Managing rising levels of solid waste in Qatar

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A by-product of rapid economic growth, the volume of solid waste generated by Qatar has been increasing steadily in recent years. While the government is looking to reduce this output by encouraging waste minimisation and recycling efforts, investments in additional processing facilities will likely be necessary.

Some 871,000 tonnes of domestic waste were produced in 2012, up 7% from 2011, according to data issued in May by the Ministry of Environment. The government has forecast that GDP expansion will slow to 5.3% this year, but growth in the population, which rose by 7.6% in 2012, is likely to put additional pressure on waste disposal facilities.

Doha’s main waste processing plant, the Domestic Solid Waste Management Centre (DSWMC), is working at full capacity, dealing with 2300 tonnes of solid domestic and commercial refuse a day, according to Geoffrey Piggott, the regional manager for Keppel Seghers, the international waste management and engineering firm that designed, constructed and now operates the facility. When the $550m plant, located at Mesaieed, first came on-line in 2011, it was meant to have a capacity sufficient for the next eight years to meet Qatar’s growing waste management needs, putting an end to the use of landfill sites for domestic waste disposal.

While much of the waste processed at the DSWMC is utilised for secondary purposes – organic material is composted, plastics and metals recycled and other material incinerated, with the heat generated used to produce electricity – the simple fact is that Qatar is now producing more raw waste than envisaged and that can be handled.

Piggott told OBG that the growing population, increased commercial activity and lifestyle issues are all contributing factors.

“Qatar’s per capita waste generation rate is the one of the highest in the Gulf due to its affluent lifestyle, a lack of packaging laws and limited awareness when it comes to waste management including minimisation and recycling,” he said.

Though the landfill option is again being utilised to dispose of excess domestic waste, this is not seen as an environmentally sustainable long-term solution, given the limited available land for this purpose. Rather, discussions are under way to expand the processing capacity of the DSWMC. Another possibility would be to develop a second processing facility elsewhere, but with all of the basic infrastructure already in place at the DSWMC to allow for an expansion, this would likely be a more costly solution.

In the longer term, the government’s efforts to boost the promotion of minimisation, recycling and reinforce environmental education will also help. Qatar’s National Development Strategy 2011-16 sets out the objective of having 38% of solid waste recycled, a major step up from the 8% figure attained prior to the opening of the DSWMC.

It is not just domestic waste that is proving a challenge; waste from the construction and industrial sectors is also proving a problem to urban planners. Estimates put the amount of waste generated by the two sectors at up to 5000 tonnes per day, and while some of this material is recycled, much is not, with a large part of this output dumped at a landfill site at Rawdet Rashed, according to the Ministry of Environment.

The levels of construction waste are set to increase further as the state steps up its building programme as part of the Qatar National Vision 2030 infrastructure development plan and ahead of hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The rate at which industrial waste will be produced is also likely to rise in the coming years, as the state looks to diversify the economy by developing its industrial base.

Though the increased level of waste is a problem on the one hand, on the other it can present business opportunities, with a number of small and medium-sized enterprises now involved in removal and recycling. The main area of operations for such firms is in the commercial sector, with paper and metal collection services showing potential. Openings for small- to medium-scale disposal and recycling services are expected to expand as the government works to increase awareness of the benefits of sound waste management practices.

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