Kuwaiti eco-activists show how to win the war on waste

Omniya set up the first PET recycling plant in Kuwait. (Supplied)
Updated 16 June 2019
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Kuwaiti eco-activists show how to win the war on waste

  • Country's first PET bottle recycling project set up by Sanaa Al-Qamlaas, Farah Shabaan and Soad Al-Fozan
  • Today Omniya is a familiar name in Kuwait and the passion is still strong

KUWAIT CITY:  Kuwait has been facing serious challenges in managing its solid waste for some time now.

The dumping of non-biodegradable materials such as plastic into landfills and the subsequent migration of leachate, causing groundwater contamination, has also been equally worrying.

Sanaa Al-Qamlaas, a witness to the unethical dumping of all kinds of waste materials into these sites, said she first felt the need for a change in the management of waste in Kuwait several years ago.

“I often visited landfills and it was hard for me not to tear up watching them,” she said. “I decided that we had to stop at least plastic from going into these landfills as it had a major negative impact on the environment.”

Al-Qamlaas got together with her best friend, Farah Shabaan, and her nephew, Soad Al-Fozan, and soon Kuwait’s first polyethylene terephthalate (PET — plastic) bottle recycling project, Omniya, was born.

Starting in August 2015, the trio initially focused on the collection and recycling of PET bottles as “there were massive quantities of these bottles in the landfills and these were ignored even by the scavengers as they were light-weight,” said Al-Qamlaas.

There were massive quantities of these bottles in the landfills that were ignored by the scavengers.

Sanaa Al-Qamlaas

With a 1,000 dinar ($3,300) budget in hand and no plan for the road ahead, Al-Qamlaas and Shabaan decided one weekend to simply send WhatsApp messages to the people on their contacts list, asking them to segregate their plastics and to drop them in cardboard containers that would be provided at their homes.

Once done, the two friends went to each home to pick up the collected plastic.

“We just sent the message to our friends, but we were in for a surprise when the former minister of social affairs, Hind Al-Sabeeh, contacted us asking us what we were up to. It was a positive indicator of how powerful social media can be,” remembers Al Qamlaas.

The ex-minister encouraged them and told them to get a certification for their initiative.

Omniya’s message was also noticed on Instagram by the chairman and director general of the Environment Public Authority (EPA), Sheikh Abdullah Al-Ahmad Al-Humoud Al-Sabah, who instructed his team to assist the women in their new project.

Omniya started getting calls from residents asking them for containers for their own bottles.

“We went to each home, spoke to everybody, taught them how to crush the plastic bottles, how to segregate plastic; once the bags were full, we took them back in our cars.”

Initially Al-Qamlaas and Shabaan were challenged by the rubbish that users put in with the plastic.

“Our cars stank and our homes too, but all that changed once people knew what to segregate,” said Al-Qamlaas.

They visited 4,500 homes in the first year, going back and forth picking up bottles, followed by visits to around 100 schools to spread awareness. They soon collected enough bottles to get on to the next step — recycling.

With partial financial help from the Kuwait National Fund, Omniya set up the country’s first PET recycling plant.

“We just started production a year ago; we are still hugely in debt as we have to pay our land rent and operate our machinery and do not have any air-conditioners in the factory. But we are producing hot-washed, high-class PET flakes, that we now sell to Ireland, Italy and Turkey — markets with niche specifications,” says Al-Qamlaas.

Realizing that they needed more support to run a factory, the team roped in the private sector for sponsorships and partnered with various organizations such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Ministry of Education as well as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Today, Omniya is a familiar name in Kuwait and the passion is still strong.

“We have just one aim — to stop plastic from going to these landfills,” Al-Qamlaas said. “The road is long and we are tired but we owe it to our country — to the next generation.”

 

This report is part of a series being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.

 

 


Sudan is heading in the right direction but much work remains, says US envoy

US is working with other governments in the region to build support for the transitional process in Sudan. (Reuters)
Updated 24 July 2019
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Sudan is heading in the right direction but much work remains, says US envoy

CHICAGO: US Special Envoy for Sudan Donald E. Booth on Tuesday said that leaders of the military government and the opposition in the African nation are moving toward a reconciliation, but added “there is a lot” that still needs to be done.
Booth, who was appointed by President Donald Trump in June, is charged with leading the US efforts to support a political solution to the current crisis that reflects the will of the Sudanese people.
Both sides in Sudan agreed a political power-sharing deal on July 17 that set out a 39-month period of transition, led by Sudan’s new “Sovereign Council,” before constitutional changes can be made. Under the agreement, a military general will lead the council for the first 21 months, a civilian for the following 18 months, and then elections will be held.
“That political declaration really addresses the structure of a transitional government and not the entire structure,” Booth said. “(The July 17 agreement) has put off the question of the legislative council. It is a document that is the beginning of a process. We welcome the agreement on that but there are still a lot of negotiations to be conducted on what the Sudanese call their constitutional declaration.”
The envoy said he expects the Sovereign Council “will have to address what the functions of the different parts of the transitional government will be,” such as the roles and powers of “the sovereign council, the prime minister, the cabinet and, ultimately, the legislative cabinet. Who will lead that transitional government is still undecided.”
The crisis in Sudan came to a head in December 2018 when President Omar Al-Bashir imposed emergency austerity measures that prompted widespread public protests.
He was overthrown by the Sudanese military in April 2018 as a result of the unrest but the protests continued. Demonstrations in Khartoum turned violent on June 3 when 150 civilians were killed, sparking nationwide protests in which nearly a million people took part.
Booth said these protests had changed the dynamics in Sudan, forcing the military to negotiate with the people.
“The 3rd of June was a signal of the limits of people power,” he said. “But then there was the 30th of June, in which close to a million people took to the streets outside of Sudan and I think that demonstrated the limits of the military power over the people.”
Some have asked whether individuals might face prosecution for past human-rights violations, including Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, better known as Gen. Hemeti, who was appointed head of the ruling transitional military council in April after Al-Bashir was removed from power. Booth said this would be a decision for the new transitional government.
“One has to recognize that General Hemeti is a powerful figure currently in Sudan,” he said. “He has considerable forces loyal to him. He has significant economic assets as well. So, he has been a prominent member of this transitional military council. But he has been one of the chief negotiators for the forces of Freedom and Change.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Both sides in Sudan agreed on a political power-sharing deal on July 17 that set out a 39-month period of transition, led by Sudan’s new ‘Sovereign Council,’ before constitutional changes can be made.

• Under the agreement, a military general will lead the council for the first 21 months, a civilian for the following 18 months, and then elections will be held.

• We will have to wait and see what type of agreement Sudanese will come up with, says US envoy.

“We will have to wait and see what type of agreement they will come up with…we don’t want to prejudge where the Sudanese will come out on that. It is their country and their decision on how they move forward. Our goal is to support the desire for a truly civilian-led transition.”
Booth noted that although sanctions on Sudan have been lifted, the designation of the nation as a state sponsor of terrorism remains in force. He also said he expects the pressures and restrictions on journalists covering Sudan’s transition to ease as progress continues toward redefining Sudan’s government.
“As you can see, there is still a lot that the Sudanese need to do,” said Booth. “But we fully support the desire of the Sudanese people to have a civilian-led transitional government that will tackle the issues of constitutional revision and organizing elections, free and fair democratic elections, at the end of the transitional period.”
He added that the US is working with other governments in the region to build support for the transitional process, including expanded religious freedoms, an end to the recruitment of children for military service, and improving Sudan’s economy.
“I think it is important we give the Sudanese space to negotiate with each other, and to continue to express our support to get to the civilian-led transition government that will be broadly supported by the Sudanese people,” said Booth.