GREENING THE LAND

Oman 2016 | ENVIRONMENT & UTILITIES | FOCUS: WASTE MANAGEMENT

A new solid waste management strategy is a great opportunity to boost business in the sector, and will also have a positive environmental impact.

Waste management may not be the most glamorous of industries, but its importance to the environment is widely accepted. In Oman, the environment has always been a topic of importance, and the new solid waste management strategy announced at the end of 2014 is one of the latest initiatives in the direction of improving environmentally focused infrastructure. The new drive is led by Be'ah, the Sultanate's government assigned solid waste management institution. While it will be critical for Oman from an efficiency and environmental standpoint, one of the major positives will be the commercial opportunities that will be available for foreign investors and local SMEs alike.

With over 350 solid waste disposal sites throughout Oman, some solid waste infrastructure is in place. However, the efficiency and safety of each of these sites has been widely sub standard to such an extent that many of them have needed to be closed down, and alternatives sought.

Tariq Ali Al Amri, CEO of Be'ah, explains that the fundamental development for Oman has been to create engineered landfills in order to apply proper practice, and then put in place transfer stations to facilitate the disposal procedures. Work has gradually been done in this area, with 12 engineered landfills now in place along with 25 transfer stations. This number could reach up to a maximum of 36 as the population grows.

To support this infrastructure, the new strategy has ambitious, but reachable, goals, according to Mr. Al Amri. Six major sites have already been shut down in Al Dakhiliyah, and this will continue throughout the country as the replacement infrastructure is formed. Recycling is one of the most significant priorities, as the strategy aims to divert 60% of all waste by 2020, and 80% by 2030 through recycling. The environmental impact will be notable if these are successful as Mr. Al Amri hopes that “the number of operating landfills should be reduced from 12 to roughly six around the country.”

There will also be some additional positives derived from an improved and upgraded solid waste management industry. Plans have been made to implement refuse-derived fuel (RDF) or waste-to-energy within a number of different industries. Be'ah has already held talks with Raysut Cement, the Salalah based company, to use RDF. If the project is executed, Mr. Al Amri thinks it is possible that “most of the waste in Salalah will be converted into RDF.” Not only will this have a positive impact on Salalah, which is fast becoming one of Oman's most important cities, but the energy needs of the cement industry, which has been one of the first to face higher gas prices, will be maintained.

Another area in which RDF will play a role over the next five years is the desalination industry. With around 2,000 tons of solid waste produced per day in Muscat and the surrounding areas, the idea is to desalinize 80,000 cbm of water per year using RDF. As this would account for over 30% of Oman's current water demand, which is likely to increase with the population increasing, the materialization of this project would be highly beneficial.

Foreign investment also has a great potential to grow. Be'ah has already taken steps to bring in foreign experts to contribute to the strategy, both in terms of design, construction, operation, and maintenance. Mr. Al Amri suggests that the new incineration plant would require investments of up to $1.95 million, while the waste-energy-water project in particular is deemed to need international support. As Oman's private sector does not yet have the necessary expertise, foreign companies are not only welcome but highly sought after to lead projects and provide knowledge transfer to the local industry.

According to British government statistics, the turnover of the UK waste management industry in 2014 was $14 billion, with 70,000 people employed through 3,000 companies, figures that will be very encouraging for Oman's burgeoning sector. Assuming that proper steps are taken to increase the efficiency and safety of infrastructure in Oman's solid waste management industry, the economic advantages of a revamped strategy could match the environmental benefits.