Globalization and modernization have led to increased consumption among the Omani population. Reportedly, the average Omani household throws away one-third of the food it purchases. Conspicuous consumption fuelled by peer pressure and effective advertising brings more goods and products into the home than the family members can actually make use of. And along with the increase in merchandise comes a lot of extra packaging. Product packaging now accounts for the bulk of what is thrown into household rubbish bins.
The urge to keep pace with what one’s neighbours, relatives and peers acquire means higher rates of consumption: a new mobile phone every year instead of every five to ten years, a new car every three years instead of every twenty to thirty years, and so on. Consumption becomes excessive when we cannot make use of what we obtain. The result is waste. Yet the seeds of positive, environmentally-sustainable, community-based waste management are here in the Omani culture and tradition: they just need to be replanted in the right places and nurtured.
Why should anyone be interested in the issue of household waste in Oman? We can start by observing a few important facts—some positive and some negative—about Oman’s relationship with environmental and sustainability issues. As early as 1974, the governmental office of the Advisor on Environmental Affairs was established in Oman. Later on, the Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs took its place.[i] Environmental protection, sustainable development, and with that, waste management, are stated priorities for the Omani government.[ii]
Yet Oman has a long way to go when it comes to waste management. More than 350 registered landfills and dumpsites are active around the country, in addition to which, illegal and unmonitored dumpsites are often started by residents of underserved areas.[iii] Currently, the Omani population country-wide produces approximately 700 grams of solid waste per person, and in the Muscat area, the average per person is nearly one kilogramme.[iv] Furthermore, the amount generated per person is projected to increase year by year for the next ten years.[v] According to a study in 2012 by Sultan Qaboos University’s Department of Natural Resource Economics, the average Omani family wastes one-third of its food. That is, approximately seventy riyals worth of food per month is thrown out, not eaten.[vi]
Three important statistics to keep in mind as we discuss the situation in Oman: First, immigrants (migrant workers, expatriates, etc.) account for over thirty percent of the total population in Oman, so we cannot say that this is solely an “Omani” issue. It is an issue that affects all residents in Oman: Omanis and non-Omanis alike. Second, sixty percent of Oman’s population live in cities and large towns. Third, household consumption (i.e., purchases by household members to meet their everyday needs and maintain their current standard of living) accounts for 35.8 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).[vii] Compare Oman’s proportion to that of the United States, where household consumption as a percentage of GDP is almost double, at 70 percent.[viii]
Recycling efforts in Oman
Recycling efforts in Oman have until now been scattered and not coordinated. So far, all recycling programmes have been initiated by private entities such as schools, businesses, charitable organizations and non-profit environmental groups.[ix] Most recycling programmes have been only temporary, such as the Dar al Atta’a initiative to collect and recycle used clothing in 2013,[x] or very limited in geographical extent, such as the paper and plastic recycling efforts of local schools in the Muscat area. Lacking ongoing funding and logistical support from the government sector, many of these initiatives were unable to gain traction and eventually had to shut down.[xi]
The four Rs (reduce, reuse, repurpose, and recycle) of waste management have not yet entered the everyday discourse of Oman, but does this mean that they are not part of everyday life in Oman? We think the people of Oman can help us to answer this question. For this purpose, a pilot study was designed, a questionnaire was prepared, and in a series of interviews with individual Omanis we recorded their responses.
The Pilot Survey
The questionnaire covered household consumption habits, food waste and other household waste, and awareness of the four Rs, with particular attention to recycling. The main focus of the survey was on food waste. Of the 21 questions, fifteen were multiple-choice, with write-in options for any needed explanation. There were six open-ended questions, inviting respondents to give their opinion or share something of their experiences and knowledge of the topic.
In the tradition of an anthropological study, the survey was specifically designed to be presented orally as a series of questions to individual respondents in a face-to-face interview setting. The questions were written in English but presented in Arabic to most of the respondents. Conversely, responses were given orally in Arabic and recorded in writing either in Arabic and then translated, or directly translated into English as they were written down.
The respondents were all adult Omani nationals, ranging in age from their early twenties to their late fifties. All respondents reside in Muscat, but the majority were originally from other provinces and maintained a strong connection with their home village or town. The respondents represented various occupations such as: university student, homemaker, bank clerk, teacher, taxi driver and police officer. The interviews were carried out in March and April 2016.
The major outcomes of the pilot survey are described in the second part of the article which is available at this link.
[i] Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs. n.d. ‘About the Ministry.’ MECA website. https://www.meca.gov.om/ar/module.php?module=pages-showpage&CatID=1&ID=1 (accessed 30/03/2016)
[iv] Palanivel, T.M. and H. Sulaiman. 2014. ‘Generation and Composition of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) in Muscat, Sultanate of Oman.’ ICESD 2014. APCBEE Procedia 10(2014): 96–102 (accessed 20/02/16)
[vi] ‘Average Omani family wastes one-third of food.’ Gulf News. 23 June 2012 (accessed 28/02/16) http://gulfnews.com/news/gulf/oman/average-omani-family-wastes-one-third-of-food-1.1039366
[vii] Central Intelligence Agency. 2016. The World Factbook. ‘Oman’. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/mu.html (accessed 20/02/16)
[ix] Environment Society of Oman. n.d. ‘Project Recycling’. http://www.eso.org.om/index/pdf/ESO_Project_Recycling_En.pdf (accessed 10/04/16)