Markets: stop rogue waste disposal

Filling sludge-water in the new purification plant.(July 2009) Project „Hagar“ or „Stone“ shows how environmental burdens in conjunction with stone production in a developing country can be reduced to a minimum. The project focuses on Palestine’s region of Hebron where concepts were developed for the disposal of sludge ensuing from the sawmills, and for winning the support of the parties involved. The project was sponsored by the European Union from December 2006 to July 2008 with a grant of € 770,000.00. The project was lead by the non-governmental Italian Agenfor organization.

Stone industry is an important economic factor in this country lacking raw material: around 300 quarries and 600 producers with an estimated 15,000 employees produce 450 million US dollars worth of stone per year amounting to 5 % of the gross national product.

The problems Palestine’s stone industry creates are just as big. The sludge produced is usually simply flushed into the sewerage system: Tank wagons pick up the waste and dump it into the next best sewer. This is illicit, but small firms have specialized in the clandestine operation.

In other places, the sludge water is poured into enclosed basins to drain off and evaporate. The wind then carries the dust away spreading a dusty white film on plants and houses.

To compound such ecological problems, Palestine also has to fend with low net productivity of the quarries, typical for developing countries. Compared to Italian quarries much less usable stone is produced. Stone waste is usually simply deposited somewhere.

Jerusalem Stone limestone is mined here. The major portion of production is exported to Israel with around 20 % going to other countries.

The „Hagar“ project began with a detailed tally of the companies, their staff and production. The aim was to be able to measure the outcome of the project.

Much convincing was needed and much distrust had to be cleared away. But those working on the project also needed a healthy portion of doubt: when asked if they implemented waste disposal techniques, 90 % of the companies asked brazenly said yes. In truth they simply left their waste somewhere.

Agenfor was equipped with experience from Northern Italy, which could be transposed to the Palestinian model: in both countries there are two main clusters – Verona/Carrara in Italy and Hebron/Bethlehem in Palestine. Both locations are home to a high density of stone producers, important for the local economy but entailing high environmental burdens. Nearly three quarters of all Palestinian stone producing industry are situated in the Hebron Bethlehem region.

Much of the know-how gathered in Italy could be transposed to this project. A sludge-water purification-plant was built where the sludge-water can be disposed of in future. The plant cost € 380,000.00. The project also took care to analyze how to prevent damage to the plant in this politically volatile region.

Economic viability was a focal point of interest. 95 % of the water can be recycled after the sludge has been filtered off and sold back to the sawmills. With some additional filtering the water could be used for irrigation of farmland according to the final report.

The recycled sludge can be used as whitewash, in paint, as filler for electric insulators or industrial filters. Gravel could be used in road-construction. Larger pieces could serve as curbstones.

The gaps left behind from open-pit mining could be used as landfill waste deposit sites according to the final report. They could be sealed for leakage with the sludge.

The project was a success from the technical point of view: the purification plant is in operation. An efficient management to ensure financial viability is lacking albeit.

At last call, a joint venture between Hebron and Bethlehem was to be set up: the participants wanted to establish a „Joint Service Council“ to coordinate the role of the two regions on June 25th. Funds for a second purification plant are still lacking.

The final report can be downloaded from the project site.


Photos: Agenfor

The new sludge dehydration plant.