What a load of rubbish!
That plastic water bottle you tossed away on the beach, that cigarette butt you chucked out of the car window, that leaflet you scrunched up and dropped in the street – what happens to all the rubbish you carelessly throw away? JustHere gives you the lowdown on the waste cycle in Qatar.
Qatar produces more than 2.5 million tonnes of ‘municipal solid waste’ (MSW, or garbage) every year. Given the size of the country, that’s a worrying figure. The Ministry of Environment (MoE) says the average person in Qatar generates around 1.6 kg of domestic waste each day.If waste is simply dumped or buried in the ground as landfill, it causes long-term damage to the environment. But a lot of it is actually useful material that could be recycled, saving energy, or at least safely burned and used to produce energy directly. Both these approaches are now gaining ground in Qatar.
It was to curb the growing menace of solid waste generation that the government set up the integrated Domestic Solid Waste Management Centre (DSWMC) in Mesaieed that began operations in 2011. “This is the only centre in the region that utilises technology to convert waste into energy,” says Eng. Mansoor Saleh Bu Mattar Al Muhannadi, Manager of the Waste Treatment Centre at the MoE. “The centre also uses state-of-the-art technology to separate domestic waste into plastic, steel, paper and aluminium and other components.”
However Mark Sutcliffe, Project Officer with the Natural Science Section of UNESCO Doha, doesn’t think mechanical segregation is a very efficient way to treat waste. “When you mechanically segregate waste that has been compacted and compressed with other waste, you get dirty aluminium, paper or plastic. It would cost money for recycling companies to clean them.
“The waste management centre is, however, a step up from putting everything in a landfill. The government could demand that people segregate their waste from home, but then they would end up with such a huge load that they wouldn’t know what to do with it. Nevertheless, having a waste management facility saves energy, reduces the total input into landfill and also lets them see what makes up the municipal waste.”
Currently, Qatar recycles only 8% of the 7,000 tonnes of waste generated every day but it is stepping up its efforts, and under the National Development Strategy 2011-2016 it aims to increase the recycling rate to 38% by 2016.
Engineer Mansoor says there are plans to pass a law soon forcing people to recycle at source. While that will take some time, the MoE has already brought in private waste management companies to facilitate the separation of domestic waste. One such company, Al Haya Waste Management & Projects Company WLL, has been providing services in the field of waste management and reutilisation of waste since 2003. Their colour-coded bins can be found in many corporate offices such as Qatar Foundation, ExxonMobil and Dolphin Energy. “We also manufacture biodegradable liners that are colour-coded like the bins. The idea is to keep the waste segregated till it reaches its respective recycling centres,” says Venugopal, the company’s general manager. “Sometimes people use colour-coded bins but use the same black liners for each bin. This isn’t a good idea, because the contents might get mixed up during collection. That’s why we have manufactured these colour-coded liners as well to help identify the type of waste.”
Though they plan to sell these liners in supermarkets in the near future, Venugopal is concerned about how many people will actually buy them. “Most people have a habit of using carrier bags to throw out their rubbish,” he says.. “Why would they want to buy a trash bag?”
It’s usually big corporations that approach Al Haya for recycling bins. Very few residential complexes come forward, mainly due to the costs involved.
One bin will cost approximately QR250 – more if you want it customised with your company logo – and collections, once or twice a week, will cost a minimum of QR350-400 per trip.
“Here [in Doha] there is no recycling fund,” says Venugopal. “We cannot survive on the profits from selling recycled product. Hence we need to charge the party that is generating the waste, a price that mostly the corporate sector agrees to pay, but not residential areas. Most communities will have a contract for road maintenance and landscaping or electricity and water supply, but there is no such contract for recycling waste. That’s the problem. We would like to have our bins placed in residential spaces, we are just waiting for someone to take the initiative.”
But will they do so? “Even if people want to recycle, the question is where do we recycle?” says Mark Sutcliffe. That’s why UNESCO Doha came up with the Arab Recycling Initiative – a web-based platform that provides the public with the necessary information on how and where they can recycle. (Visit arabrecycling.com) “We want people to go to this website and help us update the database of recycling centres in Doha,” he says.
There has been talk of Qatar launching a community-wide recycling programme. The installation of recycling bins during the COP18 UN Climate Change Conference in December was part of this effort. Let’s just hope that more of these bins will be made accessible in all public areas, not just a select few.