Food for thought

Food waste is a growing concern in the Middle East

Bee'ah compost plant in Al Saj?ah for processing green and organic waste.
Bee'ah compost plant in Al Saj?ah for processing green and organic waste.

Food waste is a growing concern in the Middle East. In the UAE, the Dubai Municipality is calling for reducing waste during Ramadan. fmME looks at related initiatives in the region

Research from UK-based think tank CentreForum said food waste should be banned from landfills in the UK by the end of the decade, and used to create biogas energy instead.

On a local level, the waste management department of the Dubai Municipality has called for the reduction of waste during Ramadan, and aims to spread awareness through initiatives and education.

“We urge the public to reduce waste as much as possible, consuming less food to be healthy during Ramadan and keep the emirate clean. The department also issued a leaflet on how to reduce waste especially during Ramadan,” said Eng. Abdul Majeed Saifaie, director of the Waste Management Department.

In Qatar, the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar (SFS-Q) is set to host Qatar Foundation’s pilot program for composting in Education City.

With the purchase of the A900 Rocket, a 2m-long metal cylinder capable of handling up to 1,750 litres of food at a time, SFS-Q will be able to process up to 5,260 litres of organic waste products per week, reducing its output of material destined for Qatar’s landfills.

“We want to build awareness that it is possible to recover materials from landfills. Part of this awareness comes from composting, recycling, and reducing to begin with,” says Clare Wait, director of the facilities management department.

The proposed A900 composting unit can transform meat, fish, vegetable, garden and animal waste into rich mulch for use in growing food and other crops. This joint QF-SFS-Q composting pilot project will generate recommendations for a long-term organic waste management strategy through an official post-trial report.

Wait tells fmME the Qatar Foundation has been looking at a number of different areas of recycling initiatives. “I don’t think you should be restrictive in the types of recycling. We’ve done a lot of work on paper and cardboard. Food is another inevitable step, isn’t it?” says Wait.

Najib Faris, vice president of business development, marketing, communications & awareness at Bee’ah, says: “Large quantities of organic waste are generated by households daily. This is usually sent to landfills occupying large space, requiring disposal costs, and producing methane gas and acidic leachate upon decomposition.”

He points out composting is a solution — it is a good source of plant nutrients and is a natural alternative to using chemical fertilisers, which can cause many harmful effects.

Faris says composting is quite a common concept in the UAE, and Bee’ah aims to make it a widely accepted practice in the industry and the community.

Bee’ah took over the management of the Al Saj’ah Landfill in 2009, and established the Waste Management Centre (WMC) on site, which houses various facilities, amongst which are the Material Recovery Facility (MRF), the Middle East’s largest and the world’s third largest, as well as a compost plant.

The MRF is a specialised facility that sorts and separates recyclable materials from municipal solid waste, through mechanical and manual processes. The recyclable materials — plastic, paper and aluminum and steel cans — are baled and sold to organisations to process into new materials. The recovered organic waste is taken to the compost plant and the remaining non-recyclable waste is deposited in the landfill.

The compost plant turns organic and vegetation waste into fertiliser and compost. Both these end-products are then processed and used for irrigation and farming, including the greening of Sharjah’s pavements and streets.

“Moreover, our awareness team with the support of the Supreme Council For Family Affairs in Sharjah, has created a project called ‘Garden in Every Home’ which aims to teach families about sustainable living, the basis of composting and growing their own fruits and vegetables at home,” adds Faris.

Faris continues: “Education is definitely the best way to increase awareness in our community. By teaching our society, including food producers, hotels, restaurants and even households, the benefits of composting their excess organic waste and by motivating them, and showing them how easy it is, not only will we reduce the amount of this waste going to landfill, but also provide them the means to grown their own food too.”

Wait agrees and adds to this: “How do we increase awareness? This is how we do it. By coming up with these initiatives and implementing them. That’s the best way of increasing awareness.”

The Lowdown - Food waste
Food waste/loss is food that is discarded or lost uneaten. As of 2011, 1.3 billion tonnes of food, about one-third of the global production, is lost or wasted annually. In low-income countries, most loss occurs during production, while in developed countries, about 100 kgs (220 lb) per person and year, is wasted at the consumption stage.

Not only does this have huge economic impacts, it also has an immediate environmental effect. When food is disposed in a landfill it quickly rots and becomes a significant source of methane — a potent greenhouse gas with 21 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide.

Landfills are a major source of human-related methane in the US, accounting for more than 20% of all methane emissions. The benefits of recycled food waste (compost) are: improving soil health & structure; increasing drought resistance; reducing the need for supplemental water, fertilisers & pesticides.

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