Palestinian academics win St Andrews prize

Thursday 11 May 2000

Two leading Palestinian academics who are seeking to turn the waste from olive oil production into valuable by-products have won the prestigious St Andrews Prize.

Dr Amer El-Hamouz and Prof Hikmat Hilal, from the West Bank’s An-Najah National University in Nablus, received the $25,000 prize for their proposal to reuse solid olive pip waste in environmentally clean and economic processes. Waste from olive oil production is a significant problem – such waste from Palestinian olive trees alone is estimated to be some 12,000 – 14,000 tons annually.

The St Andrews Prize, established by the University of St Andrews in partnership with international energy company Conoco, is aimed at finding imaginative, yet practical solutions to worldwide environmental problems. This year, the focus was on waste-related issues. The award was presented today (Friday 12 May 2000) by Sir Crispin Tickell, convenor of the British Government’s panel on sustainable development, at a seminar attended by leading representatives of science, industry and government.

“We are delighted to have been recognised in this way,” commented Dr El-Hamouz. “The prize will enable us to help a distinguished needy Palestinian student. We will also use some of the money for our transport needs – to cover travel expenses to European research centres and to upgrade our old but essential cars. Generally the prize will give us increased confidence and encouragement to work on environmental issues for the direct benefit of Palestinian people.”

The prize attracted entries from as far afield as Russia, Kenya, Pakistan, the USA, Mexico, Switzerland, Japan, Iran and the UK.

Two runners-up were selected. Anselm Rosario, regional co-ordinator for Amsterdam Institute for Environmental Studies’ South Asia Urban Waste Expertise Programme in Bangalore was praised for a proposed solid waste management system embracing teams of waste pickers, the promotion of composting and recycling techniques and the establishment of waste resource centres. Similarly, Dr Paul Mankiewicz, executive director of The Gaia Institute, New York, was recognised for a proposal for using organic waste and treated storm water to provide green spaces and habitat in dense urban areas.

The prize, which has the support of H.R.H. The Prince of Wales, was judged by an eminent panel of international trustees, chaired by Sir Crispin, who is also a member of the Government task force investigating the threat posed to earth by asteroids and comets. The trustees also included Professor Sir John Krebs, chairman of the Food Standards Agency, Sara Parkin, director of Forum for the Future, and James Currie, director-general of environment, nuclear safety and civil protection, European Commission.

Among those joining Trustees at the St Andrews seminar were: Charles Miller Smith, chairman of ICI; Lady Howe of Aberavon, chairman of the BOC Foundation; Lord Jenkin of Roding, chairman of the Foundation for Science and Technology; and Dr Caroline Jackson MEP, chairman of the Environment, Public Health and Consumer Safety Committee.

Details of the three featured submissions are attached. Further information about the St Andrews Prize can be obtained from The St Andrews Prize Office, External Relations, University of St Andrews, 82 North Street, St Andrews, Fife, KY16 9AL. (Telephone 01334 462161, Fax 01334 462590, E-mail [email protected]). The St Andrews Prize website is at ENDS

Issued by Beattie Media on Behalf of the University of St Andrews For more information please contact: Claire Grainger – telephone 01334 462530 or mobile 07887 650072 Ref: prizepress1/standrews/chg/12may2000



Two Palestinian academics at the West Bank An-Najah National University, Nablus – Dr Amer El-Hamouz of the Department of Chemical Engineering and Professor Hikmat Hilal of the Department of Chemistry – are searching for environmentally-clean processes that can turn solid olive pip waste into valuable by-products.

Waste is a major problem for olive oil producers. Over 35 per cent of the total crop weight currently ends up as solid waste, called Jift. Such waste from Palestinian olive trees is estimated alone to be between 20,000 and 30,000 tons annually. While some of this Jift is burned for home heating, a large proportion remains in polluting waste dumps.

Now Dr El-Hamouz and Professor Hilal are looking at ways of using this waste to extract more olive oil and to ease another problem – the shortage of fresh, clean water.

At present up to six per cent of the available olive oil remains locked in pip waste. This oil can be used in soap manufacturing. The Nablus team believes that by using a recyclable organic solvent, they can recover sufficient additional oil to be used on a commercial scale.

But this is just the start. For the team believe that by treating the waste chemically and physically they can also produce porous activated charcoal solids that can be used in water purification processes. With relatively low annual rainfall, water resources on the West Bank are limited. Dr El-Hamouz and Professor Hilal argue that surface waters are already contaminated and ground water will soon contain highly toxic elements. As a result water purification processes will become more and more important.

It is thought that charcoal resulting from treated Jift will not only help to release contaminants from water but may also be used to support different catalysts in solar driven water purification processes.

The innovative feature of their work is that they plan to target more than one objective with their processes.




The Gaia Institute in New York City is working to create new green “lungs” for urban areas like Brooklyn – wetland habitats, soils and green swaths that help purify the air and water of the city and improve the environment for the local communities. And it wants to do this by capturing storm water and by turning organic waste – such as leaves, wood chips, discarded food and vegetable matter – into soil-improving compost.

The Institute has identified a 5,000 square foot abandoned lot in Brooklyn that can be converted into a wetland garden and native species habitat capable of processing a minimum of 10 million gallons of storm water per year. Some 20 other sites in the area have been identified for similar development. It has been estimated that such natural water treatment systems in this area could intercept storm water from more than a square mile of the Jamaica Bay watershed, filtering hundreds of millions to billions of gallons annually. Without such natural treatment systems, storm water would continue to carry suspended solids, nitrogen, phosphorous, hydrocarbons and other pollutants into Jamaica Bay. This estuary, at the border of Queens and Brooklyn, provides a valuable fishery and is an important sanctuary for migrant and nesting birds.

The Gaia Institute is looking at ways in which human activities and waste products can be influenced to increase ecological productivity, biodiversity, environmental quality, and economic well being. It is looking, in particular, at the challenges in New York City.

As Dr Paul Mankiewicz, the Institute’s executive director, points out, of more than half million tons of food and yard waste produced in the City each year, less than 50,000 tons are recovered. “Virtually the entire edge of New York City consists of landfill – approximately one fifth of the area of the City”, he said. And yet, at the same time New York City had lost more than 45,000 acres of wetlands, substantially compromising the historic ecological capacity of the estuary around the area. He believes the Gaia Institute’s proposals are a small, but vital step towards redressing the ecological balance. And beyond New York, he sees similar potential existing in virtually all old industrial east coast cities – from Baltimore to Philadelphia, Trenton to Newark, and Bridgeport to Boston. ENDS



Tackling the mountains of solid waste generated by India’s growing population is one of the most complex and serious environmental issues confronting local authorities in the country’s major cities.

This task can consume as much as 30 to 50 per cent of municipal revenues. Many authorities find the problem too daunting with the result that raw, untreated waste is dumped on the outskirts of cities, causing irreversible damage to humans and the wider eco-system.

Now a project has been established to find a comprehensive solution to the problem. If successful, it would involve many of the thousands of waste pickers who currently eke out a meagre existence from their labours.

Through a pilot project in Bangalore, the Urban Waste Expertise Programme of WASTE in Gouda, the Netherlands, is planning to evaluate a system that would integrate adult waste pickers into the more formal and mechanised system of waste management and recycling. In this “bottom-up” approach to the problem, UWEP sees these waste pickers gaining legitimate employment and better conditions, perhaps through involvement in micro enterprises and co-operatives.

Anselm Rosario, regional co-ordinator for the programme, points out that in all Indian cities, waste recovery and recycling “is a way of life”. Local authorities were increasingly turning to highly sophisticated technological solutions. And yet, despite its contribution, by and large the informal sector of waste picking was ignored. “Waste pickers remain semi-visible and recycling industries invisible entities in the waste management scenario”, he said.

UWEP’s initiatives are based on a project being undertaken in Bangalore in cooperation with the Bangalore City Corporation and other institutions dealing with welfare, development and pollution measures. “Our aim is to define a comprehensive policy for performance and standards in municipal solid waste management so that we arrive at a clean and green Bangalore”, said Anselm Rosario.



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