T V SARNGA DHARAN NAMBIAR –
Muscat, April 21 –
No, Newsweek science writer Sharon Begley never said the brain is made of plastic; but she asserted it is highly plastic, in terms of its amazing transformational capabilities arising from neuroplasticity. Not a big deal, considering that we have long achieved ridiculous levels of shameless plasticity as far as our mind’s approach to ethical principles and values are concerned.
The invasion of plastics into our lives could just be a natural fallout from this extreme plasticity of our conscience. Well, that per se wouldn’t have created panic, were it not for the unfriendly and stubborn attitude of plastics towards us, who invented them and over a ridiculously short period of time learnt to be even submissive to them.
In fact, we have a love-hate relation with plastics. We appreciate its multiple benefits, while reviling its toxicity, and non-environment-friendly features. Even the process of manufacturing plastics leads to pollution. Plastics challenges and mocks us as litter on land and in water for thousands of years. If we burn them in a bid to get rid of them, they emit carcinogenic fumes, and fight back. Unsuspecting birds and animals consume plastic trash only to die. Bisphenol A, a key chemical in plastics, is an endocrine disruptor that leaches into our food and groundwater (from plastics in landfills) causing tumours in the breast, prostate and uterus, apart from affecting fertility and pregnancy and poisoning even breast milk. Fish (that consume plastic litter in the sea) too act as a source of this chemical.
Literally, we have our backs against the wall, with plastics showing no signs of retreating from our lives in the near (or far) future. The global plastic industry is poised for great growth, and in the Middle East, Oman is expected to post the strongest annual growth in the region at 17.7 per cent.
Of course, we seek alternatives to plastics, at least in some categories, towards containing plastic waste. And with some success, too. There is great buzz around bio-resins and non-wovens, among others, that are eco-friendly and degradable. Some entrepreneurs even want to make Oman a hub for the non-woven industry in the GCC.
But plastic garbage, technically, represents just 10 per cent of the much larger global issue of over 1.3 billion tonnes of municipal solid waste that we humans generate every year. The world is engaged in a long-drawn battle against this ever increasing, humongous waste pile. Annual waste generation in the MENA region has already crossed 63 million tonnes.
The Sultanate, with over 1.7 million tonnes of solid waste produced annually, is struggling without scientific waste management, given the limited land and grave environmental and health impact. Plastic accounts for 21 per cent of its solid waste. Oman’s average per capita waste generation stands at over 1.2 kg per day, which translates into a whopping 4,700 tonnes of municipal waste every day. According to experts, the Sultanate hasn’t yet explored fully the recycling potential of its municipal waste. Most of the solid waste is disposed of at dumpsites, entailing environment and health challenges. At least a few of the dumpsites are located near residential and catchment areas, according to a report by EcoMENA.
What plagues the Sultanate’s solid waste management efforts is a lack of sufficient collection and disposal facilities, analysts say. Solid waste (along with industrial and e-waste) are dumped in over 350 landfills and dumpsites scattered across the country, and some of the waste get offloaded in unauthorised dumpsites as well.
In the Sultanate, Be’ah is tasked with solid waste management, operating several waste management facilities including landfills at Al Multaqa, Tahwa, Izz, Thamrait and Barka, and a transfer station at Samayil.
The agency is planning modern waste management facilities across provinces, in a bid to close down authorised and unauthorised garbage dumps in the country, even as the costs involved add up to over RO 2.5 billion.
The futuristic, environment-friendly landfill spread over 9.1 hectares in Al Amerat — Oman’s first engineered sanitary landfill — marked the Sultanate’s first step in properly tackling waste. It became operational in 2011 with five cells offering a combined waste capacity of 10 million cubic metres.
The government is working on establishing adequate number of modern waste processing facilities including engineered landfills and waste transfer stations across the Sultanate, giving due consideration to people’s sentiments and concerns.
After all, living with waste is a serious endeavour. It’s going to be a life skill we all need to acquire. Let’s face it.