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Don't bury issue of hazardous waste

Waste from sites including fertiliser plants, paper mills, pharmaceutical companies and plastic manufacturers often end up at municipal landfills, which have no means to deal with it properly. This poses threats.

The UAE faces many challenges over the coming years and decades as it adapts to a changing world. As The National reported on Monday, one of the most pressing problems is hazardous waste, which has been predicted to double in volume, from 80,000 tonnes to 160,000 tonnes annually, by 2020.

At present, about 43 per cent of the nation's hazardous waste is produced in Abu Dhabi and about 36 per cent in Dubai. However, only Dubai has a dedicated disposal facility. According to a report from consultancy firm Frost & Sullivan, incinerators at oil and gas facilities in Abu Dhabi provide some treatment of hazardous waste but they are 15 years old and need upgrading to meet modern air-pollution standards.

Other industrial sites have no processes at all for dealing with potential toxic or otherwise dangerous waste. Waste from sites including fertiliser plants, paper mills, pharmaceutical companies and plastic manufacturers often end up at municipal landfills, which have no means to deal with it properly. This poses a threat to groundwater and, therefore, the entire ecological chain.

The good news is that change is already being made. The Centre for Waste Management-Abu Dhabi has awarded a Dh217 million contract to a private company to build a hazardous waste facility near the Al Dhafra landfill. Waste-management experts have also praised the capital's Estidama building system, which rewards developers for providing hazardous waste storage facilities, and an oil recycling project in Fujairah.

However, more has to be done, both in the treatment of hazardous industrial waste and the recycling of domestic refuse.

This is not just an issue related to environmental stewardship. It is also a matter of economic growth. As Abu Dhabi's Economic Vision 2030 report makes plain, diversification of the emirate's economy is well under way, significantly cutting the reliance on oil. But with this diversification will come a need for modern infrastructure to allow new industries to flourish, and to handle the pollutants they produce.

Progress comes at a price, but that price doesn't have to include contaminated water, soil and air. That is why a coordinated hazardous waste management programme is essential, and the sooner it is implemented, the more confident we can be of a clean and sustainable future.

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