Interview: Rob Hounsome, Ramboll
Ramboll is providing waste management consultancy services to Middle East clients at governmental, commercial, industrial, and operational levels, according to Rob Hounsome
On the face of it, the practicalities of waste management seem fairly straightforward: simply collect refuse and recycle or dispose of it in the most sustainable way possible. But when one pauses to think about the dizzying number of moving components involved in this process – and the sheer scale of waste management requirements in the Middle East – the situation begins to look altogether more complicated.
Due to the breadth of the region’s waste management sector, individuals with the ability to offer a spectrum-wide perspective are few and far between – but they do exist. As regional director for infrastructure and environment at Denmark-headquartered engineering consultancy, Ramboll, Rob Hounsome is ideally placed to provide commentary – and advice – on challenges and opportunities from across the industry.
“Our team’s waste management work sits at the intersection of [infrastructure and the environment],” he explains. “We provide consultancy services to a wide range of clients, including government authorities, real estate developers, industrial organisations, and even private sector waste management firms looking to design waste-to-energy plants, or composting and recycling facilities.
“Ramboll really is unique in the sense that it works across the entire waste management spectrum.”
As one might imagine, Ramboll’s government-level consultancy activities are predominantly strategic in nature. The company is collaborating with authorities from across the Middle East to cater to their waste management requirements.
“In the GCC, we currently have projects in the UAE, we’re doing a fair bit of work in Oman, and we’re conducting a good amount of work in Saudi Arabia,” says Hounsome. “We’re also active in the wider Middle East, in markets such as Lebanon and Jordan.
“In Saudi Arabia, we’re advising the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs (MOMRA) on waste management; we’re helping individual municipalities to identify potential opportunities to enhance waste management and to consider options for the privatisation of waste disposal facilities.
“In the UAE, we’re working in the Northern Emirates offering advice on the rehabilitation of some of their older landfill sites which, as you’re probably aware, weren’t necessarily engineered as efficiently or as effectively as they [would be today].”
Public sector waste management authorities across the Middle East are looking to transition from operators to regulators, while simultaneously improving sustainability. Encouragingly, Hounsome does not see the commercial and environmental drivers of waste management as mutually exclusive.
He elaborates: “The Middle East is gradually moving away from the scenario wherein governments design, build, own, operate, and then close landfill sites. We’re moving to the point where governments would rather regulate private sector participation.
“I can understand why people might assume that if you shift from a governmental to a private sector operator, there is likely to be a lowering of environmental sustainability standards. But personally, I don’t think that’s necessarily true. It depends heavily on the selected contractors, and the quality of governmental regulations and controls. If governments have effective regulatory systems and controls in place, they can manage the environmental performance of the private sector quite efficiently. And I think that the UAE and Oman are good examples of this.”
Within the commercial and industrial segments, Ramboll is helping clients to more effectively design the waste management infrastructure of their buildings, and to maximise opportunities related to the recycling and reuse of refuse.
“We do a lot of in-building design to help clients to manage the waste that’s generated by buildings’ occupants; we want them to consider how it could be recycled, collected, stored and, ultimately, removed.
“And in terms of industrial waste, Ramboll is working with a number of entities around the region to help them better understand the value of their waste – how it might be recycled, or reused within a downstream sector. We call this the industrial ecology approach; our message is that synergies exist between one organisation’s waste, and another’s raw materials. It’s about maximising the lifecycle of a particular waste material within economically feasible bounds.”
Ramboll’s activities within the field of private sector waste management represent the final component of Hounsome’s involvement in the sector. His team is working with companies to explore commercially and environmentally advantageous ways to manage refuse, chief among which is waste-to-energy technology.
“There are significant opportunities in the waste-to-energy segment, particularly in the Middle East,” he says. “A number of these plants are undergoing feasibility studies at the moment. It’s such a strong technology, both from waste management and power generation perspectives.
“Waste-to-energy opportunities exist in [markets like] the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, Lebanon, and Jordan – all of these countries are considering the development of such facilities. And by and large, it is commercially advantageous to go down this route in the Middle East. We’re likely to see substantial growth in this field,” he adds.
Hounsome ends on an equally optimistic note, pointing out that waste management represents a growth market for Ramboll in the Middle East.
“The sector constitutes a significant portion of our revenue, and it’s growing,” he notes. “Waste management is among the most prevalent [challenges] facing the region, which means there are significant opportunities for consultancies operating within the environmental space. I can only imagine that the industry will continue to grow over the next five years or so.”