ABU DHABI // The opening of a plastics processing plant in Al Ain next year will close an important gap in the way the UAE recycling market operates and reduce the country's environmental footprint, experts say.
Some types of recyclable plastic waste are exported as far as China or India, where they are processed and re-imported into the UAE.
But once the new Al Ain plant opens in May, the entire process will be handled locally, said Robin Dawson, who manages the project.
"The plastic recycling plant is a natural step in further improving the efficiency and effectiveness of recycling in Al Ain," Mr Dawson said. "This means that unnecessary transportation is minimised or eliminated completely, massively reducing the environmental impact of the recycling process."
Work will begin soon on the facility, located next to the plant where the city's waste is processed now. That plant receives up to 900 tonnes of mixed waste from Al Ain's households every day.
Once there, the waste is processed so various recyclable materials, including as much as a daily 63 tonnes of plastics - 50 of which will be recycled - can be separated and eventually sold.
The plastics recycling project was developed by the Centre of Waste Management - Abu Dhabi, and a private company, Emirates Environmental Technology, which is also managing the existing waste facilities in Al Ain on behalf of the centre.
The new plastics plant will have two production lines, each capable of processing 25 tonnes of material per day. It will focus on two types of plastic waste: plastic film, such as that used to make bags, and HDPE (high-density polyethylene), which goes into items like shampoo bottles.
"We can increase this as the amount of in-feed material goes up," Mr Dawson said.
This is the second time that new features have been added to the waste facility, which opened in 1978 as a compost plant to process leftovers from agriculture and landscaping. In September 2008, a waste-sorting plant opened to extract recyclable materials from mixed municipal waste.
The facility composts about 400 tonnes of organic waste daily and diverts from landfill as much as 70 per cent of municipal waste. Lorries carry rubbish from Al Ain to the complex in Sanaiya, approximately 30 minutes from the town centre.
The sorting process entails waste being fed through two large machines that break it down. It then goes through large drum screens, where it is divided into three streams, based on size.
The smallest particles are mostly organic. They are brought via a conveyor belt to the facility's composting plant.
The remaining waste goes through conveyor belts, where workers manually pick out bits that can be recycled. The waste is divided into various components: clear and coloured plastic bags go into separate heaps with other types of plastic including HDPE bottles, clear beverage bottles and green beverage bottles. There are separate heaps for aluminium cans, paper and cardboard.
Except for steel, which is separated by a magnet, all other recyclable materials are picked out manually. The recycled pieces go down a chute and end up in heaps with similar material, which is then baled together for storage, pending sale to traders and recyclers.
Although the new plastics project is not directly related to a consumer recycling campaign that the centre launched this spring to encourage residents to separate waste, such efforts by residents will definitely help the new plant, Mr Dawson said.
"Any sorting done before the material reaches here will help," he said. "It means we will be quicker and more effective."
Ghadeer el Kheshen, a public relations specialist at the centre, said the consumer recycling scheme, running in four districts of Al Ain and two in Abu Dhabi, would be expanded but she had no further details.