After a successful pilot in 2018, Saudi Arabia has expanded the Green Haj initiative to this year’s pilgrimage that runs from August 9 to 14.
From waste recycling to water and energy conservation to donation of untouched food, the kingdom is taking a multi-pronged approach to minimise the environmental effects of the haj.
The second phase of Green Haj will be rolled out in more than 100 tents in Mina compared to 16 last year and will see the participation of six major haj group organisers, Dr Majdah Aburas, supervisor of the Green Haj project told Salaam Gateway.
“Green Haj aims to better serve haj and umrah pilgrims, preserve the environment of the holy sites, reduce food and water wastage, improve air quality, and promote a positive image of the Islamic world,” said Dr Majdah, who is also founder and chairperson of the non-profit Saudi Environmental Society.
“One of the main objectives of the strategy is to reach zero percent waste by the end of 2030 at an annual rate calculated from the amount of waste,” she added.
In 2018, 166,000 tonnes of waste were produced in Mecca during the haj season, of which 42,000 tonnes came from the holy sites.
“This is a huge burden on the environment,” said Dr Majdah, who is also a professor at the King Abdulaziz University and a review editor for the UN Global Environmental Outlook.
“Therefore, we will benefit from raising [environmental] awareness, which in turn will enable us to better serve the pilgrims, improve public health, and eliminate visual pollution.”
She said the cost of environmental degradation in the kingdom is about 86 billion Saudi riyals ($22.9 billion), citing a report by King Khalid Foundation that focuses on socio-economic funding, support and research.
“Instead of being a burden on the kingdom and costing it billions, this waste can be transformed into a source of income, which will help create a better future for our youth and for the holy sites,” Dr Majdah said.
Under a system launched this year, a tent can be labelled as either a Green Tent or Sustainable Tent depending on the components it chooses to apply.
A Green Tent must fulfil at least two criteria – waste management and public awareness, while a Sustainable Tent must apply all 12 components, which cover energy, water, and food conservation.
Six haj organisers are partnering with the Green Haj initiative this year: the Coordination Committee for Internal Pilgrims, Companies and Establishments; the National Tawafa Establishment for Pilgrims of Arabian Countries;? the National Tawafa Establishment for Iranian Pilgrims?; ?the National Tawafa Establishment for South East Asian Pilgrims?; the National Tawafa Establishment for South Asian Pilgrims; and ???the National Tawafa Establishment for Pilgrims of Non-Arab African Countries.
These institutions, known as Arbab Al-Tawaif Establishments, were nominated by the Ministry of Haj and Umrah.
While there are thousands of tents at Mina to accommodate the more than 2 million pilgrims, the second phase of Green Haj will be implemented in about 100 tents, each with a capacity for 1,000 to 3,000 pilgrims, according to Dr Majdah.
The Holy Makkah Municipality will deploy waste compactors around these tents, with four colour-coded containers: black for organic waste, blue for plastics, yellow for paper and carton, and green for cans.
Each compactor will have a capacity for nine tonnes of waste, compared to the four tonnes of a regular dumpster.
The Green Haj team will also conduct an air purification experiment in three tents and will measure the results to see whether the procedure has notably improved air quality.
Tents are also expected to coordinate with the Holy Makkah Municipality and waste management companies to empty the compactors, sort and weigh the waste, and send it for recycling.
The sorted waste will be sold to recycling companies at the local prices of 3,200 riyals ($853) per ton of aluminium waste, 570 riyals ($152) per ton of plastic, and 450 riyals ($120) per ton of carton, Dr Majdah previously told Salaam Gateway.
Funds generated from the recycling will be donated to one of the charities under the Ministry of Labor and Social Development to help support environmental and social projects in Saudi Arabia.
Of the total waste generated during last year’s pilgrimage season, organic waste represented nearly 70 per cent, and water 12 per cent due to half-finished disposed water bottles, according to a study conducted by Dr Majdah’s team, which comprises seven permanent volunteers.
“We found an enormous consumption of water last year and wastage of food. There needs be more awareness about conserving food. We have devised a plan in partnership with charities to take untouched food waste and distribute it to the needy,” said Dr Majdah.
Authorities are now working to prevent organic waste from reaching the landfills, with plans to recycle and convert this into fertilizer with the help of young Saudi entrepreneurs.
“Impressively, we have seen great responsiveness from the participating tents. We even received requests from other tents asking to implement the project in their locations,” said Dr Majdah.
Apart from the seven volunteers who helped with the waste management study, others have come forward to contribute.
The manual published by Dr Majdah explaining the waste management mechanism was designed by Mohammed Ebrahim Rajab, a Saudi national who volunteered his service through his design firm Mo Creative.
Another Saudi company volunteering its service for Green Haj is Rsaia Maintenance, Cleaning & Contracting Co. Ltd. The Mecca-based firm, which is helping with waste management in the participating tents, offered to handle the same work in non-participating tents, removing waste from containers and placing it in the compactors, as well as supplying thousands of coloured bin bags.
According to Dr Majdah, the Green Haj strategy will be implemented throughout the year and not just for the duration of haj.
The initiative is backed by Makkah Province Emirate and is endorsed by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman, Prince Khaled Al-Faisal, emir of Makkah Province, adviser to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and chairman of the Central Haj Committee, and by the Minister of Haj and Umrah Dr. Mohammad Saleh bin Taher Benten.
Several government entities are uniting to implement Green Haj, including the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, Makkah Province Emirate, Holy Makkah Municipality, General Authority of Civil Aviation of Saudi Arabia, Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture – Makkah branch, Ministry of Media, Ministry of Labor and Social Development, Makkah Traffic Department, and the Saudi Environmental Society.
Specifically, Makkah Province Emirate is providing complete logistical support for the initiative, and the Holy Makkah Municipality will supply waste compactors and supervise the sites.
The Saudi Food Bank “Etaam”, environment TV channel “Beeati”, and waste management company “Estedama” are also supporting the initiative as strategic partners.
In addition, airports and hotels are starting to get involved by providing guidelines to the pilgrims to familiarise them with the initiative prior to reaching the pilgrimage sites.
In the coming months, a documentary film will be produced with the support of the Ministry of Media to showcase the kingdom’s efforts in protecting the environment of the holy sites, said Dr Majdah.
Once the haj season is over, another phase of work begins to gather statistics and general feedback through surveys in five languages.
“This is not just an experiment, but a scientific strategy with long-term vision, goals and mission,” said Dr Majdah.
(Reporting by Heba Hashem; Editing by Emmy Abdul Alim firstname.lastname@example.org)
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