The challenges posed by solid waste to governments and communities are many and varied. In the GCC region, where most countries have considerably high per capita waste generation values, the scale of the waste management challenge faced by civic authorities is even bigger. Fast-paced industrial growth, recent construction boom, increasing population, rapid urbanisation, and vastly improved lifestyle coupled with unsustainable consumption patterns have all contributed to the growing waste crisis in the GCC.
Among the GCC nations, United Arab Emirates has the highest municipal solid waste generation per capita of 2.2 kg (which is among the highest worldwide) followed closely by Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Bahrain. The total urban waste generation in the GCC has been estimated to be around 150 million tons per annum, with MSW being the second largest stream after construction wastes.
A look at the composition of municipal solid waste in GCC nations suggests that it is largely decomposable and recyclable. However, at present waste disposal into landfills/dumpsites remains the widely practiced method. In countries such as Kuwait and Bahrain where limited land is available, this doesn’t seem to be most prudent option. At present, waste management sector is facing multiple challenges in the form of:
- Lack of clear reliable framework by which the solid waste sector is administered from the collection, transformation to disposing or treatment phases
- Absence of effective and comprehensive legislative frameworks governing the solid waste sector and the inadequate enforcement mechanisms, which are no less important than the legislation themselves
- Management activities of MSW are considered public services
which are directly controlled by governmental institutions. Such management arrangement is considered weak as it lacks market mechanisms, and in this case economical incentives cannot be used to improve and develop the MSW management services
- Inadequate human and organizational capacities and capabilities
- Scarcity of accurate and reliable background data and information on the status of solid waste such as rate of generation of different solid waste constituencies, assessment of natural resources and land-use, and transportation needs, scenarios of treatment, growth scenarios of solid waste which are linked to several driving forces. Needless to say, data and information are the crucial elements for developing MSW management system including the adequate monitoring of the sector.
- Inadequate waste strategies/management infrastructure: In most GCC countries existing waste handling capacities are insufficient. Presently recyclable recovery rate is low. Further, in the absence of local recycling facilities, there is no alternative except to dump the otherwise recyclable material at landfills.
- Waste recycling is expensive: Though recent years have seen an increase in the number of waste recycling facilities the economics of recycling is still not very favourable. In many cases recycling waste is expensive compared to buying the product which can be attributed to lack of recycling facilities.
- Under developed market for recycled products: Insufficient demand for recycled products in the local market is another reason, which has hampered the growth of the waste recycling industry.
- Public attitude: Economies in the GCC countries are oil dependent due to high reserves of fossil fuels. For several decades alternatives such as solar and wind were not considered and oil was the easier option. Recently and due to drop in oil prices more consideration is given to renewable sources. Similarly waste was mainly landfilled as it was the easier choice, yet due to known complication with such treatment, more suitable measures were considered. Therefore there is the need for an effective comprehensive “education and awareness” program in regards of these two issues
The Way Forward
GCC urgently requires an ambitious sustainable development agenda with waste management (minimisation, reuse and recycling) among its main priorities. Waste has a range of environmental impacts, on air, water, and land and also is a major economic drain, especially on city budgets. It is estimated that 50% of a city’s budget is spent on waste management.
The inefficient use of scarce resources reflected in materials discarded and abandoned as waste represents a huge economic and environmental cost borne by society as a whole.
Management of solid waste is a serious challenge faced by most modern societies. But waste is not only a challenge: it is also a largely untapped opportunity. Proper waste management presents an opportunity not only to avoid the detrimental impacts associated with waste, but also to recover resources, realise environmental, economic and social benefits and take a step on the road to a sustainable future.
The benefits arise when waste is treated as a resource, a resource that can be recovered and put to productive and profitable use. Products can be reused and the materials that make them up can be recovered and converted to other uses or recycled.