Garbage. It’s not a word that brings fun thoughts to mind, is it? You don’t need to smell or even see garbage to know how you really feel about it. The very mention of the word is sometimes enough to make you involuntarily shudder and recoil in disgust as your mind begins to play pictures of the unsightly, reeking refuse that makes us want to do nothing but get away from it as quickly as we can.
At this point, I am, of course, tempted to quote the great Ross Geller (sorry, Doctor Ross Geller) from “Friends.” Ross is describing to Joey Tribbiani the state of a house he’s just been to.
“You know how you come home at the end of the day and throw your jacket on a chair?” he asks, before answering his own question. “Well, instead of a jacket, it’s a pile of garbage. And instead of a chair, it’s a pile of garbage. And instead of the end of the day, it’s the end of time and garbage is all that has survived.”
Ross Geller may be a tad melodramatic, but his description of garbage is nothing to be sniffed at. Across the world, countries, private organisations and even groups of people are coming together to address what is clearly a growing problem.
Of course, swapping out products such as plastic and Styrofoam plates and cups for those made from paper will go some way to tackling the problem, but solutions need to be far more drastic than that. What, for example, do countries do with the thousands of tonnes of garbage that’s already piled up in landfills across the nation?
How long before these landfills, and by extension, nature itself, cannot take any more? That’s a day I’m sure none of us want to see, and it’s not a day we should make our children see either. Concrete, strict action to not just stop, but reverse the ever-increasing flow of garbage is needed, before things spiral out of control. Fortunately, Oman and other countries across the world are waking up to this threat and are putting a lid on things before it’s too late.
Government bodies in Oman such as be’eah (Oman Environment Services Holding Company) are devising ways to convert biological waste into biogas to power homes and factories, as well as transform it into fertiliser and compost that can be used to help provide further nutrients to crops that are grown in the country.
Those of you who aren’t familiar with Omani agriculture, are of course loath to ask about the kind of crops the country grows in its primarily desert climate, but the truth is that plenty of produce, including rock melon, watermelon and chard all thrive in the Sultanate. In addition, papayas, sugarcane, bananas and coconuts are all cultivated in the southern governorate of Dhofar, which receives plenty of rainfall every year. Agriculture is also one of the primary areas targeted for economic expansion under the Tanfeedh programme, and the nutrient-rich compost that will be fed into fields is sure to help crops grow.
Plans have been drawn up for be’ah to set up 10 biogas plants that will take biological waste and convert it to biogas and fertilisers. A pilot project was launched by be’ah in Barka, which has one of the Sultanate’s biggest landfills.
An official from be’ah told T Weekly, “Organic waste of all kinds can be reused in the production of biogas, which varies according to its source. These sources include food waste from homes, fruits, and vegetables from market waste, as well as the remnants of municipal slaughterhouses and fish markets.”
“In addition, residue from farms of all kinds, such as livestock, crops, and poultry, is also another source of organic waste,” he said. “The aim of the biogas plants is to be used to produce electricity. However, biogas has many uses, such as the creation of biofuel in vehicles, or using its heat energy in heating and cooling industrial areas. It can also be used domestically as cooking gas.”
Waste received at the landfill includes plant matter, waste from slaughterhouses and vegetable markets, as well as waste from food processing industries and restaurants.
The Barka landfill receives about 2,100 tonnes of municipal solid waste every day, of which about 600 tonnes are biowaste. Discarded food accounts for about 30 per cent of this, as does green waste. Slaughterhouse waste makes up a further 10 per cent, while five per cent each come from animal manure and poultry. Fish waste and wastewater sludge account for another 10 per cent, while animal carcasses form another 10 per cent of the refuse.
The landfill receives about 180 tonnes of food waste a day. While 60 tonnes come from hotels, restaurants and hypermarkets, another 120 tonnes come from food processing industries. On average, the Mawaleh Fruit and Vegetables Central Market contributes another 50 to 70 tonnes of food waste, which jumps to about 100 to 200 tonnes in the summer.
While there will be an initial amount of investment into these biogas plants, they will help in the long run. Maintaining each landfill in Oman costs between four and eight million Omani Rials, a sum that is going to be hard to commit to in the long-term, notwithstanding the other environmental problems that occur due to the gases emitted and pollution caused by the matter in these landfill sites.
Presenting an opportunity for rural electrification, the biogas plants are expected to be set up near the source of biowaste generation, or near the landfills. Stage two of this programme will see three or more projects which will generate between 0.5 to one Megawatt per plant. Composting plants are also to be set up across the country, with the largest of them to be set up in the Dhofar and Batinah governorates, since most of the country’s crops are grown there. Smaller plants will be set up in the Dhahirah, Dakhiliyah and Sharqiyah governorates.
As early as September last year, be’ah had put out tenders for the construction of the first biogas plant, which is to be situated in Barka. A statement from Global Tenders, the organisation that put out this tender for investors around the world to pick up on behalf of be’ah, said, “The proposed 50 MW plant is planned to be developed at Barka, where one of Oman’s largest landfills for municipal waste is located. As a first step, the sector regulator is preparing to commission a feasibility study for the development of the Sultanates first-ever commercial-scale biogas plant. Be’ah sees significant opportunity for investment in biogas and related biofuel and composting projects that capitalise on the prodigious amounts of bio-waste being generated regularly from households, commercial establishments, abattoirs and livestock farms operating around the country.
They added: “When blended with waste biomass from farms, the recycling potential of bio-waste is seen as hugely promising. The huge quantities of bio-waste being generated around the Sultanate can feed as many as 10 biogas plants suitable for producing either electricity for local communities or thermal heat for industry. Alternatively, the bio-waste can also be processed to produce biofuel such as bio diesel or simply converted into compost for agriculture. In collaboration with Oman Power and Water Procurement Company (OPWP), the sole procurer of new electricity generation and water desalination capacity, be’ah is weighing the potential to develop a waste-to-energy project that will utilise municipal waste for power generation.”
But it’s not just be’ah that is focusing on large-scale recycling. While organic waste will get converted into biomass, much of the non-organic waste we throw away will continue to accumulate if not checked. Plastic is one of the most common forms of non-biodegradable garbage that ends up in dustbins and landfills. Given its extremely slow rate of degradation and the harm it causes to the environment, it is vital that the plastic we throw out is recycled.
Doing so means that not only is there a reduction of plastic in the environment, but also that there is less fresh plastic produced, thereby further decreasing the pollution and reducing the amount of raw materials involved in the process. Omani company Plasbin have begun a plastic recycling campaign involving empty water bottles. Called the OneBottle recycling initiative, the programme encourages people to stop polluting the environment, one bottle at a time. The programme began in May 2019 and will initially run for a period of six months.
OneBottle is a Plasbin campaign initiative to help clear the more than 16 million plastic bottles disposed of in Oman every day. It calls upon people to take only one simple action ... to recycle at least one bottle, and that’s enough to make all the difference to our environment. Based on the success of this initial pilot programme, the initiative will then be rolled out across the country.
“They say a journey of one thousand miles starts with one step,” said the company. “Do you believe this? Of course; it takes ONE step at a time to arrive at a destination of a thousand miles. If you so believe, then it’s time we looked at our environmental pollution from the same perspective. Therefore, it is undeniable fact to say the plastic pollution to our environment stops with recycling one bottle at a time.
“The OneBottle recycling campaign asks each and every one of us in Oman to make the pledge to recycle at least one plastic bottle every day. Sooner or later, we will together reverse one million; one billion, one trillion bottles, until it becomes second nature, or in other words, our lifestyle. We shall progressively distribute special-purpose Plasbin Recycling Stations (PRSs) at convenient drop-off points across Muscat, primarily at schools, colleges, mosques, churches and shopping centres, among others. All you need to do is drop your plastic into the PRS near you, and we will do the rest.”
The OneBottle PRS units are purpose-designed for this campaign. Each unit has a capacity of 8,300 litres in volume. There will be an initial deployment of 350 PRSs within Muscat Governorate as a trial before expanding to other regions in Oman. Given the lightweight properties of plastic bottles, Plasbin estimates a collection of between 15 and 25kg of plastic from each PRS collection, which however is still a very small portion of the total plastic volume disposed of in Muscat each day. The volume is expected to progressively increase as awareness spreads.
“As a social responsibility, corporate organisations may partner with us through the installation of PRSs within their neighbouring communities,” said the company. “Individuals, student committees in colleges or universities may also volunteer to mobilise communities to recycle plastic within their institutions or neighbourhood. We have developed an app from which our Plasbin team shall record collection data on the spot after each collection. They will show all the details including specifics from each PRS location. This information will be vital to organisations or individuals sponsoring some of the OneBottle programmes.”
Plastics and organic waste aside, metals make up another major pollutant to the environment. Lead, which is the main component of car batteries, is unfortunately especially poisonous. Couple that with the highly corrosive battery acid that leaks into the soil and the water when batteries are carelessly flung aside instead of being properly disposed of, and you certainly have a concern on your hands.
Given that the disposal of batteries is a specialised skill, there may not be many people who know about what to do when they need to safely throw them away. Companies in Oman however have set up ways for you to contact their teams to get information on how to deal with old car batteries. The Arab Lead Company is one of the few in Oman that does specify the safe disposal of these batteries. In addition, they also strip down the batteries so that their constituent parts can be recycled and reused.
“We are the Arab Lead Company and specialise in recycling acid lead batteries,” said Ali Barakat. “We are the only factory in Oman that specialises in recycling these batteries and are supported by the Oman Environmental Services Holding Company (be’ah) and have received our permits from the Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs.
“We separate the battery into three products: lead, lead paste, and plastics,” he added. “We sell the lead to licensed companies, mostly in Oman, Pakistan and India. The reason why our work is better than alternatives is because the lead is poisonous. It also retains its dangerous properties for a long time. If someone pours the acid on the ground, it contaminates the area and any plants that grow there, as well as animals that eat these plants. With our work, we treat all parts of the battery and even the acid itself, which provides water that is safe for agricultural uses, and more of the acid can be treated to then be used in our production process. We work with all kinds of lead acid batteries, from car batteries to those used in generators.”
From an environmental perspective, stripping down a battery helps in reusing all of its parts after recycling, helps enhance the circular nature of the economy, helps decrease waste found in landfills, protects non-renewable natural resources and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Economically, it helps extend the lifetime of natural resources, reduces dependency on imports, increases national income, helps strengthen Oman’s private sector and creates new job opportunities for SMEs.
While companies have set up plans to tackle garbage and help in its recycling, real change comes from spreading awareness on recycling among people. A long-term resident in Oman, Swaetha Pankaj is an avid recycling enthusiast who for years now has successfully reduced the amount of garbage generated by not just her, but those living in her neighbourhood as well.
“I have stopped using plastic and have cut down my plastic consumption by 80 percent. We have stopped using polythene bags completely. We use cloth bags instead. I take my bags with me. I have also bought reusable mesh bags online. They are transparent and are commonly used as fridge bags for vegetables. It is said that the environmentally friendly bags available in the big stores – the white transparent bags – are fully decomposable so I use them as garbage bags. We have a recycling facility in our complex with systems for plastic, metals and glass. We collect this every week, and then Plasbin comes and collects this from us.
“The big advantage here is that every bit of plastic is taken. We recycle whatever we can, and the whole residential complex is involved. 70 percent of the people in our complex are trying to avoid using plastics. We also organise poster-making competitions and roadshows for the children to be more aware of the harmful effects of garbage, and once the children pick up this habit, then their parents see them do this and follow it themselves. We are trying to generate more ideas, for example, asking supermarkets not to deliver goods in plastic bags when they come to our complex.”
Swaetha said that plastic often caused pollution in the oceans and through landfills, with people sometimes not understanding where this plastic went and how it was disposed of. Her awareness initiatives often caught the attention of children, and on seeing their children take part in such activities, their parents became more involved as well.
“They are being taught this in school as well, so when you create this sort of atmosphere, that is when these habits will develop,” she said. “There are around 400 houses in this complex, so we have about 300 of them consciously following this. There are many residential complexes that now approach us and ask us how we’ve set up this recycling campaign. There are many small things you can do. For example, don’t use plastic plates and cutlery, use steel or ceramic cutlery instead. Even if we are able to create change in 10 houses today, it means that word will spread and tomorrow, you could spread this positive change to 50 houses.”
Another residential area that is actively pursuing practices to clean up trash and recycle it is Al Mouj. The community’s management team recently signed the entire area up for the Garbage Cubes initiative, where ocean waste is compressed in 10 sq.cm cubes, that are then held together with resin. These cubes can be used for artistic and other projects, which are then displayed to raise awareness or sold to raise funds for ecological causes. Al Mouj Muscat got the local community involved by asking residents to collect and document ocean waste.
According to Nasser bin Masoud Al Sheibani, CEO of Al Mouj Muscat, the adoption of eco-friendly practices is a key pillar in their strategy to build a cost-effective, sustainable community and become a world-class tourist destination. He explained, “Our considerable efforts to conserve the biodiversity in our residential developments, golf course and marina have helped garner international attention and interest from the tourism sector and are also in line with Oman’s own sustainability strategic direction.”
While government companies, private organisations and people themselves are all contributing to reducing the amount of trash generated, hotels too are following suit. Visit the Grand Hyatt in downtown Qurum for example, and you’d be hard pressed to find a plastic straw. The move was made in July 2018, and incorporates all of the hotel’s properties, which are in excess of 700 and spread over 50 countries across the world.
“At Hyatt, we care for people so they can be their best, and this care extends to our communities and to preserving resources for future generations. Eliminating plastic straws and drink picks builds on the environmental sustainability programmes we have in place and further drives our global efforts to reduce environmental impact,” said Frank Lavey, senior vice president, global operations for Hyatt.
In addition, the Al Baleed Resort Salalah by Anantara has also done away with all plastic bottles at the luxury resort. “Salalah is known for its natural beauty, which we are fortunate to be able to share with our guests from around the world,” said James Hewitson, General Manager, Al Baleed Resort Salalah by Anantara.
“As the first resort to implement this type of initiative in Salalah, we’re proud of our achievement and we hope it inspires the local community to also find ways to reduce environmental impact,” said Hewitson.
The resort also plans on implementing bamboo drink stirrers produced in a small farming village in Laos. By switching to bamboo stirrers, the resort is not only further helping to reduce plastic waste but also providing a new source of income for the people in the village.– [email protected]