Thursday, March 13, 2008

First Project - Waste Management

My first task as intern for Equilibrium is regarding waste management. On the surface, waste management does not sound like the most exciting topic in the world, or even a desirable one to work with, but you will soon see how significant this topic is for us and our future.

When I began the project, what I knew about waste management in Kuwait specifically was that I never once saw a single recycle bin anywhere. I also noticed that the residential garbage bins are always overloaded because they are so small. I observed a lot of people throughout the Middle East tend to just throw garbage on the ground without thinking where it might go. I saw a lot of waste along the shores of the beach when I would go jogging there. I knew waste management was an area that needed attention in Kuwait and I knew that along with waste management comes many opportunities to develop innovative ways to reduce and recycle waste, which in turn brings in economic opportunity.

So in short, I was aware of the connection between waste management and the business world and how waste can affect the environment. At any rate, my first task required that I collect data regarding waste management in Kuwait. Equilibrium was looking to assess how serious the waste management problem is in Kuwait and what is currently being done about it. I was asked to seek out a couple doctors at Kuwait University who might have some research data on the subject. It took me two weeks to finally track down one of the two doctors. But it was worth the effort because she was very helpful and cooperative. She had answers to all of my questions with regards to landfills and waste management. She informed me that the landfill situation in Kuwait is very bad. Usually, landfills are lined so that the waste cannot seep directly into the soil.

However non of the Kuwaiti landfills have lining or any system for classification and dividing of different types of waste as it comes in to the landfill. Everything gets dumped together in one place with the exception of medical waste. This can be a recipe for disaster. Additionally, anyone can dump anything, including companies who want to get rid of their industrial waste without any worry of being monitored. This is just a small part of the overall problem with regards to landfills in Kuwait. This is also found in other Middle Eastern countries, not just Kuwait.

The good news is that this doctor has actually come up with a low cost and efficient way to assess how deep the waste goes in the landfills and what type of waste is found in them, as that information is currently unknown. She has offered to let me work with her on her project so that will be a great learning opportunity. The information she gave me I forwarded to my boss and now we are preparing for the upcoming waste management conference which should also prove to be very interesting.

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How Can Sustainability and Social Responsibility Contribute to the Future of the Middle East?

With their potential for economic growth and their financial wealth, Kuwait and the rest of the Gulf countries have the potential to become front runners in the Middle East in considering the environment and social responsibility, and I hope to help them to start that foundation.
The Middle East is a fascinating place with so much cultural richness and financial prosperity. People of the region are increasingly growing aware of the changing climate of business and of the world as a result of globalization and as such there is growing potential for development here. We can see already a substantial amount of growth and innovation in a very short period of time through the example of Dubai. Unfortunately, one area that still lacks a greater awareness is the environment and how it is being impacted by the current practices of companies and individuals. This problem affects all aspects of life from physical health to the natural beauty of the region. This problem however can also be viewed as a treasure box of opportunity for those who have vision and initiative and wish to consider sustainable concepts and how they can adopt them in their businesses.

I chose this cause because I love the Middle East. I am originally from Latin America and study in the University of Washington and I am studying abroad in Kuwait. I had so much success here and fell in love with the region so much that I was looking for a way I could give back to a place that had given me so much. I realized quickly that the region overall had great issues with regards to the environment. The beautiful beaches of the gulf were littered with garbage, there were little if any recycling programs, no awareness campaigns and lesson plans for the schools with regards to the environment, all of the landfills were unplanned and unlined and the waste seeping into the soil and polluting the storm water drains. Yet I could not understand how such a wealthy country with the financial means to take care of this issue and with a government committee assigned to the environment was allowing this to be this way. I decided I would try to see how I can help make a change for the better just as many countries have also done with regards to such issues as waste management such as the UK.