Resource management: Policies and technologies

How the correct policies could spark a waste management boom

ANALYSIS, Projects

According to a 2013 report from ICAEW Economic Insight, population growth in the Middle East is occurring much more rapidly than in the West. Between 1990 to 2010 the region grew by 52%, and in certain countries, the rate of growth has been even more pronounced. For example, the UAE’s population underwent a threefold increase within this timeframe. The average rate of global population growth during the same period was 29%, and Europe’s population grew by just 2.5%.

Such growth represents something of a double-edged sword for the Middle East. On the one hand, an ever-expanding labour force has allowed local nations to grow their economies and push ahead with some of the most ambitious construction projects ever undertaken. On the other hand, in order to cope with extra inhabitants, the region has been forced to expand its infrastructure at an unprecedented rate. As such, not every sector has had time to evolve as efficiently as it might have done otherwise.

One such sector is that of waste management. While many would point to the GCC’s burgeoning recycling industry, the region is still predominantly reliant on landfill for the disposal of its waste.

Even so, with the pace of population growth in the Middle East expected to remain higher than elsewhere in the world for the foreseeable future, the modernisation of waste management facilities represents both an important and potentially lucrative market in the region.

Potential energy

Atkins Global’s Paddy Carless explains why he believes that waste-to-energy technologies will play an important role in the region’s future.

International engineering consultancy Atkins offers a range of waste management services to clients across the Middle East. The firm’s principal waste consultant, Paddy Carless, states that he is confident that with the right policies, this region is ideally placed to take advantage of the latest waste-to-energy technologies.

“In my opinion, there is immense potential in the region for the improvement of waste management services,” he explained.

“However, a number of step changes need to take place if the Middle East is to move away from its reliance on landfill.”

Carless says that in terms of waste management, the region’s first priority should be enforcing rules that are already in place.

“Most states now have some kind of strategic direction,” he said. “It’s now a case of enforcing the policies that have already been implemented. Abu Dhabi officials have made excellent progress in this respect.”

Another priority, he says, should be the development of pricing tariffs to encourage the implementation of sustainable waste disposal technologies.

“At present, disposal to landfill is pretty cheap,” he explained. “Obviously, the introduction of greener technologies – such as waste-to-energy plants – adds to this cost. Essentially, authorities are being asked to significantly increase levels of investment within small timeframes, and of course, this is sometimes prohibitive.

“I think that it would be wise to consider measures whereby these costs are taken on in bite-sized chunks. To do this, the region needs to find ways to involve the private sector.”

Middle East countries are trying to catch up with recycling levels in Europe, but in a shorter space of time and as populations are still growing rapidly. If they are to achieve this, they need to choose the most appropriate fixed plant technologies.

“Some plants have already been built in countries such as the UAE and Qatar, and I think they will play an important role in helping authorities to reach their diversion targets,” said Carless. “What they cannot do, however, is help with recycling.”

Despite the challenges, Carless is confident that the future remains bright.

“I’d be in the wrong game if I wasn’t optimistic,” he concluded. “The regional population might still be growing, but the infrastructure is well placed to develop the necessary technologies.”

An organic process

WSP Middle East’s Hassan Ktaech highlights the importance of getting to grips with organic waste recycling technologies.

As principal consultant for waste management at WSP Middle East, Hassan Ktaech has one overarching goal: to help the Middle East deal more effectively with its organic waste.

“I have recently arrived in the UAE from Canada,” he began. “My first impressions are that whilst regulations in the Middle East are on a par with those of Europe and North America, enforcement is inconsistent.

“Numerous examples of appropriate waste management technologies can be seen across the region. However, the infrastructure that is in place isn’t necessarily equipped to deal with multiple waste streams. When such infrastructures do exist, they are frequently running at full capacity. In many cases, the facilities necessary to handle segregated streams of waste simply aren’t there.”

It is important to remember that environmentally-friendly waste disposal is a fledgling industry in the Middle East. Although authorities are consistently employing the right recycling strategies, the mass-scale roll-out of these operations is extremely difficult to achieve, according to Ktaech.

“Dubai, for example, is a relative newcomer to the recycling sector, and it is doing an excellent job,” he explained. “However, at present, its infrastructure simply cannot handle all of the segregated waste that is being generated. People are segregating at source, but in many instances these distinct streams are being fed back into the same place.

“The future, however, is looking great,” Ktaech continued. “There are a few obstacles that need to be overcome, but that’s the same as any region trying to incorporate recycling initiatives.”

Ktaech contends that an ability to effectively deal with organic wet waste will represent the most significant breakthrough for the Middle East.

“Between 60% and 70% of the general waste that we produce takes the form of organic wet waste,” he explained. “In fact, this has been my main focus since coming to the region. Facilities capable of handling compost streams aren’t always in place, so at present, I am recommending – and in some cases, implementing – a lot of onsite treatment.

“There are many technologies available that can handle this form of waste. Not only do they reduce the volume of waste going to landfill, they also offer revenue potential. It really is a no-brainer.”

But if the argument is so one-sided, and if the technologies are available, why haven’t companies and initiatives to handle organic wet waste been introduced across the region?

“That’s a good question,” Ktaech conceded. “All I can say is that investment hasn’t yet been directed to this side of the industry.”

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