As part of its Qatar University Zero Waste Initiative (QUZW) initiative, the Facilities & General Services Department in Qatar University (QU) has succeeded in producing the first batch of fertilizer by converting food waste generated at the students housing. This remarkable step advances the implementation of QU Zero Waste Action Plan (2021 - 2025) for realizing the main goal of getting solid waste management practices in the campus aligned with Qatar University Strategy (2018-2022).

The #QU_Zero_Waste initiative adopts the Circular Economy fundamentals, and strives to minimize both virgin material inputs and waste outputs by closing organic resource flow loops (food waste). As the implementation of action plan continues more waste fractions are being managed wisely and responsibly to help in realizing the circular campus of the future.

Qatar aims to achieve a 15% recycling rate for municipal waste by 2022. Recycling rates for common recyclables such as plastics and paper were at 1.8% each in 2017. Although the current goal of 15% is ambitious given Qatar’s current recycling rate, it is far from the best practices globally; Therefore, kick starting zero-waste in QU is an important effort that aims to serve as a living lab for various sustainability practices, which can be replicated at a wider level in the country as part of Ministry of Municipality and Environment’s Zero Waste Programs.

QU is considering waste as a resource, rather than disposing it of as waste. This is done in accordance with the waste management hierarchy, which considers waste prevention as the most favored option, followed by reuse and recycling, and then disposal comes as the least preferred option. In other words, QU is moving from a make-use-dispose linear economy to a make-use-reuse/recycle circular economy. This is made possible through the integration of QUZW into all realms of QU operations.

QUZW is currently covering campus facilities operations, and coordinated by the Environment & Sustainability Section. A steering committee will be formulated to monitor the implementation of the plan. The governance structure will also gradually broaden to external stakeholders, not limited to local waste management authorities & companies, and active NGOs in the field. Student representatives also have a significant role to play in the governance structure. Collaboration with the above stakeholders can enable QU to benefit from expertise and knowledge sharing; can help to close the loops on all material types at the highest level of value and in line with other zero-waste principles and will support us to build effective alliances on promoting zero-waste and circular economy throughout the Qatari society and the region.

The use of palm waste fiber generated in the QU campus for the production of smart eco-friendly recycling dumpster is a typical example of upcycling of waste materials. The use of such products in the campus encourages the QU community to gradually shift towards a more sustainable lifestyle by demonstrating valuable uses of plentifully available locally waste while divert more of it from ending up in landfills. The dumpster will be equipped with a solar panel to provide clean energy to the small water pump which irrigates the side plants. Level-fill sensors will be installed inside the dumpster to measure the level of its filling with waste and optimize collecting by notifying the sustainability team by SMS.

Since 2017, QU has been recycling paper and cardboard waste with the help of paper recycling contractors and has successfully passed the milestone of recycling 100 tons of paper waste. Installation of side desk recycling boxes in offices and bigger recycling bins in the generation hotspots (near photocopiers) have been instrumental in increasing the recycling rates. This program will be expanded to cover the entire campus by the end of 2021.

QU is reducing paper waste, which is one of the key waste fractions in QU, by implementing digitalization of numerous activities that involve printing of papers. In addition, the use of PET bottles is being reduced by installing drinking water dispensers in various places across the campus.

Waste Measurement and Prevention System is one of the four strategic pillars of QUZW. Waste management activities including generation, prevention & recycling in the campus are measured as part of the initiative. Waste audits on a yearly basis are also planned in order to systematically analyze and continually improve the QUZW strategy. Assessments of environmental, financial benefits are conducted regularly and transparently published for QU community and available for sharing with external stakeholders.

Madawi Al-Shafi, Section Head of Environmental and Sustainability at Facilities and General Services Department said, “The State of Qatar aims to achieve a recycling rate of 15% for municipal waste by the year 2022, and the recycling rates for common recyclables, such as Plastic and paper: 1.8% each in 2017. Although the current target of 15% is an ambitious one given the current recycling rate in Qatar, it is still far from global best practice. The ‘Zero Waste’ initiative at Qatar University is an important effort that aims to act as a living laboratory for various sustainability practices that can be re-applied on a wider level in the country as part of the ‘Zero Waste’ program of the Ministry of Municipality and Environment.”

For his part, Eng. Hussam El Din Talib Allah said: “Instead of focusing on waste disposal, we at Qatar University deal with it as a resource of environmental and economic value, and this is done according to the standard hierarchy of waste management, which is considered Waste prevention is the most preferred option, followed by reuse and then recycling, and waste disposal as the least preferred option. In other words, Qatar University is working on the transition from a linear, use-based economy to a circular economy based on use and reuse. Use and recycling, which was made possible through the integration of the "Zero Waste" initiative in all aspects of operation and maintenance at Qatar University.”

A strong and positive cultural shift of the whole QU community towards sustainability is required to set progress in the path of making QU a circular campus. The initiative strives to achieve this cultural shift by ensuring active participation of all internal stakeholders through various programs. Universities have a natural advantage in this realm from intergenerational perspectives and a body of academics that can aid in fostering innovative solutions.