Dubai plans to recycle 100 per cent of its waste and bring the percentage of rubbish being sent to landfills from the existing 80-90 per cent to zero by 2030 Image Credit: Supplied

 While we thrive in a modern metropolis, it’s easy to turn a blind eye to the amount we consume or cast away. The garbage does not disappear once we dump it down the chute; it still needs to be dealt with. Going green takes a lot more than tossing a can or two into a bin marked ‘Recycle’; we have to change the way we live and monitor how much we consume.

The UAE continues to be one of the world’s largest per capita producers of waste and has the second highest per capita carbon footprint in the world. Here’s the kicker; on average, a UAE resident (this includes us) generates between two and 2.5kg of waste per day. That’s close to 75kg per month and 912.5kg per year!

Consequently, the UAE continues to face an uphill battle in making significant advances in minimising the amount of waste it generates. In 2010, Dubai produced 13.9 million tonnes of domestic, horticulture, construction and demolition waste. In April, Abu Dhabi’s Center of Waste Management stated that the emirate generates more than 30,000 tonnes of waste daily. For years, environmentalists and green experts have cried themselves hoarse on the importance of segregating trash, reusing items, and slowing the way we ‘plough’ through resources.

Today, the national economy loses a lot of money as a result of not recycling or reusing wasted materials. Our landfills can no longer accommodate the waste we’re generating and the government has formulated strategic goals — eliminate all waste to landfills by 2015 (Sharjah), recycle 100 per cent waste by 2030 (Dubai) and to make the list of the top cleanest cities in the world (Abu Dhabi) — to avoid potential disasters in the future.

 Setting an example

 "Until the infrastructure, logistics, and manpower is available, we will have to continue bringing recyclables to a designated centre. If we look at other developed countries, some already have a recycling service that is a functioning home collection service, and run by the local authorities for that area.

"Home collections for the general public is possible, but the reason why the UAE, especially Dubai and Abu Dhabi, are different, is the number of high-rise apartment blocks and high population density per square kilometre," says Al Marashi.

Private waste management operators like Dulsco, however, are open to working with residential communities who need their recyclable waste to be collected.

Ajay Kumar, Dulsco’s Senior Operations Manager, says, "We have seen a huge jump in the level of awareness about recycling among UAE residents; presently, our ‘Recycle to Regain’ initiative collects recyclables from residents in different parts of Dubai; we also have recycling programmes in residential communities where we collect single stream co-mingled materials, which are sorted in our facility and sent for processing."

He adds, "To run a successful and sustained campaign, we would need a group of residents to come together and practice segregation."

 Segregating our waste is one of the basic steps to contributing to a more efficient, cleaner and safer environment. Since September 4, 2011, UAE legislation mandates corporate entities to compulsorily segregate their trash or risk being slapped with large fines. It is only a matter of time before residents will be required to follow green codes and recycling initiatives to avoid possible penalties or fines for non-compliance.

Recycling is a habit, and in any society, this lifestyle change cannot take place overnight. "We have to appreciate that there are many different kinds of people, some are pro-active and take action to manage and control their personal environmental footprint, and some need encouragement and education to help them understand why we all have a personal responsibility to act and live sustainably," says Habiba Al Marashi, Chairperson of the Emirates Environmental Group.

Each emirate is spearheading independent recycling efforts to reduce the impact of waste on the environment. Sharjah’s Bee’ah is the first company to introduce residential recycling in the UAE. "The programme was first launched in residential towers, we have since decided to expand the project throughout the city of Sharjah," says Najib Faris, Head of Marketing and Communications — Bee’ah. The residential recycling project will add to the ambit of the low-rise residential areas (villas) this month and replace the current single stream municipal metal waste bins around Sharjah with blue (recyclable material) and green (general waste) plastic
coloured bins.

In Dubai, Tadweer is doing its bit with its ‘Sorting at Source’ educational and awareness campaigns in various schools and youth centres. Averda, the largest environmental solutions provider in the region, is partnering with Abu Dhabi to encourage residents to recycle through their Recycle Redeem Reward campaign through Reverse Vending Machines (RVM) which are strategically being placed across the UAE. Residents will be rewarded for their recycling efforts with redeemable vouchers at various participating outlets.

 Where do we go next?

 Modifying single garbage chutes in existing high-rise buildings’ with ‘diverters’ to several basement trash bins costs around Dh9,000 per floor, installing up to three chutes in a new building would cost about Dh11,000. Sharjah’s Hi-Tech Equipments, which provided this cost estimate, believes that the introduction of multiple chutes in residential buildings could make recycling easier for residents. However, if we are to go by Bee’ah’s example, recycling bins near homes and communities across the UAE would be an effective way to get recycling going.

While the collection of recyclables from homes is not a bad option, the most effective solution is to take waste to a recycling collection point independently.