Opinion: Industrial waste management in the GCC

Understanding regulatory requirements for industrial waste management across the GCC is very important and manufacturers are encouraged to fully understand the regulations that apply to them, comments Dr Abdulwahab Al-Sadoun, secretary general of GPCA.

Dr Abdulwahab Al-Sadoun is the secretary general of the Gulf Petrochemicals and Chemicals Association (GPCA).
Dr Abdulwahab Al-Sadoun is the secretary general of the Gulf Petrochemicals and Chemicals Association (GPCA).

Understanding regulatory requirements for industrial waste management across the GCC is very important and manufacturers are encouraged to fully understand the regulations that apply to them, comments Dr Abdulwahab Al-Sadoun, secretary general of GPCA.

There is increasing recognition by both society in general and industry in specific that waste generators need to take full responsibility for the effective and safe management of their waste. Effective waste management can be challenging in developing regions, such as the GCC, where regulatory frameworks and supporting infrastructure may not be well established. Sharing best practices is always important and can help our chemical manufacturing companies identify new improvement opportunities.

The target is to achieve zero waste which aligns with the principles of the circular economy. In Europe and increasingly in the Arabian Gulf, the circular economy is gaining traction as both industry and consumers are encouraged to break away from the existing ‘take, make, dispose’ model and move towards ‘reuse, repair, remanufacture and recycle’. This so called ‘cradle-to-cradle’ approach envisions the elimination of waste throughout the value chain and increasing the circularity of products.

However, not all companies are at the same point in the development and implementation of their waste management plans. Newer facilities may have used current design strategies to reduce their waste inventory, while older facilities may be faced with the challenge of retrofitting plant features to meet prevailing environmental regulations, which may not be technically, or economically feasible, making disposal the only viable option. Waste generation is an important consideration during the design of a new and major expansion, or minor modification of manufacturing facilities. It is essential to take the opportunity to identify waste streams early in the project development as this enables methods of elimination, reduction, or modification to be identified and built into the initial design.

From a design perspective, there is clearly more to gain with a greenfield facility than an existing facility that may require retrofitting. The design phase should determine as much as possible the expected ‘design’ composition, characteristics and quantity of all expected waste streams as that information will be useful in evaluating how best to handle them from a waste management standpoint.

The development of a waste management strategy for an existing facility is more challenging because it is already operational and many design options for reducing, eliminating, or reusing a waste stream are no longer economically viable, or even technically possible. However, the waste streams should still be evaluated to assess the potential for implementing cost effective modifications wherever possible. The starting point for retrofitting existing facilities is that all waste streams need to be identified, quantified and analysed to determine the quantities, composition and characteristics.

Establishing a waste management policy, is an important first step as it aligns the organisation on a clear objective and purpose. It is also important to gain detailed knowledge of the existing local waste management and treatment infrastructure and what, if any, future facilities, or developments are planned. These factors may have a significant influence on the design basis of a new facility and accordingly will play a major role in minimising the waste inventory from the outset.

In the spirit of Responsible Care, the industry should ensure that waste management, or waste recycling companies are licensed to operate and have the necessary and appropriate facilities and technologies to undertake the waste disposal, or recycling process in a safe and compliant manner. Waste reduction can be achieved by actively assessing the capability for reusing, or recycling each waste material.

The objective is to either eliminate the waste altogether, minimise the volume of waste generated through in-process means, or reduce the environmental impact by using some form of in-process treatment. However, it is recommended that this be an ongoing effort to explore the benefits of new technologies. Having maximised waste reduction through smart design, most facilities will be left with a residual waste inventory to manage. Further reductions may be more challenging to achieve the ‘law of diminishing returns’. They should remain the primary objective. Facilities that maximised waste reduction by design may ‘hit a plateau’ in their ability to reduce inventory further and, in some instances, may even increase due to production expansion activities. It is recognised that some waste generation rates are directly related to production rates. If production increases, so would waste generation.

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