Towards a Waste-Free Ramadan Iftar

In the holy month of Ramadan, Iftar or breaking of fast becomes our main attention. The Iftars are either taken at home alone or with the family and relatives or at Iftar buffets at hotels and restaurants. The other option usually for the bachelors and less privileged people are to open the fast at mosques and at community centers whereby the iftar and dinner is provided for free organized by the rich, philanthropists, charitable organizations and mosque committees.

Disrespect to Food

It is a common sight that at Iftar, people do not respect the food and drinks that are provided to them and leave it partly eaten/ consumed. At home, food which is cooked and provided is often been consumed and left overs are kept and re-utilized. At mosques, Iftar plates or boxes are commonly being made which include dates, fruit pieces, samosa, pakoras, biryani and sweets. If open food is served in dishes and plates, it is often being shared between 4-6 people who partly eat the portions they like. Thus, huge quantity of expensive freshly cooked food provided free by sponsors becomes waste which is conveniently disposed of in the nearest communal bin. The waste also includes water bottles, containers, packaging, cardboards, Styrofoam and plastic plates, sheets, disposable cutlery and tissue papers.

Iftar Buffets – Beyond Imagination

Iftar buffets at restaurants and hotels are no different than at mosques, where Iftar and dinner packages are being offered. In such cases also, there is huge wastage of food, as eating capability of the individuals are limited. The great variety of iftar and dinner items tend to make people take more than required in their plates which later is thrown in waste bins. Restaurants and hotels provide buffets beyond our imagination, with an ‘all-you-can-eat’ spirit. If people knew what ‘all they could eat’, maybe less food would have been wasted. It is difficult to see that the food quantity run out.

At joint Iftar/ dinner gatherings at mosques, clubs and halls, more food is being provided irrespective of the number of people expected. At hotels and restaurants, food is amply being cooked for the fear that it may be fully consumed and where food availability contributes to the hotels’ reputation as running out of a specific dish would be every F&B manager’s worst nightmare. Thus, higher quantities of food/ dishes are being made. Irony of the fact is that the leftover food is not allowed to be consumed by the hotel staff or given to charity and has to make its way to the garbage bins. The view of waste containers full of fresh and valuable food is very depressing especially for a country where most of the food items are imported and is expensive.

Iftar gatherings at mosques are also responsible for wastage of huge amount of food

Violation of the spirit of Ramadan

Wastage of food is a sin and a violation of the very concept of Ramadan. The act of throwing away food is a complete contradiction to the philosophy behind fasting. Quran says food waste must be prevented and mention, “Eat and drink, but be not excessive. Indeed, He likes not those who commit excess.” So let us not waste the food. If surplus food is remaining, it should be packed and send/given to deserving people. We also need to make sure the quality and safety of the donated food. Another viable option to reduce food wastage is by recycling.

Let us be more vigilant and not waste any food waste or drinks. We need to think twice before putting any food waste to the garbage bin. Each individual’s contribution counts. Let us save our environment.

Making a Switch to Circular Economy

All forms of wealth and security, including climate stability, biodiversity, resource availability, soil fertility, air and water purity and health, are depleted by the systemic error of running a linear economy. Linear economics consumes the basis for future growth so what is now growing fastest is unproductive activity, inactivity and instabilities. The credit crunch marks the withdrawal of faith in growth-as-usual and any reliable revival of growth and prosperity requires a switch of vision.

Circular Economics

The future for growth is circular economics where more economic activity would mean a faster pace of change away from waste-making and towards looking after the world and all its inhabitants. This would preserve and regenerate material value, co-operation and natural capital instead of losing it, so growth would work to build the basis for more growth. Today this may appear idealistic. Yet if circular economics was already practiced, and people were accustomed to prosperity based on resource security, then any proposal to adopt an exploitive self-defeating vision would be laughable.

Promise of Precycling

Economic dependence on waste is perpetuated by managing waste primarily as an addiction to disposal, “how can we get rid of all this junk?” The ‘waste hierarchy’ (reduce, reuse, recycle, then dispose) that has been available since 1975 is commonly quoted but in practice the bulk of effort and funding provides for continuing long-term disposal to ecosystems (by landfill, waste-burning and pollution). The waste hierarchy is being used backwards and no nation has yet attempted to create the incentives for an economy that grows from the work done to end waste dumping and implement circular economics. This is achievable with the concept of ‘precycling’ originally used for public waste education.

Precycling is applicable throughout an economy and may be understood as action taken to prepare for current resources to become future resources. The ‘pre’ prefix emphasises that this cannot be arranged after something becomes waste; it must be done beforehand. The scope of action extends far beyond recycling, to creating the economic, social and ecological conditions for all resources to remain of use to people or nature.

Precycling Insurance

A simple economic tool is available to switch from linear to circular economics and from dumping waste to dumping the habit of wasting. This tool internalises diverse externalities efficiently within markets by paying the price of preventing problems instead of the larger or unaffordable price of not preventing them. Precycling insurance is an extension of the EU WEEE Directive’s ‘recycling insurance’ from just recycling to all forms of preventing all products becoming waste in any ecosystem. This allows a single economic instrument to work with the issues at every stage of product life-cycles. Significant producers would be obliged to consider the risk of their products ending up as waste in ecosystems and to retain responsibility for insuring against that risk.

Life Insurance for Products and Planet

Precycling insurance is a form of regulation to be set-up in every nation but not centrally planned. The volume of regulation can be cut but its effectiveness drastically boosted. For example, emissions can be cut rapidly with no need for any further ineffectual negotiations about capping. Unlike taxes, the premiums from precycling insurance would not be handled by governments (whose role would be to legislate, monitor and ensure full public transparency).

Unlike conventional insurance, the premiums would not be collected up and then paid out following (potentially irrecoverable) planet crunch shocks. Premiums would be distributed by insurers and invested preventively throughout society, to cut the risk of resources being lost as wastes. Support would be provided for the dialogue, understanding, participation, capabilities, designs, efficiencies, facilities and ecological productivity needed to return used matter as new resources for people and for nature. Today’s resources would feed tomorrow’s economy.

A Free Market in Harmony with Nature

Precycling insurance would switch the power of markets to reversing the planet crunch. The speed and scale of change would exceed the expectations of all who are accustomed to ineffectual controls designed to make markets less-bad. All market participants (such as buyers, sellers, investors and governments) would adapt their decisions to the new incentives, profiting by addressing actual needs rather than superficial consumerist wants.

Producers would remain free to choose how to meet customers’ needs without waste, and even free to continue making wasteful products, in competition with other producers cutting their costs (including precycling insurance costs) by cutting their product’s waste risk. Economic growth would no longer be a competitive scramble between people rushing to acquire and discard ever more resources from an every-shrinking stock. The economy would prosper in harmony, rather than in conflict, with nature.

Shrinking Material and Energy Demands

The material requirements of today’s linear economy would rapidly shrink since the new incentives would lead to the most needs being met with the least materials moved the least distance and then regenerated rather than dumped. The energy requirements of today’s linear economy would rapidly shrink since a smaller material flow with higher quality materials closer to where they are needed requires less energy to process. Shrinking energy dependence is the key to energy security, economic recovery, climate restabilisation and prevention of conflict over diminishing non-renewable resources. The resource and energy efficiency of circular economics makes it realistic to plan the necessary reductions in GHG concentrations (ie net-negative emissions).

 

Note: This article is part 4 of 8 of author's Advanced Research Workshop paper, Seven Policy Switches for Global Security, for the NATO Science for Peace and Security Programme

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Recycling and Artwork

Art and recycling goes hand-in-hand. Eco-artists are, nowadays, transforming old, recycled and resued object into amazing pieces of contemporary art. The trend started gaining prominence in 1980s when museums and galleries in the Western world opened their doors for such innovation and creativity. In recent years, many artists in the Middle East has started expressing their support for recycling and sustainability through artworks where they merge traditional tone with contemporary themes creating attractive installation art that express local cultural heritage in the larger public interests. Artists are expressing their emotions and ideas through a wide range of recyclables glass, cans, plastics, CDs, PET bottles etc. 

Installation Art and Recycling

This type of art is termed as Installation Art which is 3-dimensional work using common raw and natural materials to create an object with different messages directed to the viewers and the public audiences. Installation art can be expressed at any type of form like objects, videos, sound or even through the Internet. Interestingly, installation art is also considered a part of Renaissance where people can discover classical cultural movements like Surrealism and Futurism. 

Many artists search for inspirations that surround them while others express their feelings in the artwork. Artists use recycled or reused objects to make attractive pieces of contemporary art and literally turn everyday trash into creative treasures. Some create compositions from recycled plastic bags or themed works for art galleries, while others create entire theme parks with trash, and even furniture from recycled materials. For example, if an artist has a penchant for collecting beverage cans, he/she might be interested in creating a replica of a famous building or monument. 

Artists can collect recyclable materials through public donations, collaboration with businesses or direct collection from solid waste stream. This innovative approach not only creates environmental awareness but also help in finding a good use for unwanted materials. For example, giant bottles made of recycled plastic bottles are tipped over on the grass at an art installation in North Evanston, Illinois. Approximately 6,000 small, clear plastic bottles were used to construct the five 16-foot bottles on display. 

Mrs. Salwa Nabhan, a graphic design faculty at Sharjah Higher Colleges of Technology, stresses the importance of using art and recycling in our daily life. She says, “Installation Art is good for the environment because it takes everyday objects and transforms it into a valuable artwork. This is because using raw or new materials can be expensive and people are limited with what they can buy”. The Sharjah Higher Colleges of Technology Media students have already worked on such background creating 2-D artworks by using recycled items like fabric leftovers, wood and paper to create collage of things.

Conclusion

Around the world, eco-artists are turning recyclables into creative pieces of art and thereby contributing to the Green Movement taking place in different spheres of life. Artists are finding innovative ways to show their concern for the environment and thus encouraging the masses to reuse, reduce and recycle for a better future. With waste disposal posing a serious environmental challenge in the Middle East, it is expected such initiatives will also spur governments to take concrete actions to ease the situation.

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Dealing with Polystyrene Wastes

Polystyrene (also known as EPS Foam or Styrofoam) is a highly popular plastic packaging material which finds wide application in packaging of food items, electronic goods, electrical appliances, furniture etc due to its excellent insulating and protective properties. Polystyrene is also used to make useful products such as disposable cups, trays, cutlery, cartons, cases etc.

Despite the attractiveness of polystyrene, municipalities and organisations are facing a growing problem in disposal of polystyrene packaging and products. Being large and bulky, polystyrene take up significant space in rubbish bins which means that bins becomes full more quickly and therefore needs to be emptied more often. Polystyrene is lightweight compared to its volume so it occupies lots of precious landfill space and can be blown around and cause a nuisance in the surrounding areas. 

Although some companies have a recycling policy, most of the polystyrene still find its way into landfill sites around the world. As per conservative estimates, hundreds of thousands of tons of waste polystyrene is produced in the Middle East and sent to landfills each year.  

Environmental Impacts

While it is estimated that EPS foam (or polystyrene)  products accounts for less than 1% of the total weight of landfill materials, the fraction of landfill space it takes up is much higher considering that it is very lightweight.  Furthermore, it is essentially non-biodegradable, taking hundreds perhaps thousands of years to decompose.  Even when already disposed of in landfills, EPS can easily be carried by the wind and litter the streets or end up polluting water bodies.  When EPS foam breaks apart, the small polystyrene components can be eaten by animals which can cause choking or intestinal blockage. 

Polystyrene can also be consumed by fishes once it breaks down in the ocean.  Marine animals higher up the food chain could eat the fishes that have consumed EPS, thus concentrating the contaminant.  It could be a potential health hazard for us humans who are on top of the food chain considering that styrene, the plastic monomer used in manufacturing EPS has been classified by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as a possible human carcinogen.  Styrene is derived from either petroleum or natural gas, both of which are non renewable and are rapidly being depleted, creating environmental sustainability problems for EPS.

Recycling Trends

There seems to be a common misconception that polystyrene is non-recyclable.  Being a thermoplastic, it can actually be melted and molded into many different plastic items.  At present, the recycling of polystyrene (or EPS foam) basically follows the following process:

Segregation – EPS foam products are separated from other wastes and then sorted.

Compaction – The segregated EPS foam products are fed to a compactor in order to reduce its volume.  Some compactor systems have a compaction ratio of up to 50:1, which means that it can reduce the volume by up to 98%.

Shredding – Larger pieces are shredded into flakes.  Packaging “peanuts” – small EPS foam pieces used to cushion fragile items – normally skip this step and are fed directly to the pelletizing machine.

Melting/Extrusion – The flakes are forced through pelletizing extruders where they are heated and melted, then allowed to cool in order to solidify. The resulting material can then be used, through reheating and melting, to produce clothes hangers, picture frames, DVD cases and numerous other plastic products.

Major Bottlenecks

Although the Alliance of Foam Packaging Recyclers have reported that the recycling rate for post-consumer and post-commercial EPS in the United States have risen to 28% in 2010 from around 20% in 2008, this value is still lower than most solid wastes.  According to USEPA, auto batteries, steel cans and glass containers have recycle rates of 96.2%, 70.6% and 34.2% respectively. Because it is bulky, EPS foam takes up storage space and costs more to transport and yet yields only a small amount of polystyrene for re-use or remolding (infact, polystyrene accounts for only 2% of the volume of uncompacted EPS foams). This provides little incentive for recyclers to consider EPS recycling. 

Products that have been used to hold or store food should be thoroughly cleaned for hygienic reasons, thus compounding the costs.  For the same reasons, these products cannot be recycled to produce the same food containers but rather are used for non-food plastic products.  The manufacture of food containers, therefore, always requires new polystyrene.  At present, it is more economical to produce new EPS foam products than to recycle it, and manufacturers would rather have the higher quality of fresh polystyrene over the recycled one.

Silver Lining

The cost of transporting bulky polystyrene waste discourages recyclers from recycling it.  Organizations that receive a large amount of EPS foam (especially in packaging) can invest in a compactor that will reduce the volume of the products. Recyclers will pay more for the compacted product so the investment can be recovered relatively easier.

There are also breakthroughs in studies concerning EPS recycling although most of these are still in the research or pilot stage.  Several studies have found that the bacteria Pseudomonas putida is able to convert polystyrene to a more biodegradable plastic.  The process of polystyrene depolymerization – converting polystyrene back to its styrene monomer – is also gaining ground. 

Meanwhile, for the rest of us, we can start reducing our polystyrene consumption by opting to use products that can be reused, such as bringing our own coffee mugs and food containers to stores that serve their food and drinks in EPS foam.  A small change in our lifestyles can make a big difference for the environment.

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Environmental Impact of Olive Oil Processing Wastes

More commonly known for its popular culinary and medicinal benefits, olive cultivation and olive oil production are a part of the local heritage and rural economy throughout the North African and Mediterranean regions. In 2012, an estimated 2,903,676 tons of olive oil was produced worldwide, the largest olive oil producers being Spain, Italy, and Greece followed by Turkey and Tunisia and to a lesser extent Portugal, Morocco and Algeria. Within the European Union’s olive sector alone, there are roughly 2.5 million producers, who make up roughly one-third of all EU farmers.

The olive oil industry offers valuable opportunities to farmers in terms of seasonal employment as well as significant employment to the off-farm milling and processing industry.  While this industry has significant economic benefits in regards to profit and jobs; the downside is it leads to severe environmental harm and degradation.   

The Flipside

Currently, there are two processes that are used for the extraction of olive oil, the three-phase and the two-phase. Both systems generate large amounts of byproducts.  The two byproducts  produced by the three-phase system are a solid residue known as olive press cake (OPC) and large amounts of aqueous liquid known as olive-mill wastewater (OMW).  The three-phase process usually yields 20% olive oil, 30% OPC waste, and 50% OMW.  This equates to 80% more waste being produced than actual product.  

More contemporary is the two-phase system, in this system “the volume of OMW produced is reduced because less water is used and much of that water and toxic substances are held within the solid olive cake, thus producing a semi-solid residue (SOR).” While the two-phase system produces less OMW, the SOR it produces has a “high organic matter concentration giving an elevated polluting load and it cannot be easily handled by traditional technology which deals with the conventional three-phase olive cake.”

Regardless of system used, the effluents produced from olive oil production exhibit highly phytotoxic and antimicrobial properties, mainly due to phenols.  Phenols are a poisonous caustic crystalline compound.  These effluents unless disposed of properly can result in serious environmental damage.  Troublingly, there is no general policy for disposal of this waste in the olive oil producing nations around the world.  This results in inconsistent monitoring and non-uniform application of guidelines across these regions. 

Environmental Concerns

Around 30 million m3 of olive mill wastewater is produced annually in the Mediterranean area.  This wastewater cannot be sent to ordinary wastewater treatment systems, thus, safe disposal of this waste is of serious environmental concern.  Moreover, due to its complex compounds, olive processing waste (OPW) is not easily biodegradable and needs to be detoxified before it can properly be used in agricultural and other industrial processes. 

This poses a serious problem when the sophisticated treatment and detoxification solutions needed are too expensive for developing countries in MENA such as Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia where it is common for OMW to be dumped into rivers and lakes or used for farming irrigation.  This results in the contamination of ground water and eutrophication of lakes, rivers and canals.  Eutrophication results in reductions in aquatic plants, fish and other animal populations as it promotes excessive growth of algae. As the algae die and decompose, high levels of organic matter and the decomposing organisms deplete the water of oxygen, causing aquatic populations to plummet.

Another common tactic for disposal of olive mill wastewater is to collect and retain it in large evaporation basins or ponds.  It is then dried to a semi-solid fraction. In less developed countries where olive processing wastes is disposed of, this waste, as well as olive processing cake and SOR waste is commonly unloaded and spread across the surrounding lands where it sits building up throughout the olive oil production season.  Over time these toxic compounds accumulate in the soil, saturating it, and are often transported by rain water to other nearby areas, causing serious hazardous runoff. Because these effluents are generally untreated it leads to land degradation, soil contamination as well as contamination of groundwater and of the water table itself. 

Even a small quantity of olive wastewater in contact with groundwater has the potential to cause significant pollution to drinking water sources. The problem is more serious where chlorine is used to disinfect drinking water. Chlorine in contact with phenol reacts to form chlorophenol which is even more dangerous to human health than phenol alone.

Current Remedies

The problems associated with olive processing wastes have been extensively studied for the past 50 years.  Unfortunately,research has continued to fall short on discovering a technologically feasible, economically viable, and socially acceptable solution to OPW.  The most common solutions to date have been strategies of detoxification, production system modification, and recycling and recovery of valuable components.  Because the latter results in reductions in the pollution and transformation of OPW into valuable products, it has gained popularity over the past decade.Weed control is a common example of reusing OPW; due to its plant inhibiting characteristics OPW once properly treated can be used as an alternative to chemical weed control.

Research has also been done on using the semisolid waste generated from olive oil production to absorb oil from hazardous oil spills.  Finally, in terms of health, studies are suggesting that due to OPW containing high amounts of phenolic compounds, which have high in antioxidant rates, OPW may be an affordable source of natural antioxidants. Still, none of these techniques on an individual basis solve the problem of disposal of OMW to a complete and exhaustive extent.

At the present state of olive mill wastewater treatment technology, industry has shown little interest in supporting any traditional process (physical, chemical, thermal or biological) on a wide scale.This is because of the high investment and operational costs, the short duration of the production period (3-5 months) and the small size of the olive mills.

Conclusion

Overall, the problems associated with olive processing wastes are further exemplified by lack of common policy among the olive oil producing regions, funding and infrastructure for proper treatment and disposal, and a general lack of education on the environmental and health effects caused by olive processing wastes.   While some progress has been made with regards to methods of treatment and detoxification of OPW there is still significant scope for further research.  Given the severity of environmental impact of olive processing wastes, it is imperative on policy-makers and industry leaders to undertake more concrete initiatives to develop a sustainable framework to tackle the problem of olive oil waste disposal. 

References

Art, H. W. (1995). The Dictionary of Ecology and Environmental Science. New York, New York: Henry Holt and Company.

Borja, R., Raposo, F., & Rincón, B. (2006). Treatment technologies of liquid and solid wastes from two-phase olive oil mills. 57, 32-46. http://digital.csic.es/bitstream/10261/2426/1/Borja.pdf

Boz, O., Ogut, D., Kir, K., & Dogan, N. (2009). Olive Processing Waste as a Method of Weed Control for Okra, Fava Bean, and Onion. Weed Technology, 23, 569-573.

Caba, J., Ligero, F., Linares, A., Martınez, J., & De la Rubia, T. (2003). Detoxification of semisolid olive-mill wastes and pine-chip mixtures using Phanerochaete flavido-alba Chemosphere, 51, 887–891. http://hera.ugr.es/doi/14978611.pdf

El Hajjouji, H., Guiresse, M., Hafidi, M., Merlina, G., Pinelli, E., & Revel, J. (2007). Assessment of the genotoxicity of olive mill waste water (OMWW) with the Vicia faba micronucleus test Morocco.

FAOSTAT. (2013).   Retrieved 11/30/2013, from http://faostat.fao.org/site/636/DesktopDefault.aspx?PageID=636#ancor

Niaounakis, M., & Halvadakis, C. P. (2006). Olive Processing Waste Management, 2nd Edition (2nd ed.): Pergamon.

Olives and the Olive Tree. (2010).   Retrieved 11/30/2013, 2013, from http://www.zaitt.com/honoring-tradition/olive-tree

Spandre, R., & Dellomonaco, G. (1996). POLYPHENOLS POLLUTION BY OLIVE MILL WASTE WATERS, TUSCANY, ITALY. Journal of Environmental Hydrology, 4, 1-13. http://www.hydroweb.com/jeh/jeh1996/spandre.pdf

The olive oil sector in the European Union (2002).   Retrieved 12/01/2013, from http://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/publi/fact/oliveoil/2003_en.pdf

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Food Waste in Ramadan: Trends and Counter-Measures

With the holy month of Ramadan starting, preparations are in full swing to make all necessary arrangements by the government, traders and commercial establishments to provide all utilities, goods and food that are required during Ramadan. Muslims countries, Arab nations in particular, generate huge quantities of food waste which increases substantially during the month of Ramadan and festivals whereby the consumption and wastage of food increase at an alarming level. As per conservative estimates, around 15-25% of all food purchased or prepared during Ramadan find its way to the garbage bin before even being used or consumed.

In Bahrain alone, more than 300 tons per day of organic food waste is being generated as domestic waste in the country which constitutes around 11% of the total municipal waste. The food waste is being discarded along with other domestic waste and is being collected by the local private contractors, which is transported and disposed at the Asker municipal landfill site located some 25 km away from the city center in a quarry area.

Food Waste Trends in Ramadan

The trend shows that during Ramadan, the demand for beef, mutton, chicken and related meat products increases by almost 50% of the normal demand, which in itself is very high. Similar is the fate of other related food items like vegetables, fruits and dairy products etc. which are out of shelves quickly in the super markets and cold stores during special religious occasions.

The enormous food waste generation can be witnessed at all socio-economic levels. It is environmentally and morally considered offensive that as a society we have become so casual about the basic raw materials of life. Over the period of years, the society and people have become more wasteful due to rise in income, living standards, consumerism and affordability. But affording does not mean that wastage should increase as it is contrary to the Islamic principles of sustainability.

During Ramadan, people tend to buy more than their normal requirements for self consumption plus for taking care of guests. Due to the limited quantity of food to be consumed by people this additional quantity of cooked or made food becomes waste as Fatoor is not usually eaten as midnight snacks or as sahoor the other day. The demand for fresh food increases as majority of people are willing to spend an extra amount for the better quality of food.

The rich also sympathize greatly in this month and donate more food for charity which at times is not consumed by the poor section of the society due to late delivery and evening prayers. This trend again leads to more wastage, as the food items bought are not being fully and efficiently utilized and ultimately end up in garbage bins.

Key Counter-Measures

We need to change our attitude of not laying the table with more food than people can eat. This is not hospitality and welcoming the guests.

  • People should not buy in excess to avoid another trip to the grocery store or super market.
  • We need to develop better food habits and respect for the Mother Nature. The problem of food wastage lies in socio-cultural sensitization and behavioral change.
  • Buying in actual quantities especially fruits and vegetables. Making a shopping list first before going to the market will be more useful.
  • Buying items with a longer expiry dates for ease in using it during a longer period.
  • Daily checking of the food items in our fridge/ deep freezer to ensure its utilization before it becomes waste.
  • Inculcating good food utilization and storage habits can also play a key role in waste minimization.

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Medical Waste Management in MENA

Healthcare sector in MENA region is growing at a very rapid pace, which in turn has led to tremendous increase in the quantity of medical waste generation by hospitals, clinics and other establishments. According to a recent Ministry of State for Environmental Affairs report, Egypt generated 28,300 tons of hazardous medical wastes in 2010. In the GCC region, more than 150 tons of medical waste is generated in GCC countries every day. Saudi Arabia leads the pack with daily healthcare waste generation of more than 80 tons. These figures are indicative of the magnitude of the problem faced by municipal authorities in dealing with medical waste disposal problem across the MENA region. 

Multitude of Problems

The growing amount of medical wastes is posing significant public health and environmental challenges in major cities of the region. The situation is worsened by improper disposal methods, insufficient physical resources, and lack of research on medical waste management. Improper management of medical wastes from hospitals, clinics and other facilities in MENA pose occupational and public health risks to patients, health workers, waste handlers, haulers and general public. It may also lead to contamination of air, water and soil which may affect all forms of life. In addition, if waste is not disposed of properly, ragpickers may collect disposable medical equipment (particularly syringes) and to resell these materials which may cause dangerous diseases.

Improper management of medical wastes from hospitals, clinics and other facilities in MENA pose occupational and public health risks to patients, health workers, waste handlers, haulers and general public. It may also lead to contamination of air, water and soil which may affect all forms of life. In addition, if waste is not disposed of properly, ragpickers may collect disposable medical equipment (particularly syringes) and to resell these materials which may cause dangerous diseases.

Medical waste management method in MENA is limited to either small-scale incineration or landfilling. The practice of landfilling of medical wastes is a matter of serious concern as it poses grave risks to public health, water resources, soil fertility as well as air quality. In many Middle East and North Africa countries, medical wastes is mixed with municipal solid wastes and/or industrial wastes which transforms medical wastes into a cocktail of dangerous substances. 

The WHO policy paper of 2004 and the Stockholm Convention, has stressed the need to consider the risks associated with the incineration of healthcare waste as a typical medical waste incinerator releases a wide variety of pollutants which may include particulate matter, heavy metals, acid gases, carbon monoxide and organic compounds. Sometimes pathogens may also be found in the solid residues and in the exhaust of poorly designed and badly operated incinerators. In addition, leachable organic compounds, like dioxins and heavy metals, are usually present in bottom ash residues. Due to these factors, many industrialized countries are phasing out healthcare incinerators and exploring technologies that do not produce any dioxins. Countries like United States, Ireland, Portugal, Canada and Germany have completely shut down or put a moratorium on medical waste incinerators. 

Promising Treatment Options

The alternative technologies for healthcare waste treatment are steam sterilization, advanced steam sterilization, microwave treatment, dry heat sterilization, alkaline hydrolysis, and biological treatment. Nowadays, steam sterilization (or autoclaving) is the most common alternative treatment method. Advanced autoclaves or advanced steam treatment technologies combine steam treatment with vacuuming, internal mixing or fragmentation, internal shredding, drying, and compaction thus leading to as much as 90% volume reduction. 

Microwave treatment is a promising technology in which treatment occurs through the introduction of moist heat and steam generated by microwave energy. Alkaline digestion is a unique type of chemical process that uses heated alkali to digest tissues, pathological waste, anatomical parts, or animal carcasses in heated stainless steel tanks. Biological processes, like composting and vermicomposting, can also be used to degrade organic matter in healthcare waste such as kitchen waste and placenta.

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Guide to Green Hajj

The Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and is an annual pilgrimage to Makkah. It is a mandatory religious duty for Muslims which must be carried out at least once in lifetime by every adult Muslim who is physically and financially capable of undertaking the journey. The Hajj gathering is considered to be the largest gathering of people in the world whereby Muslims from many countries converge to do the religious rites.  Nearly three million Muslims perform Hajj each year. Making necessary arrangements each year for the growing number of pilgrims poses a gigantic logistic challenge for the Saudi Government and respective Authorities, as housing, transportation, sanitation, food and health care needs are to be provided to the pilgrims.

Environmental Footprint

The Hajj has an enormous environmental footprint. During Hajj, huge quantities of wastes are generated which needs to be appropriately collected, handled and managed. Other impacts are of water use and wastewater generation and treatment, transporting vehicles causing terrible air pollution damaging the health of the pilgrims, littering causing choking of public infrastructures, plastic bottles, used diapers, food packaging etc. are an eyesore. The problem is compounded due to ignorance, over enthusiasm, illiteracy of pilgrims and lack of commitment to handle the environmental resources.

Unfortunately, majority of the pilgrims are not aware of the innate nature of environmentalism within Islam and obligations of protecting the environment. According to the Quran, humans are entrusted to be the maintainers of the earth, its ecology and environment.The Hajj can be sustainable if the pilgrims behave in an environmental friendly manner and avoid different types of pollution.

A vast majority of Hajj pilgrims are not aware of the innate nature of environmentalism within Islam.

A vast majority of Hajj pilgrims are not aware of the innate nature of environmentalism within Islam.

Towards a Green Hajj

We need to understand that the respective authorities plan, spend and provide facilities to match with the number of pilgrims, but the irresponsible attitude of many people jeopardize the environmental resources. Following aspects will help the pilgrims in making their Hajj greener and help in conservation of resources:

  • Green purchasing, buy what is required and only environmentally–friendly products
  • Using minimum quantity of water for ablution, bath and personal use. Opening water gadgets and tap to allow limited flow. Washing clothes with minimum water.
  • Reporting any water leakages to the Authority.
  • Re-filling and reusing water bottles.
  • Buying food only what you can eat, surplus food should be avoided.
  • Avoiding food packaging.
  • Avoid disposable cutlery, plates, glasses etc.
  • Avoid littering, collecting all waste and disposing it at designated locations. 
  • Avoid using plastic shopping bags.
  • Moving and using group transport facilities.
  • Minimize electricity usage.
  • Avoid leaving lights on in empty rooms.
  • Switching off the chargers, once used.
  • Purchase energy efficient appliances, if required.
  • Avoid using electrical appliances on standby.

The recent Islamic declaration on climate change exhorts us to work steadfastly to minimize our ecological footrpint and make individual pledges to help our planet. Environment is Allah’s creation and has to be respected. Let us make our contribution to the Green Hajj and make a profound impact on the ecosystem, making it more sustainable and manageable and show that Islam is the ideal platform for ecological and environmental preservation.

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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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