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The Big Business of Garbage in Kuwait

Garbage is back in the news with the recent piling up of garbage in many places all over Kuwait and the change of cleaning contractors. As I write this article, large parts have been cleaned up and the garbage piles have mostly disappeared… but the sight of those trash piles have been disturbing.

For the record, according to the World Bank report in 2018 the daily per capita waste in Kuwait is around 1.55 kilograms — the third highest among Arab and Gulf countries after Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

What is upsetting is that food items and vegetables constitute approximately 58 percent of the wastes in Kuwait and the region, followed by paper and cardboard boxes, plastics and then minerals and wood.

The global per capita average is around 0.74 kilograms while for the Middle East and North Africa it is 0.81 kilogrammes. So the waste we produce is more than double the global average.

With a lot of waste being produced daily, cleaning companies who are awarded millions of dinars to clean and dispose of the waste have a big job on their hands. Everyday in the morning we witness the garbage cleanup process, but by nightfall the garbage bins are once again overflowing and emitting a strong stench. This is particularly true in areas where there are many buildings and the population is much more dense.

Overflowing of garbage is nothing new in Kuwait, as the municipality has for years been struggling with garbage generated by an increasing population. Adding to the woes, not all expatriates come equipped with good civic sense and littering comes natural to many of them. With relatively lax laws on littering in Kuwait, the streets and roads in most expatriate residential areas do not reflect the status of a country that ranks among the world’s top five richest in per capita terms.

Anyhow, with new contracts signed between the Kuwait Municipality and 17 cleaning companies stipulating heavy fines if the companies are found in negligence of the duties entrusted to them, we can hope the situation improves in the days ahead.  According to the new contract, companies will be penalized with daily fines if it is discovered that they have failed to clean the area they are responsible for, as well as for other violations.

A table of fines has also been drawn up that imposes hefty fines of up to KD5,000  on companies that perform poorly, including if they do not have 80 percent of their equipment and other machinery in good working condition. Those who do not rectify their mistakes will have their contracts canceled and a new company will be chosen in their place. With all these conditions one hopes that Kuwait becomes a cleaner place than in the past.

However the most surprising factor in the new garbage removal contract is the amount for which the contract has been awarded. The municipality has reduced the value from the previous KD285 million to just KD124 million, almost a 50 percent reduction in price for apparently the same work.

How this has been achieved is in itself amazing, because one wonders where the prices have been reduced; neither the fuel prices nor machinery prices have gone down, nor have food costs or rents dropped drastically, so one hopes this big reduction is not at the cost of the poor cleaners who are already underpaid and overworked.

The phenomenon of cleaners resorting to begging or rather appealing to some generous residents has plagued the cleaning companies in the past. The Kuwait Municipality Director General Ahmad A Manofouhi has now warned that it would deport any cleaner, working for a cleaning firm under contract with the municipality, if he is caught begging and the company would be fined.

Kuwait can very well do without this kind of an image that keeps its streets unclean and its cleaners unhappy. Better pay might be one long term solution for happier cleaners and cleaner streets.

An Expatriate

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