Waste-to-Energy in Saudi Arabia

Urban waste management has emerged as a big challenge for the government and local bodies in Saudi Arabia. The country generates more than 15 million tons of municipal solid waste each year with per capita waste production estimated to be 2 kg per day, among the highest worldwide. Municipal waste production in three largest cities – Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam – exceeds 6 million tons per annum which gives an indication of the enormity of the problem faced by civic bodies.

waste-jeddah

The Problem of Waste

Municipal waste generation in Saudi Arabia is increasing at an unprecedented rate. Due to high population growth rate, rapid urbanization and fast-paced economic development, MSW generation is expected to cross 30 million tons per year by 2033. More than 75 percent of Kingdom’s population is concentrated in urban areas, and collected garbage is thrown in landfills or dumpsites without any processing or treatment.

Most of the landfills in Saudi Arabia are non-sanitary and prone to problems like leachate, vermin, flies and spontaneous fires, apart from greenhouse gas emissions.  It has become necessary for the Saudi government to devise an integrated waste management strategy, using international best practices and modern technologies, to tackle heaps of garbage accumulating across the country.

Promise of Waste-to-Energy

Waste-to-energy provides a cost-effective and eco-friendly solution to both energy demand and MSW disposal problems in Saudi Arabia. Increasing waste generation, inability of existing solutions to tackle waste and expansion of cities into ex-dump sites are strong drivers for large-scale deployment of WTE systems in the Kingdom.

Saudi Arabia has tremendous waste-to-energy potential due to plentiful availability of good quality municipal waste. Modern waste-to-energy technologies, such as RDF-based incineration, gasification, pyrolysis and anaerobic digestion have the ability to transform power demand and waste management scenario in the country.

A typical 250 – 300 tons per day garbage-to-energy plant can produce around 3 – 4 MW of electricity and a network of such plants in cities around the country can make a real difference in waste management as well as energy sectors.  In fact, such plants also produce tremendous about of heat energy which can be utilized in process industries and district cooling systems, further maximizing their usefulness.

Key Challenges

Around the world, waste-to-energy finds wide acceptance as a tool to manage urban wastes, with more than 1,000 waste-to-energy plants in operation globally, especially in Europe, China and the Asia-Pacific. However, waste-to-energy is struggling to get off-the-ground in Saudi Arabia due to several issues, the main reason being the cheap and plentiful availability of oil which prevents decision-makers to set effective regulations for waste-to-energy development in the country.

Waste-to-Energy is widely accepted as a part of sustainable waste management strategy worldwide.

Waste-to-Energy is widely accepted as a part of sustainable waste management strategy worldwide.

Policy-makers in KSA should consider waste-to-energy as a sustainable waste management solution, rather than as a power-producing industry. Unlike Western countries, waste management services are practically free-of-cost for the waste generators which act as a deterrent for governmental investment in new waste management solutions and technologies, such as waste-to-energy. Infact, waste collection, transport and disposal methods in Saudi Arabia do not match the standards of a developed country.

Future Outlook

Vision 2030, touted as most comprehensive economic reform package in Saudi history, puts forward a strong regulatory and investment framework to develop Saudi waste-to-energy sector. An ambitious target of 3GW of energy from waste is to be achieved by 2025.  A methodical introduction of modern waste management techniques like material recovery facilities, waste-to-energy systems and recycling infrastructure can significantly improve waste management scenario and can also generate good business opportunities.

To sum up, environmental issues associated with non-sanitary landfills, ineffectiveness of prevalent waste management model and rising energy demand are key drivers for development of waste-to-energy sector in Saudi Arabia.

Waste Management Challenges in Middle East

Middle East is one of the most prolific waste generating regions worldwide with per capita waste production in several countries averaging more than 2 kg per day . High standards of living, ineffective legislation, infrastructural roadblocks, indifferent public attitude and lack of environmental awareness are the major factors responsible for growing waste management problem in the Middle East. Lavish lifestyles are contributing to more generation of waste which when coupled with lack of waste collection and disposal facilities have transformed ‘trash’ into a liability.

garbage-middle-east

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.

Waste management in 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.

Many Middle East nations lack legislative framework and regulations to deal with urban wastes.

Many Middle East nations lack legislative framework and regulations to deal with urban wastes.

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 laws, 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.

The Way Forward

In recent year, several countries, like Qatar, UAE and Oman, 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.

Waste-to-Energy in China: Perspectives

China is the world’s largest MSW generator, producing as much as 175 million tons of waste every year. With a current population surpassing 1.37 billion and exponential trends in waste output expected to continue, it is estimated that China’s cities will need to develop an additional hundreds of landfills and waste-to-energy plants to tackle the growing waste management crisis.

garbage-china

China’s three primary methods for municipal waste management are landfills, incineration, and composting. Nevertheless, the poor standards and conditions they operate in have made waste management facilities generally inefficient and unsustainable. For example, discharge of leachate into the soil and water bodies is a common feature of landfills in China. Although incineration is considered to be better than landfills and have grown in popularity over the years, high levels of toxic emissions have made MSW incineration plants a cause of concern for public health and environment protection.

Prevalent Issues

Salman Zafar, a renowned waste management, waste-to-energy and bioenergy expert was interviewed to discuss waste opportunities in China. As Mr. Zafar commented on the current problems with these three primary methods of waste management used by most developing countries, he said, “Landfills in developing countries, like China and India, are synonymous with huge waste dumps which are characterized by rotting waste, spontaneous fires, toxic emissions and presence of rag-pickers, birds, animals and insects etc.” Similarly, he commented that as cities are expanding rapidly worldwide, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find land for siting new landfills.

On incineration, Zafar asserted that this type of waste management method has also become a controversial issue due to emission concerns and high technology costs, especially in developing countries. Many developers try to cut down costs by going for less efficient air pollution control systems”. Mr. Zafar’s words are evident in the concerns reflected in much of the data ­that waste management practices in China are often poorly monitored and fraudulent, for which data on emission controls and environmental protection is often elusive.

Similarly, given that management of MSW involves the collection, transportation, treatment and disposal of waste, Zafar explains why composting has also such a small number relative to landfills for countries like China. He says, “Composting is a difficult proposition for developing countries due to absence of source-segregation. Organic fraction of MSW is usually mixed with all sorts of waste including plastics, metals, healthcare wastes and industrial waste which results in poor quality of compost and a real risk of introduction of heavy metals into agricultural soils.” Given that China’s recycling sector has not yet developed to match market opportunities, even current treatment of MSW calls for the need of professionalization and institutionalization of the secondary materials industry.

While MSW availability is not an issue associated with the potential of the resource given its dispersion throughout the country and its exponential increase throughout, around 50 percent of the studies analyzed stated concerns for the high moisture content and low caloric value of waste in China, making it unattractive for WTE processes.

Talking about how this issue can be dealt with, Mr. Zafar commented that a plausible option to increase the calorific value of MSW is to mix it with agricultural residues or wood wastes. Thus, the biomass resources identified in most of the studies as having the greatest potential are not only valuable individually but can also be processed together for further benefits.

Top Challenges

Among the major challenges on the other hand, were insufficient or elusive data, poor infrastructure, informal waste collection systems and the lack of laws and regulations in China for the industry. Other challenges included market risk, the lack of economic incentives and the high costs associated with biomass technologies. Nevertheless, given that the most recurring challenges cited across the data were related to infrastructure and laws and regulations, it is evident that China’s biomass policy is in extreme need of reform.

China’s unsustainable management of waste and its underutilized potential of MSW feedstock for energy and fuel production need urgent policy reform for the industry to develop. Like Mr. Zafar says, “Sustainable waste management demands an integration of waste reduction, waste reuse, waste recycling, and energy recovery from waste and landfilling. It is essential that China implements an integrated solid waste management strategy to tackle the growing waste crisis”.

Future Perspectives

China’s government will play a key role in this integrated solid waste management strategy. Besides increased cooperation efforts between the national government and local governments to encourage investments in solid waste management from the private sector and foster domestic recycling practices, first, there is a clear need to establish specialized regulatory agencies (beyond the responsibilities of the State Environmental Protection Administration and the Ministry of Commerce) that can provide clearer operating standards for current WTE facilities (like sanitary landfills and incinerators) as well as improve the supervision of them.

It is essential that China implements an integrated solid waste management strategy to tackle the growing waste crisis

It is essential that China implements an integrated solid waste management strategy to tackle the growing waste crisis

Without clear legal responsibility assigned to specialized agencies, pollutant emissions and regulations related to waste volumes and operating conditions may continue to be disregarded. Similarly, better regulation in MSW management for efficient waste collection and separation is needed to incentivize recycling at the individual level by local residents in every city. Recycling after all is complementary to waste-to-energy, and like Salman Zafar explains, countries with the highest recycling rates also have the best MSW to energy systems (like Germany and Sweden).

Nevertheless, without a market for reused materials, recycling will take longer to become a common practice in China. As Chinese authorities will not be able to stop the waste stream from growing but can reduce the rate of growth, the government’s role in promoting waste management for energy production and recovery is of extreme importance.

Solid Waste Management in Pakistan

Solid waste management situation in Pakistan is a matter of grave concern as more than 5 million people to die each year due to waste-related diseases. In Pakistan roughly 20 million tons of solid waste is generated annually, with annual growth rate of about 2.4 percent. Karachi, largest city in the country, generates more than 9,000 tons of municipal waste daily. All major cities, be it Islamabad, Lahore or Peshawar, are facing enormous challenges in tackling the problem of urban waste. The root factors for the worsening garbage problem in Pakistan are lack of urban planning, outdated infrastructure, lack of public awareness and endemic corruption.

Karachi-Garbage-Dump

Contributing Factors

Being the 6th most populated country in the world; there is a lot of consumerism and with it a great deal of waste being produced. Like other developing countries, waste management sector in Pakistan is plagued by a wide variety of social, cultural, legislative and economic issues.  In the country, more waste is being produced than the number of facilities available to manage it. Some of the major problems are:

  • There is no proper waste collection system
  • Waste is dumped on the streets
  • Different types of waste are not collected separately
  • There are no controlled sanitary landfill sites. Opening burning is common.
  • Citizens are not aware of the relationship between reckless waste disposal and resulting environmental and public health problems

As a result of these problems, waste is accumulating and building up on roadsides, canals, and other common areas and burning trash is common, causing hazardous toxins to be exposed thereby threatening human and environmental health. Among the already few landfill sites that are present, even fewer are in operation. Even within Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, there are no permanent landfills to be found.

The waste on the roads allows for an ideal environment for various flies to thrive which effects both human health and the health of the environment for other species. The poor solid waste management in Pakistan has caused numerous diseases and environmental problems to rise.

Waste Management Situation in Lahore

In Lahore, the capital of Punjab and the second largest city in Pakistan, there are currently no controlled waste disposal facilities are formal recycling systems, though roughly 27% of waste (by weight) is recycled through the informal sector, Lahore does not have very high performing governmental management in the waste management situation. Instead, the City District Government Lahore established the Lahore Waste Management Company and left the responsibility of the Solid Waste Management in Lahore to them. Beginning in 2011, Lahore Waste Management Company strives to develop a system of SWM that ensures productive collection, recovery, transportation, treatment and disposal of the waste in Lahore.

Lahore Waste Management Company (LWMC) has over 10,000 field workers involved in waste collection and disposal. Though the LWMC is working in phases, 100% collection rates are not seen yet. Lahore currently only has three disposal sites which are no more than dumps, where illegal dumping and trash burning is common. However, there is some resource recovery taking place. It is estimated that 27% of dry recyclables are informally recycled within the city. Additionally a composting plant converts 8% of waste into compost.

In general, the governance over the Waste Management in Lahore is hardly present. Though there are current projects and plans taking place, by the Lahore Waste Management Company for example, in order to achieve a productive and sustainable system in the city it is necessary for all service providers (formal, private, and informal) to take part in decisions and actions.

Current Activities and Projects

According to the United Nations Environment Program, there are six current activities and plans taking place towards an efficient Waste Management System. These current activities are as follows:

  • Solid Waste Management Guidelines (draft) prepared with the support of Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Japan.
  • Converting waste agricultural biomass into energy/ material source – project by UNEP, IETC Japan.
  • North Sindh Urban Services Corporation Limited (NSUSC) – Assisting the district government in design and treatment of water supply, sanitation and solid waste management
  • The URBAN UNIT, Urban Sector Policy & Management Unit P & D Department, Punjab. Conducting different seminars on awareness of waste water, sanitation & solid waste management etc.
  • Lahore Compost (Pvt.) Ltd. only dealing with the organic waste with the cooperation of city district government Lahore, Pakistan. The company is registered as a CDM project with UNFCCC.
  • Different NGOs are involved at small scale for solid waste collection, and recycling.

Additionally, in November 2013 a German company, agreed to invest in the installation of a 100 megawatt power plant which generates energy from waste from Lahore. Progress is being made on the country’s first scientific waste disposal site in Lakhodair. With this in mind, the Lahore Waste Management Company considered other possible technologies for their Waste-to-Energy project. They opened up applications for international companies to hire as the official consultant for LWMC and their project. The results of the feasibility study results showed that the power plant has the potential to process 1035 tons of municipal waste daily, and generate 5.50 megawatt electricity daily.

The Way Forward

Although SWM policies do exist, the levels at which they are implemented and enforced lack as a result of the governmental institutions lacking resources and equipment. These institutions are primarily led by public sector workers and politicians who are not necessarily the most informed on waste management. For improvements in municipal solid waste management, it is necessary for experts to become involved and assist in the environmental governance.

Due to the multiple factors contributing to the solid waste accumulation, the problem has become so large it is beyond the capacity of municipalities. The former director of the Pakistan Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, Dr. Mirza Arshad Ali Beg, stated, “The highly mismanaged municipal solid waste disposal system in Pakistan cannot be attributed to the absence of an appropriate technology for disposal but to the fact that the system has a lot of responsibility but no authority.” Laws and enforcement need to be revised and implemented. The responsibility for future change is in the hands of both the government, and the citizens.

Waste practices in the Pakistan need to be improved. This can start with awareness to the public of the health and environment impacts that dumped and exposed waste causes. It is imperative for the greater public to become environmentally educated, have a change in attitude and take action.

References

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2014/08/solid-waste-pakistan-karachi-2014867512833362.html

http://www.iamcivilengineer.com/2014/04/solid-waste-disposal-and-collection.html

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2014/08/solid-waste-pakistan-karachi-2014867512833362.html

http://www.iamcivilengineer.com/2014/04/solid-waste-disposal-and-collection.html

http://www.lwmc.com.pk/about-us.php

http://www.unep.org/ietc/Portals/136/Events/ISWM%20GPWM%20Asia%20Pacific%20Workshop/Pakistan_Presentation.pdf

http://www.dawn.com/news/1081689

http://www.lwmc.com.pk/waste-to-energy.php

Solid Waste Management in Nigeria

Solid waste management is the most pressing environmental challenge faced by urban and rural areas of Nigeria. Nigeria, with population exceeding 170 million, is one of the largest producers of solid waste in Africa. Despite a host of policies and regulations, solid waste management in the country is assuming alarming proportions with each passing day.

waste-nigeria

Nigeria generates more than 32 million tons of solid waste annually, out of which only 20-30% is collected. Reckless disposal of MSW has led to blockage of sewers and drainage networks, and choking of water bodies. Most of the wastes is generated by households and in some cases, by local industries, artisans and traders which litters the immediate surroundings. Improper collection and disposal of municipal wastes is leading to an environmental catastrophe as the country currently lack adequate budgetary provisions for the implementation of integrated waste management programmes across the States.

According to the United Nations Habitat Watch, African city populations will more than triple over the next 40 years. African cities are already inundated with slums; a phenomenon that could triple urban populations and spell disaster, unless urgent actions are initiated. Out of the 36 states and a federal capital in the country, only a few have shown a considerable level of resolve to take proactive steps in fighting this scourge, while the rest have merely paid lip services to issues of waste management indicating a huge lack of interest to develop the waste sector.

Scenario in Lagos

Lagos State, the commercial hub of Nigeria, is the second fastest growing city in Africa and seventh in the world.  The latest reports estimate its population to be more than 21 million making it the largest city in entire Africa.  With per capita waste generation of 0.5 kg per day, the city generates more than 10,000 tons of urban waste every day.

Despite being a model for other states in the country, municipal waste management is a big challenge for the Lagos State Waste Management Agency (LAWMA) to manage alone, hence the need to engage the services of private waste firms and other franchisee to reduce the burden of waste collection and disposal. One fundamental issue is the delayed collection of household solid waste.  In some cases, the wastes are not collected until after a week or two, consequently, the waste bin overflows and litters the surroundings.

Improper garbage disposal and lack of reliable transport infrastructure means that collected wastes are soon dispersed to other localities. Another unwelcome practice is to overload collection trucks with 5-6 tons of waste to reduce the number of trips; this has necessitated calls by environmental activist to prevail on the relevant legislature to conform to the modern waste transportation standard.

Situation in Oyo

Away from Lagos State, Oyo is another ancient town in Nigeria with an estimated population of six million people. Here, solid waste is regulated by the Oyo State Solid Waste Management Authority (OYOWMA). Unlike Lagos State, Oyo State does not have a proper waste management scheme that cuts across the nooks and crannies of the state, apart from Ibadan, the capital city, people from other towns like Ogbomoso and Iseyin resort to waste burning. In case the waste generators feels that the amount being charged by the waste franchisee is beyond their means, they dump the waste along flood paths thus compounding the waste predicament.

Burning of municipal wastes is a common practice in Nigeria

Burning of municipal wastes is a common practice in Nigeria

Kano and Rivers State with its fair share of population also suffers similar fate in controlling and managing solid waste. Generally speaking, population increase in Nigeria has led to an unprecedented growth in its economy but with a devastating effect on the environment as more wastes are generated due to the need for housing, manufacturing industries and a boost in trade volume.

Future Perspectives

The government at the federal level as a matter of urgency needs to revive its regulatory framework that will be attractive for private sectors to invest in waste collection, recycling and reusing.  The environmental health officer’s registration council of Nigeria would do well to intensify more effort to monitor and enforce sanitation laws as well as regulate the activities of the franchisees on good sustainable practices.

Taking the advocacy further on waste management, to avoid littering the environment, some manufacturing companies (e.g. chemical and paint industry) have introduced a recall process that will reward individuals who returns empty/used plastic containers. This cash incentive has been proven over time to validate the waste to wealth program embarked upon by the manufacturing companies. It is also expected that the government will build more composting and recycling plants in addition to the ones in Ekiti and Kano State to ensure good sustainable waste management.

Waste management situation in Nigeria currently requires concerted effort to sensitize the general public on the need for proper disposal of solid waste. Also, the officials should be well trained on professionalism, service delivery and ensure that other states within the country have access to quality waste managers who are within reach and can assist on the best approach to managing their waste before collection.

Rationale for Solid Waste Management

Some countries have achieved considerable success in solid waste management. But the rest of the world is grappling to deal with its wastes. In these places, improper management of solid waste continues to impact public health of entire communities and cities; pollute local water, air and land resources; contribute to climate change and ocean plastic pollution; hinder climate change adaptation; and accelerate depletion of forests and mines.

Garbage_Bangalore

Compared to solid waste management, we can consider that the world has achieved significant success in providing other basic necessities like food, drinking water, energy and economic opportunities. Managing solid wastes properly can help improve the above services further.

Composting of organic waste can help nurture crops and result in a better agricultural yield. Reducing landfilling and building sanitary landfills will reduce ground and surface water pollution which can help provide cleaner drinking water. Energy recovery from non-recyclable wastes can satiate significant portion of a city’s energy requirement.

Inclusive waste management where informal waste recyclers are involved can provide an enormous economic opportunity to the marginalized urban poor. Additionally, a good solid waste management plan with cost recovery mechanisms can free tax payers money for other issues. In the case of India, sustainable solid waste management in 2011 would have provided

  • 9.6 million tons of compost that could have resulted in a better agricultural yield
  • energy equivalent to 58 million barrels of oil from non-recyclable wastes
  • 6.7 million tons of secondary raw materials to industries in the form of recyclable materials and livelihood to the urban poor

Solid waste management until now has only been a social responsibility of the corporate world or one of the services to be provided by the municipality and a non-priority for national governments. However, in Mumbai, the improperly managed wastes generate 22,000 tons of toxic pollutants like particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrous and sulfur oxides in addition to 10,000 grams of carcinogenic dioxins and furans every year. These numbers are only for the city of Mumbai. This is the case in cities all across the developing world. There are numerous examples where groundwater is polluted by heavy metals and organic contaminants due to solid waste landfills.

Solid waste management expenditure of above $ 1 billion per year competes with education, poverty, security and other sustainable initiatives in New York City. Fossil fuels for above 500,000 truck trips covering hundreds of miles are required to transport NYC’s waste to landfills outside the city and state. Similarly, New Delhi spends more than half of its entire municipal budget on solid waste management, while it is desperate for investments and maintenance of roads, buildings, and other infrastructure.

Solid waste management is not just a corporate social responsibility or a non-priority service anymore. Improper waste management is a public health and environmental crisis, economic loss, operational inefficiency and political and public awareness failure. Integrated solid waste management can be a nation building exercise for healthier and wealthier communities. Therefore, it needs global attention to arrive at solutions which span across such a wide range of issues.

Importance of Waste-to-Energy

Waste-to-energy has been evolving over the years and there are many new developments in this technology, moving in mainly one direction – to be able to applied to smaller size waste streams. Not only is it a strategy that has real importance for the current public policy, it is a strategy that will definitely present itself to additional areas.

waste-management-energy

More than 50% of waste that is burnt in waste-to-energy facilities is already part of the short carbon cycle. In which case, it has an organic derivative and it doesn’t add to climate change, to begin with. The long form carbon that is burned, things like plastics that have come out of the ground in the form of oil do add to climate change. But, they have already been used once. They have already been extracted once and what we are doing is taking the energy out of them after that physical use, capturing some of that (energy), thereby offsetting more carbon from natural gas or oil or coal. So, the net effect is a reduction in carbon emissions.

Waste-to-energy and recycling are complementary depending on the results of analyses of the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics, which are absolutely valid. One can decide in specific situations whether waste-to-energy or whether some type of recycling technology would be more appropriate. It is not an either/or option.

In Austria, it was possible to have an absolute ban on landfilling wastes exceeding 5% organic carbon. This is written in law since 1996. There were some exceptions for some period of time, but landfills of organic wastes are just banned, not just in Austria but also in other cultures similar to Austria – like Switzerland and Germany.

Note: This excerpt is being published with the permission of our collaborative partner Be Waste Wise. The original excerpt and its video recording can be found at this link

Plastic Wastes and its Management

Plastic seems all pervasive and unavoidable. Since the 1960s our use of plastic has increased dramatically, and subsequently, the portion of our garbage that is made up of plastic has also increased from 1% of the total municipal solid waste stream (household garbage) to approximately 13% (US Environmental Protection Agency).

Plastic products range from things like containers and packaging (soft drink bottles, lids, shampoo bottles) to durable goods (think appliances, furniture and cars) and non-durable goods including things from a plastic party tray to medical devices. Sometimes marked with a number and a chasing arrow, there is an illusion that all plastics are recyclable, and therefore recycled. But there are a number of problems with this assumption.

plastic-wastes

While use and consumption of plastic is increasingly high, doubts about viable options for reuse, recycling and disposal are also on the rise. Complications such as the increasing number of additives used alter the strength, texture, flexibility, colour, resistance to microbes, and other characteristics of plastics, make plastics less recyclable. Additionally, there is very little market value in some plastics, leading municipalities to landfill or incinerate plastics as waste. Based on figures from the EPA (2011 data) only 8% of plastic materials are recovered through recycling.

Another major concern about plastics in the waste stream is their longevity and whether or not they are truly biodegrade. It is estimated that most plastics would take 500-1000 years to break down into organic components. Because of this longevity and the low rate of recycling, much of our plastic waste ends up in landfills or as litter. Some of this plastic waste makes its way via rivers and wind to the ocean. Garbage barges, and the trans-continental transport of recyclable materials also lead to an increasing amount of plastics in our oceans and waterways.

Plastic waste directly and indirectly affects living organisms throughout the ecosystem, including an increasingly high impact on marine life at a macro and micro scale. According to United Nations, almost 80% of marine debris is plastic. Policy enforcement remains weak, global manufacture of plastics continues to increase, and the quantity of plastic debris in the oceans, as well as on land, is likely to increase.

With limited sustainable recovery of plastics, there is a growing global movement to reduce the generation of plastic. Certain types of plastic may be ’safer‘ for the environment than others, however, there are troubling issues associated with all of them, leading to the conclusion that action is needed to remove plastic waste, and stricter controls are required to limit new sources of plastic pollution. Efforts such as light weighting of packaging and shifts to compostable plastics are options. Many people use eco-friendly bags for the sake of green living. Policies limiting the use of plastics such as bottle bills and bag bans are other ways to decrease the production and consumption of plastics.

Mining the debris fields in our oceans and turning plastic waste into usable materials, from socks made of fishing line to fuel made from a variety of plastic debris, is one way to mitigate the current situation. You can do your part by using renewable cotton bags.

Note: This excerpt is being published with the permission of our collaborative partner Be Waste Wise. The original excerpt and its video recording can be found at this link

Solid Wastes in the Middle East

The high rate of population growth, urbanization and economic expansion in the Middle East is not only accelerating consumption rates but also increasing the generation rate of all  sorts of waste. The gross urban waste generation quantity from Middle East countries is estimated at more than 150 million tons annually. Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar and Kuwait rank in the top-ten worldwide in terms of per capita solid waste generation. 

Saudi Arabia produces around 15 million tons of garbage each year. With an approximate population of about 28 million, the kingdom produces approximately 1.3 kilograms of waste per person every day.  According to a recent study conducted by Abu Dhabi Center for Waste Management, the amount of waste in UAE totaled 4.892 million tons, with a daily average of 6935 tons in the city of Abu Dhabi, 4118 tons in Al Ain and 2349 tons in the western region. Countries like Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar have astonishingly high per capita waste generation rate, primarily because of high standard of living and lack of awareness about sustainable waste management practices.

In Middle East countries, huge quantity of sewage sludge is produced on daily basis which presents a serious problem due to its high treatment costs and risk to environment and human health. On an average, the rate of wastewater generation is 80-200 litres per person each day and sewage output is rising by 25 percent every year. According to estimates from the Drainage and Irrigation Department of Dubai Municipality, sewage generation in the Dubai increased from 50,000 m3 per day in 1981 to 400,000 m3 per day in 2006.

Waste-to-Energy Prospects

Municipal solid waste in the Middle East is mainly comprised of organics, paper, glass, plastics, metals, wood etc. Municipal solid waste can be converted into energy by conventional technologies (such as incineration, mass-burn and landfill gas capture) or by modern conversion systems (such as anaerobic digestion, gasification and pyrolysis).

At the landfill sites, the gas produced by the natural decomposition of MSW is collected from the stored material and scrubbed and cleaned before feeding into internal combustion engines or gas turbines to generate heat and power. In addition, the organic fraction of MSW can be anaerobically stabilized in a high-rate digester to obtain biogas for electricity or steam generation.

Anaerobic digestion is the most preferred option to extract energy from sewage, which leads to production of biogas and organic fertilizer. The sewage sludge that remains can be incinerated or gasified/pyrolyzed to produce more energy. In addition, sewage-to-energy processes also facilitate water recycling.

Thus, municipal solid waste can also be efficiently converted into energy and fuels by advanced thermal technologies. Infact, energy recovery from MSW is rapidly gaining worldwide recognition as the 4th R in sustainable waste management system – Reuse, Reduce, Recycle and Recover.

Addressing India’s Waste Management Problems

Out of all the measures that are necessary in addressing India’s impending waste management crisis, the most efficient will be changes at the national policy and planning level. It is well-known among the small but growing waste management sector that urban India will hit rock bottom due to improper waste management.

india_garbage_dump

Unfortunately, they think such a crisis is required to bring about policy changes, as they generally tend to happen only after the damage has been done. This attitude is unfortunate because it indicates a lack of or failed effort from the sector to change policy, and also the level of India’s planning and preparedness.

An average of 32,000 people will be added to urban India every day, continuously, until 2021. This number is a warning, considering how India’s waste management infrastructure went berserk trying to deal with just 25,000 new urban Indians during the last decade. The scale of urbanization in India and around the world is unprecedented with planetary consequences to Earth’s limited material and energy resources, and its natural balance.

Rate of increase in access to sanitation infrastructure generally lags behind the rate of urbanization by 33% around the world; however, the lack of planning and impromptu piecemeal responses to waste management issues observed in India might indicate a much wider gap. This means urban Indians will have to wait longer than an average urban citizen of our world for access to proper waste management infrastructure.

The clear trend in the outbreak of epidemic and public protests around India is that they are happening in the biggest cities in their respective regions. Kolkata, Bengaluru, Thiruvananthapuram, and Srinagar are capitals of their respective states, and Coimbatore is the second largest city in Tamil Nadu. However, long term national level plans to improve waste management in India do not exist and guidance offered to urban local bodies is meager.

Apart from the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM), there has been no national level effort required to address the problem. Even though JnNURM was phenomenal in stimulating the industry and local governments, it was not enough to address the scale and extent of the problem. This is because of JnNURM is not a long term waste management financing program, sorts of which are required to tackle issues like solid waste management.

Are Cities Hands-tied or is Change Possible?

In the short term, municipal corporations have their hands tied and will not be able to deliver solutions immediately. They face the task of realizing waste management facilities inside or near cities while none of their citizens want them near their residences. Officials of Hyderabad’s municipal corporation have been conducting interviews with locals for about eight years now for a new landfill site, to no avail.

In spite of the mounting pressure, most corporations will not be able to close the dumpsites that they are currently using. This might not be the good news for which local residents could be waiting, but, it is important that bureaucrats, municipal officials and politicians be clear about it. Residents near Vellalore dump protested and blocked roads leading to the site because Coimbatore municipal officials repeatedly failed to fulfill their promises after every landfill fire incident.

Due to lack of existing alternatives, other than diverting waste fractionally by increasing informal recycling sector’s role, closing existing landfills would mean finding new sites.  Finding new landfills in and around cities is nearly impossible because of the track record of dumpsite operations and maintenance in India and the Not in My Backyard (NIMBY) phenomenon.

However, the corporations can and should take measures to reduce landfill fires and open burning, and control pollution due to leachate and odor and vector nuisance. This will provide much needed relief to adjacent communities and give the corporations time to plan better. While navigating through an issue as sensitive this, it is of the utmost importance that they work closely with the community by increasing clarity and transparency.

Municipal officials at the meeting repeatedly stressed the issue of scarcity of land for waste disposal, which led to overflowing dumpsites and waste treatment facilities receiving more waste than what they were designed for. Most municipal officials are of the sense that a magic solution is right around the corner which will turn all of their city’s waste into electricity or fuel oil or gas, or into recycled products. While such conversion is technologically possible with infinite energy and financial sources, that is not the reality.

Despite their inability to properly manage wastes, the majority of municipal officials consider waste as “wealth” when approached by private partners. Therefore, a significant portion of officials expect royalty from private investments without sharing business risk.