The World Bank estimates that 2.01 billion tonnes of municipal solid waste is produced every year. At the very least, a third of that waste is not managed in a safe manner.
If that statistic is not alarming enough, consider this prediction: the World Bank also estimates that this figure will rise by 70 per cent by 2050, if we do not make huge changes to our waste generation and disposal habits. We are not immune to this problem in the UAE.
As a result of our fast-growing society, the average person here generates around 2.7 kilogram of waste every day — one of the highest per capita waste generation rates in the world. For that reason, I am pleased to hear the recent news shared by Shaikh Hamdan Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai. In a social media post, he announced that the emirate will make plans to achieve the goals of the 2021 National Agenda for the treatment of 75 per cent of municipal solid waste, diverting it away from landfills.
Reducing waste production by adopting best practices and enhancing awareness levels will greatly enhance the target of creating a sustainable future for the emirate.
Free up the landfills
This is something we have long strived for. When we set out on our mission in 2007, to help build a sustainable future for our nation and region, the waste diversion rate in Sharjah, our home base, was 20 per cent. Today it is 76 per cent, the highest in the Middle East; a figure we have reached thanks to our fully integrated system.
This process starts by collecting three million tonnes of waste per year through technologically powered, environment-friendly processes. Much of this is recycled at our Waste Management Complex in Al Saj’ah, which includes a material recovery facility, a construction and demolition waste recycling facility, tyre recycling facility, metal recycling centre, and an industrial waste water treatment facility. Through these processes, we are diverting over three quarters of Sharjah’s waste away from landfill and reintegrating it into the economy.
However, up until now, non-recyclable waste has continued to be diverted to landfills, and so our task is not yet complete. Sharjah has a target of being the first city in the Middle East to achieve zero waste by 2021, so we are formulating strategies to meet this goal.
An alliance for greater good
The most obvious example of this strategy is our partnership with Masdar, the Abu Dhabi Clean Energy Company, to form the Emirates Waste to Energy Company (EWTE). Our first project is the UAE’s first waste-to-energy plant, which will open in Sharjah in 2021.
This facility will process more than 300,000 tonnes of municipal solid waste each year, produce around 30MW of energy, and it will be able to power up to 28,000 homes. It will also displace almost 450,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year.
I am happy to add that the EWTE is already exploring future opportunities. Our hope is to establish similar plants across the UAE. As such, we are heartened by the efforts of the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MOCCAE) to explore the possibility of establishing a waste-to-energy project in the Northern Emirates.
Spread the word
As the UAE continues this journey to a waste-free future, we must not forget the important task of educating the wider community about the need to make sustainable choices.
For this reason, we established the Bee’ah School of Environment, which has so far reached more than 200,000 children in the UAE, helping them to help us work towards a green economy, knowing and understanding exactly what that means for them and for our Nation.
We also have a very successful recycling initiative called Bee’ah Rewards that rewards the public when they recycle used plastic bottles and metal cans through our reverse vending machines.
We have also run a door-to-door residential recycling programme, supplying communities with awareness kits on recycling and, since this previous summer, giving each individual household colour coded waste bins. We have also launched our “You Call We Haul” service, which allows Sharjah residents to conveniently and safely discard bulky waste such as furniture and housing appliances.
Bee’ah also works with other organisations across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region, helping them to emulate our model of success through environmental consulting. We are also working hard to improve the quality of air, water and other resources both here in the UAE and elsewhere.
And as part of improving air quality, we launched the region’s first sustainable transport company, ION, via a partnership with Crescent Enterprises, to help foster radical transport solutions for the future.
Through the company’s technology arm, Evoteq, Bee’ah is also catalysing digital transformation through disruptive platforms. This includes the region’s first AI platform for offices of the future, and the technology will first be deployed at our new headquarters, which has been designed by Zaha Hadid Architects, and is expected to achieve LEED platinum certification when it opens next year.
Through this approach, we are proud to support the UAE Vision 2021, which foresees a more sustainable future for Sharjah and the UAE, together with the UAE Green Agenda 2015-2030 and the UAE Energy Strategy 2050. Our belief is that through creative collaborations across the UAE, and with the vision of our leaders, there is no challenge that we cannot overcome as we look to the future.
Khaled Al Huraimel is Group CEO of Bee’ah.