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.
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.
Kuwait, being one of the richest countries, is among the highest per capita waste generators in the world. Each year more than 2 million tons of solid waste is generated in the tiny Arab nation. High standards of living and rapid economic growth has been a major factor behind very high per capita waste generation of 1.4 to 1.5 kg per day.
Waste Disposal Method
The prevalent solid waste management method in Kuwait is landfill burial. Despite being a small country, Kuwait has astonishingly high number of landfills. There are 18 landfills, of which 14 sites are closed and 4 sites are still in operation. These landfills act as dumpsites, rather than engineered landfills.
Menace of Landfills
Infact, landfill sites in Kuwait are notorious for causing severe public health and environmental issues. Besides piling up huge amounts of garbage, landfill sites generate huge amount of toxic gases (methane, carbon dioxide etc) and plagued by spontaneous fires. Due to fast paced urban development, residential areas have expanded to the edges of landfill sites thus causing grave danger to public health.
The total land area of Kuwait is around 17,820 sq. km, out of which more than 18 sq. km is occupied by landfills. Area of the landfill sites ranges from tens to hundreds of hectares with waste deposition depth varying from 3 to 30 meters.
All kind of wastes, including municipal wastes, food wastes, industrial wastes, construction and demolition debris etc are dumped at these sites. Infact, about 90 percent of the domestic waste is sent to landfills which imply that more landfills will be required to tackle rapidly increasing volumes of solid wastes.
Most of the landfill sites have been closed for more than 20 years due to operational problems and proximity to new residential, commercial and industrial areas. These sites include Sulaibiyah, Kabed, Al Qurain, Shuaiba, Jleeb AI Shuyoukh, West Yarmouk, AI Wafra among others. Migration of leachate beyond landfill site boundaries is a frequent problem noticed across Kuwait. Groundwater contamination has emerged as a serious problem because groundwater occurs at shallow depths throughout the country.
The major landfill sites operated by municipality for solid waste disposal are Jleeb AI Shuyoukh, Sulaibiyah and Al-Qurain. The Qurain landfill, with area of 1 sq. km, was used for dumping of municipal solid waste and construction materials from 1975 until 1985 with total volume of dumped waste being 5 million m3.
The Sulaibiyah landfill site received more than 500 tons of waste per day from 1980 to 2000 with area spanning 3 sq. km. Jleeb AI Shuyoukh, largest landfill site in Kuwait with area exceeding 6 sq. km, received 2500 tons per day of household waste and industrial waste between 1970 and 1993. Around 20 million m3 of wastes was dumped in this facility during its operational period.
Over the years, most of the dumpsites in Kuwait have been surrounded by residential and commercial areas due to urban development over the years. Uncontrolled dumpsites were managed by poorly-trained staff resulting in transformation of dumpsites in breeding grounds for pathogens, toxic gases and spontaneous fires.
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. Due to fast-paced industrial development and urban expansion, some of the landfills are located on the edges of residential, as is the case of Jleeb Al-Shuyoukh and Al-Qurain sites, endangering the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.
The growing amount of e-waste is gaining more and more attention on the global agenda. In 2017, e-waste production is expected to reach up to 48 million metric tons worldwide. The biggest contributors to this volume are highly developed nations, with the top three places of this inglorious ranking going to Norway, Switzerland and Iceland.
In Norway, each inhabitant produces a massive 28.3 kg of e-waste every year. Not far behind the top ten of this ranking lie GCC member states, with both Kuwait and UAE producing each 17.2 kg e-waste per capita per year. Saudi Arabia with its many times larger population produces least e-waste per capita among all GCC countries, with 12.5 kg a year.
Link between Development and E-Waste
Recent research suggests that there is evidence of a strong link between economic development and the generation of e-waste. Due to rapid urbanization growth rates along with a substantial increase in the standard of living, more people develop a consumerist culture. With rising disposable income, people replace their technology more frequently, as soon there are upgraded gadgets on the market. This development is aggravated by technological progress, which renders shorter life spans of products.
Complexity of E-Waste
E-waste is not only a fast-growing waste stream but also complex, as it contains a large variety of different products. This makes it extremely difficult to manage. The rapid technology development and the emergence of items such as smart clothes will render e-waste management even more difficult in the future. Dealing with e-waste is not only toxic for workers with direct contact to it, but also the dumpsites on which e-waste is stored can have severe environmental impacts on the surrounding areas. Many developed countries export the bulk of their e-waste to developing countries, where it is recovered using extremely harmful methods for both human and the environment.
Out of the total e-waste produced world-wide, only about 15% are collected by official take-back schemes. The European Union is one of the few regions in the world with uniform legislation regarding the collection and processing of e-waste. The WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) Directive took effect in 2003 and was designed to make manufacturers of appliances responsible for their equipment at the end of its life, a system known as extended producer responsibility (EPR).
An Untapped Opportunity
However, e-waste should not only be seen as a problem which more and more developed countries have to face. According to statistics, the intrinsic material value of global e-waste is estimated to be 48 billion euros in 2014. Even though the large part of e-waste constitutes of iron and steel, precious metals such as gold, copper, palladium, silver, platinum, cobalt, and more provide economic incentive for recycling. In addition to the intrinsic material value, there are more benefits to e-waste recycling, such as job and employment creation.
In addition to these economic benefits, the recycling of electronic waste products also ensures to reduce environmental pollution by conserving virgin resources, whose extraction goes along with severe damages to entire ecosystems.
Situation in GCC Countries
In almost all GCC countries, there is minimal to zero legislation on e-waste, with minor differences between the respective counties. Kuwait as one of the biggest per capita e-waste producers among the GCC nations uses the same landfills for both conventional and e-waste. Bahrain operates only one landfill for the entire country, but there are several recycling initiatives in place, aiming at separating plastics, metals and paper. Still, there is no comprehensive law on e-waste management. Saudi Arabia possesses the biggest total amount of e-waste among the GCC countries. There are private companies, initiatives and Non-Profit-Organizations currently working on e-waste recycling, but there is no regulated system in place.
Oman does not have regulations or facilities to deal with e-waste, but the country has recently stated the realization of a need for it. Qatar has also recognized the need to address the waste management issue, but no concrete actions have been taken. The most advanced momentum regarding e-waste of all GCC countries can be found in the UAE. In some waste management centers, there are facilities where e-waste is classified and sorted out specifically. The UAE government is currently developing regulation and facilities to for sound e-waste recycling.
The Way Forward
As we have seen, in many GCC countries the need for e-waste legislation is widely recognized. E-waste management provides an opportunity and a huge potential in the entire Middle East, primarily due to four reasons.
First, e-waste management is a source of employment for both highly skilled and unskilled workers. This could help to transfer employment from the public to the private sector, which is a goal of many Gulf countries. Second, e-waste recycling can also minimize costs, as less landfill space is being used. In Bahrain, the only existing landfill is expected to reach its capacity in the next years, and poses furthermore a health risks for the population as it is close to urban areas.
The most advanced momentum regarding e-waste in the GCC can be found in the UAE.
Third, the intrinsic value of e-waste with its precious metals provide economic incentive for recycling. As reserves for many metals decrease drastically, the economic value of these resources is expected to increase. And fourth, developments in e-waste management provide opportunities for industry and environmental research. Innovative and efficient recycling processes could be developed and transferred to other countries.
In order to fulfill this potential for e-waste management in GCC countries, the first step is to develop a sound regulatory framework in order to ensure private sector participation. Additionally, programs to increase public awareness for waste and in specific e-waste need to be developed, which is necessary for an integrated e-waste management system.
Kusch, S. & Hills, C.D. (2017). The Link between e-Waste and GDP—New Insights from Data from the Pan-European Region. Resources 6 (15); doi:10.3390/resources6020015
Baldé, C.P., Wang, F., Kuehr, R. & Huisman, J. (2015). The global e-waste monitor – 2014. United Nations University, IAS – SCYCLE. Bonn, Germany
Cucchiella, F., D’Adamo, I., Lenny Koh, S.C. & Rosa, P. (2015). Recycling of WEEEs: An economic assessment of present and future e-waste streams. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews (51); doi:10.1016/j.rser.2015.06.010
Alghazo, J. & Ouda, O. (2016). Electronic Waste Management and security in GCC Countries: A Growing Challenge. Conference Paper.
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