Taking control... garbage piled up in a local landfill in Sharjah being cleared Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

The UAE is one of the world's largest per capita producers of garbage, say reports. It now takes the initiative to clean up.

Each resident generates a guesstimated 2.2kg to 2.5kg of waste per day on an average. No official numbers are available for the country as a whole, but a study conducted by the Abu Dhabi-based Center for Waste Management (CWM) in April said that the emirate generates more than 30,000 tonnes of waste daily. Separately, as per 2010 statistics, the total annual waste generated in Dubai is approximately 13.9 million tonnes comprising of domestic, horticulture, construction and demolition wastes.

Cleaning up by the book
Though the UAE has stringent legislation in place, which includes Law 21/2005, Law 24/1999, Decree 37/1999, Law 17/2008 and 42/2009 EHS, it is now adopting wide-ranging waste minimisation schemes to combat the issue. For instance, commercial entities in Dubai will have to cough up fines if they fail to segregate waste from September 4. A higher tariff for dumping in municipal landfills is also on the cards (currently Dh10 per truck), as Gulf News reported recently. In comparison, Sharjah charges Dh50 per tonne; Abu Dhabi Dh225 per tonne, while in Europe, fees average €60 or Dh286 per tonne.

GN Focus spoke to various industry players for an insight into current industry trends. "We already advocate segregation of waste at source so that the contamination levels of recyclable material are minimised. However, the segregated recyclable waste still needs further sorting into different grades for further commercial use. For example, the separately collected plastic products need to be further sorted into PET, HDPE, PP, etc. to be suitable for commercial use. In terms of weight, paper products comprise 65-70 per cent of the total recyclable material collected," says Prakash Parab, Director of Waste Management at Dulsco in Dubai.

Reduce, reuse, recycle
In Dubai, the Waste Management Department at Dubai Municipality (DM) has shifted from waste disposal to waste management by incorporating the three R's (Reduce, Reuse and Recycle). "This approach, with the coordination of stakeholders and with implementation of permitting system and considering the innovative and sustainable waste treatment methods and technologies, has resulted in reduction of 20 per cent of land filling in 2011 compared to the year 2010," says Abdul Majeed Saifaie, Director of Waste Management Department.

DM has an ally in Sharjah. "There has been a significant movement in the UAE towards finding innovative methods to managing waste. Since, the UAE is a resource-poor area, it is essential to extract the most value from any product, which is mostly imported," explains Khaled Al Huraimel, Chief Executive Officer at Bee'ah, the Sharjah-based environmental and waste management company. "Over 100 million kilogrammes of organic waste was recycled at our Al Saj'ah Compost plant, 90 per cent of construction and demolition waste recovered, and over 286,000 tyres recycled every month at the Tyre Recycling Facility. Moving forward, we aim to increase the diversion rate from 33.7 per cent to 40 per cent by the end of 2012."

Collecting the excess
Meanwhile, door-to-door recycling activities are being introduced to Al Ain, Abu Dhabi city and the emirate's Western Region. "Green waste is actively composted at plants in Mafraq, Khatim, Liwa and Al Ain. Sorting plants are operating in Al Ain. Construction and demolition (C&D) waste is recycled in Abu Dhabi with a huge crushing plant capable of processing 8,000-tonnes-per-day and a 2,000-tonnes-per-day crushing plant in Al Ain," says John Schneider, Contracts Specialist at CWM. He says that the material currently produced includes aggregates for backfilling and road construction. Wood and steel are also extracted from C&D material. He adds that CWM has awarded two new contracts for Abu Dhabi with an emphasis on recycling and reducing waste. Underground collection units have also been installed around the city.

An increasing number of governments and regulatory bodies are also imposing strict environmental regulations and codes of conduct for the movement of scrap metals.

"All these years, we had good buyers in developing countries, since all grades could not be recycled in the Middle East or UAE. It is easy to talk about green when you dispose of newspapers separately. But when you mix it with the rest of your garbage, it becomes contaminated plastic or paper. Earlier India and China were big clients and importers of even contaminated paper and plastic. But now they have brought in different rules for importers due to changes in their environmental laws. Hence, segregation at source by residents, offices and companies will give the product a better value for recycling. Centralised collection points for plastic, paper and cans within communities will help further this goal," says Mahmood Sait, Senior Manager (Business Development) at the Dubai-based Zenath Group, the recycling and waste management arm of ETA Star Group. Waste management consultants must also understand that the market conditions in the Gulf are different from the other parts of the world, he adds. "Big-time players from other countries lost money when they entered this market because they failed to understand the type of waste generated, the temperatures here and so on," he says.

Likewise, while recycling is necessary, it is also crucial to determine the end buyer for the recycled products. "Aluminium cans can be recycled. But glass is a big worry. We found that local companies were not interested in glass unless it is in a particular colour. Again, international demand is less for glass and it is expensive to ship it. Hence, it goes to the landfill. Since there is a big tipping fee, we have also minimised our glass collection," notes Sait.

Supply and demand
It is easy to go green but supply has to match demand, he warns. "For example, if you have a compost plant, then you have to determine who buys the compost in a situation where irrigation companies are importing the material. Hence, unless the government guarantees that recycled compost must be bought by local companies or it brings in restrictions on imports, things will not change. End of the day, the government has to bring in rules and regulations, say, like in Europe, where the responsibility has to start from the manufacturer," says Sait. The green reach should be comprehensive but pragmatic.

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Innovative initiatives

 The UAE's first and largest vertical medical incinerator was inaugurated in 2009. It is also the world's second-of-its-kind and the project was implemented by Dubai Municipality and Zenath Group. Located at Dubai Municipality's waste treatment complex at Jebel Ali, the Dh24 million-incinerator has a total treatment capacity of 19.2 tonnes of medical waste per day on a 24-hour continuous run.

In February, the UAE Ministry of Environment and Water, in cooperation with the Ministry of Public Works, launched an integrated waste management system, which will lead to the setting up of a federal integrated facility to process and recycle waste in the emirates of Ajman, Umm Al Quwain, Fujairah and Ras Al Khaimah.

CWM has plans for new plants in Abu Dhabi and Western Region for the recycling of paper, plastic metal, textiles and wood.

In Sharjah, plans are afoot to set up the Bee'ah Environmental Research Centre, which will promote academic and business research in the environmental field and create linkages with other research institutions and initiatives, according to its CEO. Bee'ah will also launch the Residential Recycling Programme in October, which will provide residents with the necessary tools to recycle their dry paper, plastic, aluminium, and other recyclable products.

— S.N.