs consumed all of the organic waste that was sorted from the garbage. When they lost their pig herds, the zabbaleen stopped collecting organic waste and the effect was felt almost immediately. Again, residents complained about the trash piling up on the streets. The trash piles became home to rats and disease. And once again, the zabbaleen suffered as they were no longer able to earn enough money to support themselves and had lost an important food source.

Change is in the Air

Since the 2011 revolution, many changes have taken place in Egypt, spurred on by environmentally-minded individuals, small businesses, and new government ministers. One of the more hopeful changes involves the collection of garbage. The government has finally implemented a proposal for officially employing the zabbaleen, replacing the international companies with smaller zabbaleen-run companies. Once registered, the local companies are given uniforms, government vehicles and business training from an NGO. The system had a test-run and debuted in a few areas late last year. If successful, there are plans to expand over the next two years. This is good news for Cairo's waste management and even better news for the zabbaleen.

Other private-sector initiatives are tackling recycling as well.  Recyclobekia is a new company that offers electronic waste recycling services. The company collects, sorts, and dismantles e-waste – old laptops, computers, cameras, phones, and more – and in return companies and individuals are given credit for an online shop or even cash if they recycle more than 500 kg of waste. GreenTec is an exciting recycling initiative that offers Automated Recycling Machines. With these machines, individuals can deposit their plastic water bottles and receive credit for their mobile phones. Another new venture coming out of Cairo is Refuse, a company that upcycles plastic bags and creates backpacks, tote bags, laptop covers, and other accessories with this waste. They also offer workshops to teach others how to upcycle.  Gamayit El-Misbah El-Mudii, started in 2005, provides free collection and recycling of paper, plastic, glass, and other items. They collect from individuals, schools, and businesses. Resala, a charity organization, also offers recycling services. As these initiatives and companies continue to grow, so will the awareness and action of individuals in terms of waste management and recycling.

Individual Action

While our local and national authorities attempt to improve the collection and recyling of our waste at the city level, it is important to remember that we as individuals can do a lot as well. The first and simplest action we can take it to sort our trash into organic and non-organic waste. Our garbage collectors, whoever they may be, will appreciate this effort and it will keep any paper or board waste clean so that it can be recycled. Once you've sorted your trash, make sure it's getting recycled. If the zabbaleen do not collect in your area, contact one of the organizations listed above. The most important action we can take is to reduce the amount of waste we are creating in the first place. Less waste produced means less waste needing to be managed. We can start by refusing to use or purchase disposable plastic. Bring your own reusable bags to the supermarket so that you don't need the plastic ones. Invest in a water filter and a reusable bottle so you can drink your tap water and skip the plastic water bottles. Avoid buying food packaged with polystyrene; it's not recyclable. Read this guide to a plastic-free life and search other websites for tips and ideas on reducing plastic waste. You'll find that most of the suggestions will be better for your health and the health of our environment, and at the same time, save you money. If we all do our part by taking these steps, perhaps Egypt won't make the top ten list of worst plastic offenders again.

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Wastes as Energy Resource

The tremendous increase in the quantum and diversity of waste materials generated by human activities has focused the spotlight on waste management options. Waste generation rates are affected by standards of living, degree of industrialization and population density. Generally, the greater the economic prosperity and the higher percentage of urban population, the greater the amount of waste produced. A good example are the oil-rich GCC nations who are counted among the world's most prolific per capita waste generators.

Reduction in the volume and mass of wastes is a crucial issue due to limited availability of final disposal sites in the Middle East. There is, no doubt, an obvious need to reduce, reuse and recycle wastes but recovery of energy from wastes is also gaining ground as a vital method for managing wastes and Middle East should not be an exception.

Wastes can be transformed into clean and efficient energy and fuel by a variety of technologies, ranging from conventional combustion process to state-of-the-art plasma gasification technology. Besides recovery of energy, such technologies leads to substantial reduction in the overall waste quantities requiring final disposal. Waste-to-energy projects provide major business opportunities, environmental benefits, and energy security.  Feedstock for waste-to-energy plants can be obtained from a wide array of sources including municipal wastes, crop residues and agro-industrial wastes. 

Let us explore some of major waste resources that are readily available in Middle East and North Africa region:

Municipal Solid Wastes

Atleast 150 million tons of solid wastes are collected each year in the MENA region with the vast majority disposed of in open fields and dumpsites. The major energy resource in municipal solid waste is made up of food residuals, paper, fruits, vegetables, plastics etc which make up as much as 75 – 80 percent of the total MSW collected.

Municipal wastes can be converted into energy by thermochemical or biological technologies. At the landfill sites the gas produced by the natural decomposition of MSW (called landfill gas) can be collected, scrubbed and cleaned before feeding into internal combustion engines or gas turbines to generate heat and power. The organic fraction of MSW can be biochemically stabilized in an anaerobic digester to obtain biogas (for heat and power) as well as fertilizer. Sewage sludge is a big nuisance for municipalities and general public but it is a very good source of biogas, which can efficiency produced at sewage treatment plants.

Agricultural Residues

Crop residues encompasses all agricultural wastes such as bagasse, straw, stem, stalk, leaves, husk, shell, peel, pulp, stubble, etc. Large quantities of crop residues are produced annually in the MENA region, and are vastly underutilised. Wheat and barley are the major staple crops grown in the Middle East region. In addition, significant quantities of rice, maize, lentils, chickpeas, vegetables and fruits are produced throughout the region, mainly in Egypt, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Jordan. 

Current farming practice is usually to plough these residues back into the soil, or they are burnt, left to decompose, or grazed by cattle. Agricultural residues are characterized by seasonal availability and have characteristics that differ from other solid fuels such as wood, charcoal, char briquette. Crop wastes can be used to produce biofuels, biogas as well as heat and power through a wide range of well-proven technologies.

Animal Wastes

The MENA countries have strong animal population. The livestock sector, in particular sheep, goats and camels, plays an important role in the national economy of respective countries. Many millions of live ruminants are imported each year from around the world. In addition, the region has witnessed very rapid growth in the poultry sector.

The biogas potential of animal manure can be harnessed both at small- and community-scale. In the past, this waste was recovered and sold as a fertilizer or simply spread onto agricultural land, but the introduction of tighter environmental controls on odour and water pollution means that some form of waste management is now required, which provides further incentives for waste-to-energy conversion. The most attractive method of converting these waste materials to useful form is anaerobic digestion.

Wood Wastes

Wood processing industries primarily include sawmilling, plywood, wood panel, furniture, building component, flooring, particle board, moulding, jointing and craft industries. Wood wastes generally are concentrated at the processing factories, e.g. plywood mills and sawmills. In general, processing of 1,000 kg of wood in the furniture industries will lead to waste generation of almost half (45 %), i.e. 450 kg of wood.

Similarly, when processing 1,000 kg of wood in sawmill, the waste will amount to more than half (52 %), i.e. 520 kg wood. Wood wastes has high calorific value and can be efficiency converted into energy by thermal technologies like combustion and gasification.

Industrial Wastes

The food processing industry in MENA produces a large number of organic residues and by-products that can be used as biomass energy sources. These waste materials are generated from all sectors of the food industry with everything from meat production to confectionery producing waste that can be utilised as an energy source. In recent decades, the fast-growing food and beverage processing industry has remarkably increased in importance in major countries of the region.

Since the early 1990s, the increased agricultural output stimulated an increase in fruit and vegetable canning as well as juice, beverage, and oil processing in countries like Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia. Wastewater from food processing industries contains sugars, starches and other dissolved and solid organic matter. A huge potential exists for these industrial wastes to be biochemically digested to produce biogas, or fermented to produce ethanol, and several commercial examples of waste-to-energy conversion already exist around the world.

Conclusions

An environmentally sound and techno-economically viable methodology to treat wastes is highly crucial for the sustainability of modern societies. The MENA region is well-poised for waste-to-energy development, with its rich resources in the form of municipal solid waste, crop residues and agro-industrial waste. The implementation of advanced waste-to-energy conversion technologies as a method for safe disposal of solid and liquid wastes, and as an attractive option to generate heat, power and fuels, can greatly reduce environmental impacts of wastes in the Middle East. 

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