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Recycling still a major gap in sustainability efforts

Green audits presented at conference highlight the need to improve recycling efforts on campuses

Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: While the UAE is expected to produce 29 million tonnes of waste this year, only about 10 per cent of residents in the country actively recycle their rubbish, a senior environmental expert said in the capital on Thursday.

Recycling is therefore a major focus of campus sustainability initiatives, especially as a number of self-audits undertaken at universities have found that on-campus recycling is still rather limited, said Fozeya Al Mahmoud, director of environment outreach at the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD).

“A big reason why people exert very little effort towards recycling is because they cannot visualise the amount of waste that is actually generated, as well as how much of it simply lies in landfills. They stay wrapped up in their comfortable lives without seeing how much damage they are doing to the planet,” Al Mahmoud told Gulf News.

“This is why sustainability efforts like this are critical. We have universities voluntarily auditing their waste generation and resource use, and as they follow up on their initial findings, real changes come about,” she added.

Al Mahmoud was speaking on the sidelines of the Sustainable Campus Initiative conference, a yearly forum that discusses the EAD’s programme to engage universities in environmental sustainability. About 24 universities participate in the programme, which was first initiated by the Abu Dhabi emirate’s environment sector regulator in 2014 as an addition to its sustainability promotion activities in schools.

According to a recent policy brief released by the EAD, the emirate aims to divert about 75 per cent of its waste from landfills by 2020, up from just 13 per cent in 2013.

To that end, many of the green audits presented at the conference highlighted the need to improve recycling efforts on university campuses across the UAE.

For example, a poll at the American University of Sharjah found that only about 19 per cent of those surveyed were involved in recycling their waste. At the Abu Dhabi University, only 15 per cent of the solid waste generated per person everyday is recycled. And at the New York University Abu Dhabi, the recycling rate on campus was found to be less than 10 per cent.

“Even though it may not sound like much, awareness is still the key towards encouraging recycling, as many people still do not know how they can segregate and recycle waste. This gap was the key takeaway from many of the audits, and we hope to see even more progress in the coming years,” Al Mahmoud said.

Some audits also emphasised the need for efforts to reduce waste generation. At Zayed University, for instance, researchers found that 31 per cent of those surveyed tended to purchase new electrical devices every year, and the team now hopes to inspire more sustainable habits through education. The NYUAD is also calling upon students and faculty to reduce the use of plastic bags and disposable water bottles.

In addition, a number of university professors at the conference discussed how the UAE could work towards attaining the sustainability development goals, including through the use of greater public transit systems and 3D printing.