Is Qatar Environmentally Aware?

Pollution, recycling, emissions – they are all environmental buzzwords for our conscience. Kamahl Santamaria considers if those words are really being turned into action in Qatar.

I remember being told years ago about the ‘paperless office’: how in the future everything would be electronically delivered, streamlined, and environmentally friendly wrapped in the bargain.
Well, the future is here, but are we not still waiting to see that? Admittedly I work in a newsroom, which is inherently about ‘the printed word’, but there is an enormous amount of paper used – something I can only imagine is replicated in offices right across Doha.
Recycling all that paper waste is something that urgently needs attention as the population here continues to grow. Of course it is not just paper. Glass, plastics and even organic waste – it is all being produced and consumed at an alarming rate, and then being simply dumped in a wheelie-bin or rubbish skip along with everything else.
Recycling is not part of the culture here, and perhaps that is a product of – as in so many cases – Qatar being a young, fast-developing country. But maybe it is time for a real push to get people into the habit of not simply throwing away.
An effort has definitely been made in public places. Look at any of Doha’s major parks and you will find separate bins for plastics and paper, which is exactly the right start.
On a policy level, the Qatar National Development Strategy 2011-16 wants a solid waste management plan established by 2016, with recycling to form a major part of that. The aim, and it is ambitious, is to be recycling 38 percent of Qatar’s total solid waste by 2016. Right now, it is only at eight percent.
A big focus will be the construction industry, where an astonishing 20,000 tons of waste is created every day. A lot of that is so-called demolition waste as places like Musheireb are bulldozed to make way for new developments. The Ministry of Environment has made this a big part of its new standards and specifications for recycling, claiming up to 50 percent of solid waste generated in Qatar can be effectively recycled.
But as ever it is about words, not actions. Already some enterprising businesses in Qatar have taken the initiative, and credit must go to them.
Like the Al Suwaidi Paper Factory, which for years has been the only option for paper recycling. A resourceful business based in the Industrial Area, Al Suwaidi collects paper waste from some of Doha’s most high-profile workplaces – places such as the British Embassy, Qatar University and the Qatar Financial Centre (QFC) – and recycles it themselves for use in heavy packing paper and boxes. It is not an official programme and it is only a small portion of what could be achieved, but at least they are doing something proactive and visible.
Credit too goes to the QFC, which built its own on-site recycling collection unit. These types of investments are good for business here. You could look at it as simply window-dressing, or being seen to be doing the right thing – but given the low-penetration of such programmes in Qatar right now, it literally does make a difference.
Also, it starts putting the right culture in place for the next generation of locals and expats who will enter the work place.
But there is personal responsibility too, and this is where the government would do well to explore a proper home recycling programme. It is commonplace now in major cities for homes to be provided with separate bins for separate waste products, and Qatar needs that, too.
According to the United Nations Environment Programme, Qatar’s annual waste generation rate is 430 kilograms per person; one of the highest per-capita rates in the world. And that should not come as a surprise – just think about how many plastic bottles of drinking water you go through in a week at home.
The vision is clearly in place for Qatar to start reusing more of what it consumes, but the success of such a vision is almost entirely down to the people, and their desire to recycle. That will be the real challenge.

Kamahl Santamaria is a Doha-based news anchor with Al Jazeera English and host of the channel’s business and economics programme Counting the Cost.

This article first appeared in TheEDGE 4.5, May 2012.


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