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EDITOR IN CHIEF- ABDULLAH BIN SALIM AL SHUEILI

E-waste recycling is $3bn worth annual economy for Sultanate of Oman, Arab states

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The Sultanate of Oman, along with other member countries of the Arab region, must tap into commercial opportunities worth an estimated $3 billion annually from the recovery of valuable materials from electronic waste (e-waste), a key report has stressed.


The report, titled, ‘The Regional E-Waste Monitor for the Arab States 2021’, was compiled by leading experts with support from the United Nations University-Vice Rectorate in Europe Sustainable Cycles Programme (UNU-ViE SCYCLE), the United Nations University and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) in partnership with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). Expansive in its coverage, it looks at e-waste-related regulation, management, recycling and resource recovery across the 21 states of the Arab region, including the Sultanate of Oman.


The roughly 100-page report warns that e-waste, presently one of the fastest growing waste streams, poses a threat to sustainable development unless prudently managed and recycled to recover commercially valuable secondary raw materials. Further imperiling this goal, the experts warn, is a dearth of information on the volumes of e-waste generated across the region.


Valuable ingredients


“Data on e-waste are required to evaluate developments over time, delineate national and international policies, limit e-waste generation, prevent illegal dumping, promote recycling and create jobs in the recycling sectors. However, few countries collect internationally comparable e-waste statistics, and many countries lack the capacity to collect e-waste data at both regional and national level,” the authors noted.


The report defines e-waste as any kind of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE). But given the variety of potentially valuable metals that can be salvaged from the e-waste, as well as the presence hazardous materials and heavy metals, e-waste needs to be subject to segregation, processing recycling and management quite distinct and separate from other types of general waste, it stresses.


Consumption of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) in the Arab region jumped 30 per cent from 3.2 million tons (8.8 kg per inhabitant) in 2010 to 4.1 million tons (or 9.5 kg/inhabitant) in 2019, according to the report. Over the same timeframe, e-waste generation climbed 61 per cent from 1.8 million tons (4.9 kg/inhabitant) in 2010 to 2.8 million tons (6.6 kg/inhabitant) in 2019. Saudi Arabia was the largest e-waste generator with 595K tons (or 13.2 kg/inhabitants).


Alarmingly, the Arab States appeared to have collected and managed a paltry 2200 ton of e-waste in total in 2019, representing a meagre 0.1 per cent of the total e-waste generated.


Sound management


Significantly, the Sultanate of Oman, along with Algeria, were cited as among only a handful of Arab states that “collect and export e-waste, while also storing some in preparation for the establishment of treatment facilities for environmentally sound management (ESM) of e-waste”, the report noted.


Oman Environmental Services Holding Co (be’ah), which oversees the domestic solid waste sector, is developing a collection scheme and a recycling facility for e-waste, it said. be’ah is currently storing e-waste in a special storage facility, but no formal e-waste recycling is presently taking place, it further added.


In the south of the country, a private Omani firm named Evergreen Gulf Recycling Hub is constructing a major e-scrap facility in Dhofar Governorate, the report said. “The facility will have an annual processing capacity of about 10,000 tons and will allow the country to adopt a processing and recovery approach for e-waste management, rather than sending e-waste to landfill or exporting waste abroad,” it stated.


Resource recovery from e-waste presents promising economic opportunities for countries like the Sultanate of Oman, among others, the report points out. E-waste generated across the Arab region in 2019 alone potentially contained 13 tons of gold, 470 kg of rare earth metals, over 1 million tons of iron, 96,000 tons of copper, 167,000 tons of aluminium and 700 kg of cobalt, representing a total value of $3 billion, it said.


“Over 99 per cent of e-waste in the region is not collected or sent to environmentally sound managed facilities for proper management. Most e-waste is sent to landfill, with the informal sector cherry-picking some valuable components,” it further noted.


On the flipside, hazardous substances in e-waste also pose potential risks if not suitably managed, it warned. In 2019 alone, e-waste contained at least 4.1 tons of mercury, 1.3 tons of cadmium, 10.5 kt of lead, 4 kt of brominated flame retardants and 5.6 million tons of greenhouse gas-equivalents from refrigerants, it added.


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