A visit to an eco-friendly cement factory

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To those who do not believe that cement can be an environmentally friendly material, I can state that there is at least one eco-friendly cement factory in the Kingdom and I have visited it.

How can cement or a cement factory be eco-friendly? When we think about a cement factory, the first thing that comes to mind is pollution, smoke and polluting dust particles, whether at the site of a building under construction or at a factory that produces cement.

Those who lived in Jeddah, particularly in the north of the city, about 40 years ago, will remember a cement factory that was located in the north of the city. At that time, the factory was more than 10 kilometers away from the urban area. It spewed out large amounts of smoke and polluting dust in the area where it was located, especially in the eastern and southeastern neighborhoods of the plant. People were reluctant to buy plots of land for building homes in the area where the factory was located or close to it.

But when rapid urbanization extended to the plant, there was an increase in demands and complaints of people against the factory and that resulted in the relocation of the plant. Moving the plant brought about a fast change in the area and plots of land that were once unwanted turned into some of the most expensive in the city.

During a general assembly meeting of the Yanbu Cement Company, some shareholders asked the company’s officials about the company’s plant, its location, the number of employees, their housing and other related questions. When company officials started answering questions, a shareholder stood up and explored the prospect of organizing a trip to the factory for those shareholders who wanted to see it for themselves. The officials promised the shareholders that they would study the proposal and would give them an answer later.

After some time, the officials contacted shareholders who lived in Jeddah or Makkah to inform them that the company had organizing a trip for those who wished to visit the factory, which is located 40 kilometers north of Yanbu. Those who were interested to visit the factory were asked to report at the company’s Jeddah office by seven o’clock on a Saturday morning.

I was one among some 15 shareholders who expressed their willingness to visit the factory. When we reached the Jeddah office, we saw that the company’s public relations officials had already arrived and were waiting for us. They accorded us a warm welcome and arranged a luxury bus rented from a transport company for our transportation. The bus took off at 7:30 a.m. and we were served refreshments and some light snacks during the four-hour nonstop journey.

When we arrived at the headquarters of the factory, we found senior officials of the factory waiting for us at the reception hall near the entrance surrounded by a garden of flowers. After taking cups of tea and coffee and some dates, they took us to visit the factory with its different sections old and new in a clean atmosphere and that was beyond our expectations. We were expecting to see the factory’s smoke and the air saturated with dust.

The officials told us that cement factories are no longer the same as they were in the past. They are now equipped with filters to trap polluted exhaust. Then they took us to the residential neighborhood, which accommodates around 900 officials and employees. This consists of villas and buildings surrounded by plants and green gardens. At the time of the noon prayer, we went to the mosque, which was magnificent in size and elegant in design and decor and was surrounded by large areas, some of which were full of plants while some others were used for parking.

After performing the noon and afternoon prayers in combined and shortened form, we walked in the area surrounded by the mosque and in green gardens with various kinds of flowers. None of us could imagine that this area was in the vicinity of a cement factory and we never expected to witness such a serene environment. Then we went to the restaurant where we found that the factory officials had prepared a delicious lunch for us.

After lunch, we bade farewell to the factory officials and thanked them for their warm hospitality. We returned to Jeddah with feelings of admiration for the care we had seen given to preserving a clean environment with green spaces and different types of flowers. We thank the officials of the cement factory and everyone else who cares about preserving the environment and protecting it from pollution.

— Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi is a former Saudi diplomat who specializes in Southeast Asian affairs. He can be reached at algham@hotmail.com


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