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Bringing recycling to Kuwait

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Fatemah Alzelzela
Fatemah Alzelzela started Eco Star, a non-profit recycling initiative that exchanges trees and plants for waste from homes, schools and businesses in Kuwait. Photo: UNEP

Per capita, Kuwait is among the wealthiest countries in the world. But, despite having the means, it has yet to embrace modern waste management techniques, such as recycling or the sorting of trash before it’s discarded.

Fatemah Alzelzela is determined to change that. The 24-year-old electrical engineer is the co-founder of Eco Star, a non-profit group that recycles rubbish from homes, restaurants and schools across the Middle-Eastern country.

“I live in one of the richest countries in the world, yet we don’t have many sustainable solutions in the field of recycling,” says Alzelzela. “All of us should care about the environment, but we are lost. We are trying to show people the path again.”

Since launching in early 2019, Eco Star has recycled over three-and-a-half tonnes of plastic, 10 tonnes of paper and 120 tonnes of metal. That is a notable feat in a country where 90 per cent of waste – from food to sewage to petroleum – ends up in landfills.  Alzelzela also set up an innovative partnership with a large nursery so Eco Star gives their customers shrubs and trees in exchange for their recycling.

For that work, Alzelzela was recently named a Young Champion of the Earth by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). She is one of seven prize winners who will receive funding and mentorship to support their environmental initiatives.

“We must step up and make the environment a priority,” said Elisa Tonda, an expert in sustainable consumption from UNEP’s Economy Division. “Never before, has it been clearer that our health is interconnected with the health of the environment. We need bold initiatives to move the environmental agenda forward.”

The cost of waste

Kuwait generates 1.5 kilograms of trash per person per day, twice the global average. The country has provided waste collection services since the late 1960s. However, rubbish is handled by private companies with little screening and sorting, leading to pollution and health risks.

The lack of recycling is also a financial missed opportunity. A 2014 study showed that 76 per cent of Kuwait’s waste is recyclable, and the potential value of the raw materials that could be saved from dumps is over US$ 130 million annually.

Believing they could make a difference, Alzelzela and her sister launched Eco Star last year, investing US$ 600 of their own money in the start-up. The early days, she says, were challenging. Kuwaiti authorities and potential business partners were skeptical of Alzelzela’s business model, making it hard to forge connections. Kuwait is also a patriarchal society, and Alzelzela says she was “not taken seriously” because of her age, gender and social stigma around waste collection in Kuwait.

But Alzelzela remained undaunted.

She took to Instagram, Kuwait’s most popular social network. Eco Star’s feed soon filled with inspiring images of recycling, tips on how to reduce household waste and news of Eco Star’s expansion across Kuwait. The Instagram account would soon have over 20,000 followers and more people signed up for Eco Star’s services.

Scaling up

The company has since formed partnerships with schools, teaching children about recycling, threats to the environment and how young people can act for nature.

The Eco Star team charges a nominal US $3 fee to the homes, schools and restaurants it collects recycling from. This re-enforces the idea that recycling is a necessary service, not a charity.

Eco Star is also building a database of the waste it collects, recording everything from its weight to where it was picked up. The company, says Alzelzela, is the first in Kuwait to compile that information.

“You can’t manage what you can’t measure,” says Alzelzela, noting teams have data points from 2,000 homes, schools, companies and restaurants. “We can now start analyzing the data we have generated, to find out which areas generate more waste, and why.”

Despite curfews imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions on collecting waste, Alzelzela is eager to ramp up Eco Star’s operations. But for that to happen, she says authorities must get on the recycling bandwagon and make space for the ideas of millennials.

“Young people and young women should be given more chances to make decisions, be creative and find solutions. We can all take action and inspire others to take action on a bigger scale. It will take patience. But I know we can make it happen.”  

UN Environment

Environment

Climate change: For 25th year in a row, Greenland ice sheet shrinks

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2021 marked the 25th year in a row in which the key Greenland ice sheet lost more mass during the melting season, than it gained during the winter, according to a new UN-endorsed report issued on Friday. 

The data from the Danish Arctic monitoring service Polar Portal – which forms part of the UN weather agency WMO’s annual State of the Climate report – shows that early summer was cold and wet, with unusually heavy and late snowfall in June, which delayed the onset of the melting season. 

After that, however, a heatwave at the end of July, led to a considerable loss of ice. 

In terms of “total mass balance” (the sum of surface melting and loss of ice chunks from icebergs, in addition to the melting of glacier “tongues” in contact with seawater), the ice sheet lost around 166 billion tonnes during the 12-month period ending in August 2021. 

Climate change 

These numbers mean the ice sheet ended the season with a net surface mass balance of approximately 396 billion tonnes, making it the 28th lowest level recorded, in the 41-year time series.  

This could be considered an average year, but Polar Report notes how perspectives have changed, due to rapidly advancing climate change. 

At the end of the 1990s, for example, these same figures would have been regarded as a year with a very low surface mass balance. 

The report also notes that the cause of the early summer chill, could be due to conditions over southwest Canada and the northwest United States. 

In these territories, an enormous “blocking” high pressure system was formed, shaped like the Greek capital letter Omega (Ω). 

This flow pattern occurs regularly in the troposphere, and not just over North America, but it had never been observed with such strength before. 

According to the report, an analysis by World Weather Attribution demonstrated that it could only be explained as a result of atmospheric warming caused by human activity. 

Notable year 

According to the report, 2021 was notable for several reasons. 

It was the year in which precipitation at Summit Station, which is located at the top of the ice sheet at an altitude of 3,200 metres above sea level, was registered in the form of rain. 

The year also saw an acceleration of the loss of ice at the Sermeq Kujalleq glacier, where the rate of loss had otherwise been stagnant for several years. 

Winter snowfall was also close to average for the period between 1981 and 2010, which was good news, because a combination of low winter snowfall and a warm summer can result in very large losses of ice, as was the case in 2019. 

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Environment

2022: Emergency mode for the environment

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As the new year gets underway, the world continues to grapple with a number of familiar challenges – the continued COVID-19 pandemic, resurgent wildfires, enduring crises of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste. Yet, 2022 could prove to be a seminal year for the environment, with high-level events and conferences scheduled, which are hoped to re-energize international cooperation and collective action.

The coming year will also mark two golden jubilees. In 1972, the world took up the environmental mantle at the historic UN Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm. The meeting firmly placed the environment on the priority list of governments, civil society, businesses and policymakers, recognizing the inextricable links between the planet, human well-being and economic growth. Now, fifty years later, the Stockholm+50 meeting in June 2022 will commemorate the event, reflect upon half a century of global environmental action and look forward.

The Stockholm Conference also birthed the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the UN entity mandated to monitor the state of the environment, inform policymaking with science and galvanize action. For fifty years since, UNEP has used its convening power and rigorous scientific research to coordinate a global effort to tackle environmental challenges. A series of activities will mark UNEP’s 50th anniversary this year.

UNEP is going into 2022 with a new “Medium-Term Strategy” featuring seven interlinked subprogrammes for action: Climate Action, Chemicals and Pollutions Action, Nature Action, Science Policy, Environmental Governance, Finance and Economic Transformations and Digital Transformations. The strategy was agreed at 2021’s fifth session of the UN Environment Assembly; the resumed session, known as UNEA 5.2 will take place in February 2022. Under the overarching theme of ‘Strengthening Actions for Nature to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals’, discussions will highlight the pivotal role of nature in social, economic and environmental sustainable development.

June will be a busy month on the environmental calendar. On the 5th, the world will come together to celebrate World Environment Day. Led by UNEP and held annually since 1974, the day has grown to be the largest global platform for environmental outreach, with millions of people engaging to protect the planet. This year’s event will be hosted by Sweden, under the campaign slogan “Only One Earth“, with a focus on living sustainably in harmony with nature.  

While this timeline of environmental achievements is proof of what can be achieved through multilateral action, the science remains irrefutable. Unsustainable patterns of consumption and production are fuelling the triple planetary crisis of climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste. UN Secretary-General António Guterres has warned that the triple crisis is humanity’s number one existential threat.

Several global events in 2022 aim to encourage dialogue and influence policy decisions to address the triple crisis. These include a post-2020 global biodiversity framework, which will be adopted in May at COP 15, and could stave off the extinction of over one million species, and the UN Ocean Conference in July, which seeks to protect one of our most vital ecosystems. A detailed list of related events is available on the UN web site.

Last year, the UN Secretary-General reminded the world that “We are at a crossroads, with consequential choices before us. It can go either way: breakdown or breakthrough.”

Experts hope that 2022 will be a year of breakthroughs for the environment.

UNEP

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Environment

With decent work and a sustainable model aquaculture could feed the world

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Harnessing aquaculture’s potential to effectively contribute to feeding the world’s growing population in the decades to come will require concerted efforts to promote sustainable enterprises and decent work for its workforce.

These are among the main conclusions of the Technical meeting on the future of work in aquaculture in the context of the rural economy  (13-17 December 2021) that brought together representatives from governments, employers and workers at the ILO to discuss the decent work challenges and opportunities in the aquaculture sector.

In recent decades aquaculture has made important contributions to reducing poverty and hunger in many impoverished rural communities. It remains an important source of livelihoods and food for many rural workers today. At least 20.5 million people work in primary aquaculture production. Many more are engaged along the aquaculture supply chain.

With a growing world population and environmental pressures, aquaculture is increasingly recognized as holding potential for sustainably addressing challenges of food and nutritional security. In a number of developing countries there is also growing appreciation of its role in enterprise development, job creation and livelihood diversification, especially for the rural poor. In order to promote the sustainability and growth of the aquaculture sector and harness its potential to advance sustainable development, inclusive growth and decent work, there needs to be a stronger focus on addressing employment and labour challenges facing the sector.

“If we are to ensure that the aquaculture industry will contribute to inclusive growth and decent work opportunities for more women and men we must create a level playing field and an enabling environment for sustainable production and for workers to enjoy their rights at work,” said Magnús Magnússon Norɖdahl, Chairperson of the meeting.

“Sustainable and inclusive growth in the aquaculture industry could further be beneficial in terms of increasing income and livelihoods for many rural communities, both coastal and inland, and in this process, also contribute to governments’ efforts in alleviating rural poverty,” added Fatih Acar, Government group Vice-Chairperson.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic  has been felt by both businesses and workers in the sector. Workers, especially in processing, have been at heightened risk of exposure to the virus, with the long working hours in close quarters and low temperatures. Businesses have struggled to remain viable, which has been reflected in reduced working hours or lay-offs, impacting the livelihood of workers and their families. The lessons learnt from the crisis should encourage reforms towards more sustainable and resilient aquaculture and food systems more generally.

“The current pandemic has exacerbated decent work deficits in the sector. But many of these deficits had existed long before its outbreak” said Krisjan Bragason, Workers’ group Vice-Chairperson. “Social dialogue, based on the respect of freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining, is the key to finding solutions that work for all.”

“Coherent policy frameworks should be created that focus on sustainable enterprise development and productivity improvements, the promotion of inclusive labour markets, skills development and adequate social dialogue mechanisms which involve Employers’ federations. All these elements will drive and enable the future growth of the sector,” said Employers’ group Vice-Chair, Henrik Munthe.

The meeting adopted conclusions that will assist governments, workers and employers to take measures to tap the potential of the sector to support full and productive employment and decent work for all, so contributing to food and nutrition security and making sure that no one is left behind.

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