Interview
Dated: 10-04-2017

Sh. Mohammed Sulaiman Al-Harthy, Executive Vice President-Strategic Development, be'ah, Oman, talks to Swaliha Shanavas about the company’s plans and strategy that will fast track the implementation of various waste management projects in Oman, and will ultimately help meet the target of 60% diversion of municipal waste away from landfills by 2020 and 80% by 2030.

Please provide an overview of the waste management sector in Oman and current programmes to enhance the performance of the sector.

be’ah was established in 2007 as a fully government owned company, with the mandate to manage waste across the country, and with the exception of radioactive waste and wastewater all streams of waste are under our umbrella. Be’ah realised traditional waste disposal and handling methods were the main issue and the number one goal was to control the damage and ensure that there are proper disposal methods. So the company embarked on a rigorous plan to close all 380 dumpsites that are scattered across the country and replace them with the required infrastructure of 10 – 11 engineered landfills and a number of transfer stations.

be’ah had floated tenders for nine municipal waste management service contracts across the country, and has so far awarded eight tenders. The tenders were designed to facilitate partnerships with the private sector between international and local companies in the waste management sector.

As the company laying down the necessary infrastructure, the target is to divert 60% of the municipal waste away from landfills by 2020 and 80% by 2030, which will be achieved through many projects under a diversion strategy.

With regard to residential sector waste management,, be’ah plans to introduce the two-bin system across Oman, staring with Muscat. It is a challenge as it is not just a matter of placing the bins; they have to come at a reasonable cost. Therefore, the company’s targets and methods of segregation are set to be realistic.

Recovery will play a major role, including waste-to-energy, which is a concept be’ah is considering among many other projects. be’ah is building an integrated facility for hazardous waste treatment in the north of the sultanate, which should be ready by 2020 - 2021. At present be’ah has proper facilities in place to deal with 95% of the healthcare waste generated in Oman and working on the solutions for the remaining 5%.

What inspired you to enter the waste management industry?

The interesting thing here is that we are building a sector from scratch. So we are lucky and honoured to be a part of this team, and whatever we do right now, we are leaving our mark on a system that is going to last for generations to come. And you try to conserve the environment in the best possible manner for future generations. That’s the most inspiring part of what we are doing.

What are the key problems you face in effectively implementing the waste management projects? How are you addressing these issues?

There are hurdles and it is not always easy or smooth. For a new sector in the making it is normal and expected that we face different challenges, but you have to be innovative in successfully overcoming these challenges and putting the country’s interest as priority and a motive.

What are the recycling initiatives?

We are developing a system for different waste streams, be it used batteries or end-of-life vehicles (ELV) or end-of-life tyres (ELT) or construction and demolition (C&D) waste, etc. We analysed the whole supply chain and decided to provide investment opportunities to SMEs in each waste stream segment. So, there are opportunities available for SMEs to provide collection and logistical solutions. Thereon, we will have recycling for different streams and we are opening up investment opportunities for companies with experience in recycling, not only in terms of know-how and technology, but also in terms of marketing the end products, which is very important.

A facility to handle lead-acid battery is coming up soon and we have a state-of-the-art waste-to-oil treatment facility set up by a young Omani entrepreneur. We’re also floating tenders for expression of interest for end-of-life tyres. C&D waste is a huge segment – we’re looking at around 3-5 million tons per annum of C&D waste. We’ve already opened up opportunities with operational facilities now present in two governorates, and we’ll possibly have around eight to ten facilities for C&D waste across the country.

Do you think it would be easier to implement projects and introduce fee structures in Oman as compared to the UAE which has a multicultural and floating population?

We have our own set of challenges. I agree with you that UAE has a large transit population which is a challenge, and places like Salalah may have a bit of this flavour, even though it is more homogeneous. In Oman, we are working with the government to put the right systems in place. When it comes to fees and tariffs it is probably more challenging in Oman as we have different dynamics. With the current economic downturn and low oil prices, any change or introduction of new tariffs will face some resistance. So, whatever you may introduce, you have to consider the consumers’ benefits. We are focused on raising the level of service provided and maximise the value and benefits to the end users. be’ah is not the entity mandated to impose laws or tariffs. Policy making and all the tariffs are decided at the government level. However, as a service provider, we intend to run our facilities on a commercial basis. So, early 2017 we will introduce tipping fees as per waste types. Regarding healthcare waste, we are providing our services to all the hospitals on commercial basis and fees are set based on the quantities and volumes treated.

be’ah proposed to the government the introduction of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) system, which I think will be implemented in 2017. We have started with lead-acid batteries and tyres for the time being and we’ll develop a similar system for electronic waste, etc. For C&D waste we have a system whereby the municipalities charge the builders a nominal fee in the form of a deposit. Going forward, it will be considered as a recycling fee for C&D waste treatment.

What are your plans regarding waste-to-energy projects?

Waste-to-energy (WtE) will provide instant results, but we have done various studies and found that many tools are not available to make it viable. In WtE, the revenue comes from three different streams: the recyclables, which form a very small portion; selling energy, etc., which generates the largest chunk of the revenue; while the remaining revenue comes from gate fees. But we don’t think we are ready to pay a high fee at present.

Therefore, we had looked at some innovative options, and following feasibility studies are planning to build a WtE plant to power and run desalination plants. Once complete, this facility would be able to provide sufficient energy to the proposed desalination plant. It is vital that you run the two plants next to each other. We have finalised the studies for the first plant to treat 2,100 tonnes of waste per day (about 40% of the waste generated in Oman), which will give us about 120 million m3 of water. So, right away 40% diversion rate will be achieved from a single plant. We are also studying the option of having smaller plants across the country and exploring a waste-to-steam option for the oil & gas sector. But the challenge is the transportation of waste to remote areas and we need to find the right solution.

What are your key objectives for the coming years and the changes one can expect to see in the sector in the near future?

There are many things. Since I joined be’ah three years back, we’ve been travelling to various countries, looking at different models, networking with others and also learning from their experiences. Our technical visits were extremely important to see what worked in other places, but need not necessarily work in Oman. It is always good to share experiences and also learn from them. Oman is probably one of the leading countries when it comes to waste management. We would like to tell others what we have done to reach where we are today, and where we will be five years down the road.

The challenge is that we need to ensure that we have a proper legal framework in place. We are now working with the Ministry of Environment & Climate Affairs to put proper regulations and legislation in place. In 2017 we will have the draft legislation. Then we need to regulate the unorganised sector. The idea is to bring them into the system to raise the standards rather than pushing them out of the system.

What do you love most about your job, and what is the most challenging aspect?

The fact that you are building a new sector brings many challenges. It is not a routine job by any means. Every day is a new challenge and you are there finding creative solutions. Building a new sector is not easy and if you look at different departments within be’ah, we are dealing with people /companies from different parts of the globe. So it is very interesting and challenging work and it keeps us busy. I couldn’t ask for more!