Most modern societies are faced with grave challenges of scientifically managing solid waste. The scale of the challenge faced by civic authorities is even bigger in the gulf region, where most countries have highest per-capita waste generation across the world. The contributing factors to this burgeoning waste problem include fast-paced industrial growth, recent boom in the construction industry, increasing local and migratory population and the rapid urbanization and vastly improved lifestyle.
According to rough estimates around 120 million tons of solid waste is generated in the GCC region per year. While municipal waste is the second largest waste category by source, a large proportion of this waste is generated from construction and demolition activities, notes a report by Frost and Sullivan titled "Solid Waste Management in GCC: Challenges & Opportunities".
Despite the GCC adopting a uniform waste-management system and a monitoring mechanism for waste production, collection, sorting, treatment and disposal in December of 1997, there are many hurdles that are yet to be overcome, primarily in its implementation, the report notes.
"The primary challenges for efficient scientific disposal of solid waste in the GCC region includes weak waste collection, transportation and handling infrastructure, expensive waste-recycling processes and an under-developed market for recycled products," says Vivek Gautam, Senior Research Analyst, South Asia & Middle East, Environmental & Building Technologies Practice.
GCC and Gulf countries like Kuwait with a small land space but increasing urban population and enhanced construction activities are faced with the challenges of efficient management of solid waste the country has been forced to shut down 14 of the 18 landfills for solid waste as human habitat and residential complexes have come up in the surroundings resulting in threat to humans from pollution of waste. Yet the country has not made many attempts to adopt scientific methods for disposal and recycling of waste or even turning the waste into energy.
There are several methods that modern environment technology firms utilize to scientifically dispose solid and municipal waste like those in Kuwait.
"The various waste-treatment methods that can be associated with waste-to-energy conversion include selective collection and sorting, composting - an 'aerobic' biological treatment, methanisation - an 'anaerobic' biological process without the presence of air, waste storage centers and controlled waste-to-energy conversion," claims one such environment technology firm CNIM. This French company which is among the world leaders in the mid-size energy power plants, has built 282 waste-processing lines around the world. CNIM experts claim that multichannel focus on waste management is the answer to the waste woes of the Gulf countries.
The problem of implementation for solid-waste management as noted in the Frost and Sullivan report is evident from the fact that most of the landfill sites in Kuwait have been closed for more than 20 years due to operational problems. One of the major hindrances is the migration of leachate beyond landfill site boundaries as well as groundwater contamination. As a result most of the landfill sites have been forced to close, much before achieving their capacities, because of improper disposal methods and concerns related to public health and environment, claims a report by online environment portal bioenergyconsult.com.
The problems of efficient waste management in Qatar and its rising volume of waste has resulted in the country dumping some 400 tons of domestic waste into landfills daily. In a recently published news report in Doha News, writer Lesley Walker reported that this problem has forced the authorities in the country to consider opening a new waste-management facility. The report states that the only facility for waste treatment near Mesaieed is now operating at full capacity and hence most of the 400 tons of surplus waste goes to the landfill.
Progress in setting up of state-of-the-art solid-waste-management centers has been slow in the Gulf countries. For example, despite having announced the setting up of a multi-million-dollar waste-management plant in Kabd area, 35 km from Kuwait City, at least four years ago, the tendering process is yet to be completed. It is expected that the final tender for plant that would treat waste and generate power from waste would be given in July of this year, reported the Kuwaiti news website - thebig5hub.com.
The importance of burning and processing of solid waste is reiterated by Nickolas J. Themelis, director of the Earth Engineering Center at Columbia University. He says, "Many communities--in nearly 40 countries--have concluded that it makes sense to burn such waste, not only to reduce landfill-space needs, but as a means of producing energy economically and with less harm to the environment than consigning garbage to landfills or burning fossil fuels."
This is perhaps what prompts writer and researcher Andrew Clark to say in the blog site EcoMena: "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."