Dubai Municipality is taking important steps to recycle waste.

We live in a throwaway society. Why wash a coffee mug when disposable plastic cups are readily available? Why bother reusing paper bags when plastic bags can be used and thrown away? The increasing use of disposable items in our day-to-day lives is a clear indication of our apathy towards conservation of natural resources.

"In a country with limited natural resources, waste and a wasteful mentality are major concerns," says Habiba Al Marashi, Chairperson, Emirates Environmental Group (EEG).

"The general trend shows an increase in the amount of waste generated annually," says Naji Alradhi, Head of Waste Treatment Section, Environment Department, Dubai Municipality. Dubai generates about 31,000 tonnes of waste every day. The total waste collected in 2005 was 11.3 million tonnes, an increase of 71.2 per cent over the 6.6 million tonnes of waste generated in 2003.

"The waste problem, in all types and forms, is definitely posing a serious threat to the environment," cautions Al Marashi. "Continuous dumping of waste in landfills is threatening our water tables, while more and more waste materials are finding their way into the sea and other water bodies," she says.

Only one answer

Incineration (burning) of rubbish is also not a workable solution as it releases sulphur dioxide, mercury, arsenic, lead and various other harmful substances into the atmosphere. "The only answer to the problem is to reduce, reuse and recycle," says Al Marashi.

"Recycling is of immense significance in today's world as it lessens the pressure on natural resources brought about by a growing demand for goods and services. It also lessens the negative impact on the environment as it reduces the amount of garbage thrown in landfills or burned in incinerators.

"Recycling is particularly important in the UAE as the country has registered one of the highest solid per capita waste in the world at around 1,100 kg. The country needs to prove that besides fast-paced growth, it is also concerned about the environment and efficient use of its resources," she says.

Dubai Municipality's efforts towards recycling are a step in this direction. It conducts awareness and education campaigns for youth and holds lectures and workshops.

"The municipality has also recently inaugurated the largest Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) in the GCC. The MRF, being operated by a private company called Tadweer, is a state-of-the-art facility situated in Warsan that can process about 60 per cent of the domestic waste collected daily in Dubai," says Alradhi.

"Tadweer is one of the biggest recycling plants in the world with a capacity to treat up to 4,000 tonnes of waste every day. Using modern equipment, the waste is segregated here into major components such as food waste, paper, metals, plastic, glass, etc. The food waste is composted to produce high quality soil amendments such as fertilisers, while paper, plastic, glass and other components are recycled within the plant or sold to other waste recycling companies," explains Lina Chaaban, EnviroCare Manager, Tadweer.

Just like the Tadweer facility, the municipality is keen on involving the private sector in addressing the solid waste concerns of Dubai. Al Marashi of EEG also stresses the importance of private participation in recycling. Darren Smith, Manager Retail Marketing Support, Emarat, agrees, "The need to protect the environment is everybody's responsibility and not just of the municipality. It's very convenient to think that it's somebody else's problem. After all, the products turned into waste are produced by the private sector and consumed by everyone."

Incentive scheme

As part of its contribution to a cleaner, better environment, Emarat has installed 32 Reverse Vending Machines ( RVMs) at 16 selected service stations. The RVMs have the capacity to sort, recycle and process 25 tonnes of waste a year. Also, there's an incentive for all those who recycle their waste material at the RVMs. The machines automatically dispense raffle coupons to users, entitling them to win prizes. It's Emarat's way of rewarding people who care for the environment.

Like Emarat, there are several other private companies who are contributing in various ways to make a difference. Spinneys has been a pioneer in providing its customers with facilities for recycling. Three of its outlets - Spinneys Ramada, Spinneys Trade Centre Road and Spinneys Umm Suqueim - provide separate bins for paper, aluminium cans and plastic bottles. The bins are managed by Coastal Waste Management, which recycles most of the waste or exports it as appropriate.

"We also encourage customers to reuse shopping bags," says a senior spokesperson from Spinneys.

Shred-it is a company that has adopted recycling to make its business more environment-friendly. A leading provider of onsite document destruction, it helps destroy companies' confidential materials. "When you deal with us, you also help secure the environment. The shredded material that leaves the facility goes directly to recycling facilities where it is baled and delivered to recycling mills," says Stuart Mansbridge, General Manager.

"Though there is general awareness about recycling, there is also indifference on the part of the public that has stopped them from applying it in their daily lives. Hence there is a need for further education and awareness building among the people," says Al Marashi.

For recycling to be a success, it's important to ensure equal participation of all stakeholders including the government, private sector and people, says Al Marashi. "Though it's a daunting task, it's not impossible if there's a common will to do it."

Sort to save the earth

Unlike in the West, waste in this part of the world is not sorted before it reaches the bins. However, sorting garbage or segregation of waste is one of the most important aspects of recycling. It not only saves resources but also reduces environmental pollution and slows the build-up of landfills. So here are a few tips to sort your waste if you want to dispose of garbage and recyclables separately.

- The easiest way is to have two buckets, one for household waste and one for recyclable materials. Then you can sort the recyclable waste separately.

- Separate all multi-material packaging except metal tubes with plastic corks (for instance mustard or mayonnaise). They can be disposed of whole in the bin for metal recyclables.

- Rinse or wash sticky packaging such as milk or juice cartons.

- Fold or flatten small and large cardboard boxes. Open cans at both ends and flatten them. This will save a lot of space.

- Do not mix clear and coloured glass. The container for clear glass is for uncoloured glass only. Glass with the slightest tint of brown, green or light blue must be disposed of in the container for coloured glass.

- Tie and dispose of your trash bags properly.