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

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.



Israel demolishes Palestinian homes in Jerusalem area

Smoke rises from a Palestinian building after it was blown up by Israeli forces in the village of Sur Baher which sits on either side of the Israeli barrier in East Jerusalem and the Israeli-occupied West Bank July 22, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 23 July 2019

Israel demolishes Palestinian homes in Jerusalem area

  • Dozens of Israeli police and military began sealing off at least four multi-story buildings in the Sur Baher area south of Jerusalem early Monday
  • Palestinians accuse Israel of using security as a pretext to force them out of the area

JERUSALEM: Israeli work crews on Monday began demolishing dozens of Palestinian homes on the outskirts of an east Jerusalem neighborhood, in one of the largest operations of its kind in years.
The demolitions capped a years-long legal battle over the buildings, constructed near the invisible line straddling the city and the occupied West Bank. Israel says the buildings were erected too close to its West Bank separation barrier. Residents say the buildings are on West Bank land, and the Palestinian Authority gave them construction permits.
In the wake of a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for the demolitions, Israeli work crews moved into the neighborhood overnight. Massive construction vehicles smashed through the roofs of several buildings, and large excavators were digging through the rubble.
Gilad Erdan, Israel’s minister of public security, said the Supreme Court ruled the illegal construction “constitutes a severe security threat and can provide cover to suicide bombers and other terrorists hiding among civilian population.”
He said that those who built houses along the separation barrier “took the law into their own hands.”
According to the United Nations, some 20 people already living in the buildings were being displaced, while 350 owners of properties that were under construction or not yet inhabited were also affected.
In a joint statement, senior UN humanitarian officials in the region expressed “sadness” over the demolitions and warned that many other homes could face “the same fate.”
“Israel’s policy of destroying Palestinian property is not compatible with its obligations under international humanitarian law,” they said.
Hussein Al-Sheikh, head of the civil affairs department of the Palestinians Authority, called Monday’s demolition a “crime” and demanded international intervention.
In Gaza, the territory’s Hamas rulers called for intensifying “resistance” to “the Zionist settlement project.”
“The increase in the occupation’s crimes against the residents of the holy city is a result of total American support,” said Hazem Qassem, a spokesman for the militant group.
Israel captured east Jerusalem and the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war. The international community considers both areas to be occupied territory, and the Palestinians seek them as parts of a future independent state.
Israel annexed east Jerusalem and considers it part of its capital — a step that is not internationally recognized. But the competing claims to the territory have created myriad legal complexities.
Israel built its separation barrier in the early 2000s in a move it says was needed to prevent Palestinian suicide bombers from reaching Israel from the West Bank. The Palestinians say the structure is an illegal land grab because it juts into the West Bank in many places.
Sur Baher is one of those places. In negotiations with residents, Israel built the route of the structure in Sur Baher inside the West Bank to prevent dividing the village and disrupting life, according to court documents.
Residents, claiming it is impossible to get Israeli building permits in east Jerusalem, began building the apartment buildings in the West Bank part of the village with permission from the Palestinian Authority.
Early this decade, the Israeli military ordered the construction to stop, saying it could not permit high-rise buildings so close to the separation barrier.
Israel’s Supreme Court this month rejected residents’ final appeal, clearing the way for the demolitions.
According to Ir Amim, an Israeli advocacy group that promotes equality and coexistence in the city, Israel has stepped up demolitions of unauthorized Palestinian properties in east Jerusalem.
It said Israel demolished some 63 housing units in the first half of this year, compared to 37 during the same period last year. Palestinian residents of east Jerusalem say it is nearly impossible to get a building permit from Israeli authorities.