ABU DHABI // Companies in the emirate from next week will have to pay a flat fee for the waste they generate when they renew their yearly trade licences.
The scheme, which starts on March 16, is an attempt to reduce the large amounts of waste that the emirate produces, and to encourage recycling.
The 1,800 hectares of landfill was projected to expand significantly if nothing was done to address the problem, said Essam Ali Ahmad, a technical adviser at the Centre of Waste Management - Abu Dhabi, which is introducing the scheme.
If changes were not made, the 4.7 million tonnes of waste produced in Abu Dhabi each year would jump to 31 million tonnes a year by 2030, he said. The new tariff is projected to limit that annual figure to 6 million tonnes of waste.
Private companies and government organisations will be charged Dh225 for every tonne of waste they generate up to a maximum of Dh50,000. Those paying the top fee would have produced 220 tonnes.
Although the fees cover just 45 per cent of the real cost of waste disposal, Mr Ahmad said: "We're not here for the money, we're here for the idea of reducing waste."
The tie-up with trade licences was implemented as an enforcement mechanism, with those companies due to apply for renewals next week being the first to pay the fee. "We will have about a year to capture everybody," Mr Ahmad said.
Individuals are exempt from the fees, as are companies that provide environmental services.
Fees will be calculated based on a number of factors including the size of a company's premises, the number of employees and how much waste organisations in various categories typically produce.
The scheme does not consider what type of waste is being generated, meaning hazardous waste would be charged the same as benign materials. However, construction on a new hazardous waste facility for Abu Dhabi is set to start within six months.
"This is a new system, which has never been used in the Middle East," Mr Ahmad said. "We are [only] looking at volumes at this point in time."
The fee formula is based on a survey the centre conducted on 4,500 businesses. "From the grocery store to the big companies, each activity has been studied," Mr Ahmad said. "There are many variables and we will work with the companies to come to the right number."
Companies and organisations will be able to reduce their fees by showing proof that they have taken steps to recycle.
To enforce the new regulations, the centre plans to require that all waste collection vehicles in the emirate be fitted with GPS tracking devices that enable inspectors to follow their route in real-time and identify potential illegal dumping activity.
Just 4,000 of 7,000 lorries on the road have these systems and the rest would be required to get them by the middle of this year.
Glenn Platt, the environmental manager at KEO Infrastructure, a consultancy, said that the fee would help people realise that waste management was a costly process.
Old landfills needed to be monitored for a period of 30 years after closure to ensure they were not harming the environment and public health, he said.
"I do not believe people realise the true cost of waste management," Mr Platt said. "It is about time we found an incentive for people to minimise their waste, and unfortunately the most effective incentives are economic."
Rajnish Sinha, the general manager of the Fujairah-based plastics recycling company Horizon Technologies, said that the new fee could help boost the emirate's commercial rate of recycling.
So little waste was reaching recycling companies that the sector was struggling, he said. Horizon is designed to handle 1,500 tonnes of waste per month but only receives about 350 tonnes.
"We need more waste," he said. "A lot needs to be done. We have seen an increase in the past two years, but it is very slow.
"It is a good step to start, you have to start somewhere. It could lead to more recycling and less waste generation."
The Centre for Waste Management - Abu Dhabi estimates that the UAE economy loses about Dh1.5 billion per year due to missed recycling opportunities.