Lack of oversight in Yemen’s recycling industry [Archives:2008/1186/Health]

September 1 2008

Mahmoud Assamiee
Recycling is a way of processing used materials such as glass, plastic and paper, among others, and turning them into new products that consumers can reuse.

Waste recycling involves collecting waste materials, followed by separation and cleaning of these materials so they can easily be reprocessed into new items. Recycling is a way to decrease the number of brand new products being made, which conserves raw materials and reduces energy consumption for the benefit of the environment.

The recycling industry is new to Yemen and began with recycling plastic, metals and glass. There are recycling plants scattered around the country in major cities like Sana'a, Taiz, Aden and Hodeidah.

The process begins with the street cleaners and trash collectors who gather plastic, metal and other waste from streets, homes and other places and then sell them to waste yard owners. These junkyard owners then sell the recyclable materials to larger merchants, who sell them to factories for recycling.

“We buy everything from trash collectors; for example, I buy metal, plastic and other waste. I buy a kilo of metal for YR 30 and plastic for YR 40,” explains Akram Al-Jaradi, who owns junkyards in Al-Sunaina area of Sana'a.

He says the most valuable items are copper, aluminum, lead and other light metals. “I buy a kilo of copper for YR 1,200, aluminum for YR 320, lead for YR 300 and metal for YR 280, while we sell a kilo of copper for YR 1,300, aluminum for YR 370, lead for YR 350 and metal for YR 330.”

In the past, recyclable materials were collected for sale outside of Yemen. “But when the recycling business began in Yemen 10 years ago,” Al-Jaradi explained, “we started selling them to merchants who sell them to local workshops or factories.”

Most facilities doing Yemen's recycling are workshops or small factories. There are more than 20 workshops in Yemen, the most famous of which are the National Company for Sponge and Plastic Industry owned by Hayel Sa'eed Anam Group, the Paper Recycling Factory, owned by the same group, Al-Badawi Plastic Recycling Laboratory, Al-Babily Shoe Recycling Laboratory and Al-Safani Plastic Recycling.

However, not all of Yemen's recycling plants are subjected to oversight by the Ministry of Industry and Trade. Ministry officials note that such plants are licensed by the General Investment Authority, which is responsible for ensuring that they operate according to regulations.

There is no law compelling the General Investment Authority to supervise these recycling plants or stipulating how they should be regulated. Concerned officials at the Ministry of Industry and Trade maintain that they can't enter any such factory to conduct observations because they have no authority to do so.

They note that the ministry currently is preparing a law regarding the recycling industry that would require ministry authorization and supervision of all plants. Further, they point out that they had difficulty preparing such a law in the past due to the ministry's continual personnel reshuffling and changes in its responsibilities.

The General Investment Authority maintains that it doesn't supervise such recycling factories; it only licenses them to operate.

Recycling in Yemen isn't always environmentally sound

The Yemeni Environmental Protection Authority alleges that most of Yemen's recycling plants aren't committed to observing environmental regulations. “Although most factories aren't committed to EPA laws, they [still] are considered friends to the environment because they must work to protect it from large problems,” notes Ali Al-Dobhani, director of Toxic and Hazardous Waste at the EPA.

“We call any recycling process a 'dirty project,' so we handle them very carefully. According to the law, recycled products mustn't be for human use, drinking or eating,” he explains, adding, “A law was issued in 1995 to organize the nation's recycling. Additionally, EPA bylaws specify how to deal with waste.”

Al-Dobhani points out that there are four recycling factories in Yemen for batteries – which contain toxic chemicals – and metals that produce dangerous toxic byproducts. “Al-Awami Factory is the only one committed to environmental rules,” he notes, further explaining that, “Abiding by environmental laws costs factory owners much money, so they aren't committed to observing the rules.”

According to him, the General Investment Authority licenses most recycling factories and laboratories without consulting the EPA regarding possible environmental side effects or protective environmental measures.

The most dangerous recycling problem is when household waste is mixed with medical waste. Al-Dobhani says that 85 percent of hospital waste is solid, while the remaining 15 percent is medical and when these are mixed, they can cause diseases.

He notes that this type of waste mismanagement is the major reason for the increase of liver diseases such as hepatitis B and C in Yemen, pointing out that those most often affected are the waste collectors themselves.

Al-Dobhani, who has reports about all of these environmental problems, holds concerned government bodies responsible for these problems and for finding solutions to them.