INTERVIEW

“Northern Ireland has been recognised as a country excelling in the design and manufacture of material handling equipment:” Noel Johnston

Invest Northern Ireland (Invest NI) is the economic development agency for the country seeking inward investment as well as developing export opportunities for client companies. The country is home to many ground-breaking waste management companies, pioneers in the development of crushing, screening, compacting and sorting equipment. Invest NI recently opened a new office in the British Embassy in Qatar, headed by Noel Johnston, Regional Manager Invest Northern Ireland – Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Iran. In an interview with Swaliha Shanavas, Johnston presents his views on the region’s waste recycling industry, Northern Ireland’s expertise and Invest NI’s presence and operations in the GCC including Qatar.

What is the significance of waste management and recycling and what do they spell in terms of economy and the environment?

At present countries in the GCC produce a greater amount of waste per capita than most regions worldwide. The most recent figures reveal 95 million tonnes of waste were generated in the GCC. That is expected to rise to 120 million tonnes by 2020. The problem with waste is already serious and is becoming more so every day!

Tell us briefly about your experience in the industry so far. What are your key responsibilities in the Region/Qatar?

I have over a decade of experience developing international markets and assisting our waste management and recycling companies in new regions. This has been both challenging and rewarding. My focus in the new role (based at the British Embassy in Doha) will be market development and networking with key clients. I see my role as a bridge between key clients from this region and the Northern Ireland companies providing the solutions, with whom I’ve developed an excellent relationship over many years.

What is the contribution of Northern Ireland to the waste recycling sector?

Northern Ireland has been recognised as a country excelling in the design and manufacture of material handling equipment. It has one of the world’s most successful clusters of engineering companies that develop state-of-the-art solutions for export globally. Among specific areas of expertise are mobile screening and crushing machinery, as well as custom-built equipment for the increasingly significant waste recycling industry.

Northern Ireland companies such as CDE Global, EMS, Powerscreen Terex and Kiverco are well established in the GCC market and are specialists in providing cost-effective solutions delivering a positive environmental impact.

What does waste recycling mean to Invest NI and what is the organisation doing in the Middle East in this area?

Recycling means creating a sustainable and commercially viable process, which protects the environment of a country from harmful solid leachate created by municipal solid waste or from C&D waste dumps (which can just keep taking up landfill space if not recycled).

Invest NI is trying to work with clients, consultants and contractors to increase awareness of sustainable waste management. For the last 2 years, Invest NI has successfully promoted sustainable C&D waste management at Middle East Concrete/Big 5. With our clients, we are also trying to engage with governments to help them develop  regulatory frameworks by looking at best practice in the UK and elsewhere, which can support innovative and sustainable waste recycling.

Could you provide some Statistics related to the overall business with the region and the growth experienced over the past few years?

Northern Ireland’s total exports to the India, Middle East and Africa are in the region of £500 million annually and this sector makes up a large part of that total. Clearly, the price of oil has had an impact here but our exports have held up well. The biggest markets for our products are UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

How do you view the potential of the Middle East market? And what opportunities does the waste recycling sector in the region, particularly Qatar, present to various players?

The Middle East has great potential for waste recycling but a lot of these opportunities still have to be developed like in waste to energy and C&D waste recycling. Gulf countries now understand these issues and are taking proactive steps towards zero waste to landfill, which is why you will see a lot of opportunities in C&D waste recycling and solid waste to energy.

We will have a stand this year at the Middle East Waste and Recycling show in Dubai from 25-27 Sep. I would encourage anyone who is interested in complete waste recycling solutions and learning more about our companies to visit us at our stand no. 4B69 at the show.

What are the key challenges this industry is facing in Qatar and how has Invest NI been addressing these issues?

With the amount of construction currently happening in Qatar, the country is facing difficulty in catering to the high demand of locally obtained construction materials especially sand and aggregates; which is why, they are now trying to recover sand and aggregates from C&D waste. Invest NI has helped by promoting its clients who have had great success in recycling up to 80% of C&D waste into recycled sand and aggregates, which are just as good as construction aggregate.

What are the trends you might have observed in the Middle East?

Tipping fees have already been introduced in the UAE and Qatar, but they are very low. For instance, Abu Dhabi charges about AED 225 per tonne for waste from commercial and industrial companies, while Sharjah charges about AED 150 per tonne of general waste (fees vary based on waste stream, quantity, etc., in both emirates) and Dubai charges only AED 10 per truck load of waste, which is too low for operators to recover their operating costs of recycling. Further, the regulations around recycling are not yet strong enough to encourage recycling of the majority of the waste. Government entities are now beginning to focus on the implementation of higher tipping fees and stronger regulations within their visionary strategic plans.  This will not only allow the operators to recycle waste without running into losses, it will also allow them to sell their recycled products in the market, but, very importantly, it will change the way people in the region think about and handle waste and lessen the impact on the environment.  Governments are beginning to take the necessary steps to implement their plans and meet the tough targets within their respective waste management strategies.

Get in touch:
M: +974 77623519 (Qatar); +44 7876358880 (UK)
E: noel.johnston@investni.com