Reduce, reuse, recycle: the time-tested mantra of conservation is spreading in the UAE. As The National reported this week Sharjah is the latest emirate vowing to stop sending any waste to landfills, in its case by 2015.
Zero-waste targets are laudable goals. But as things stand now goals like these will remain little more than aspirations. Not until the cost of waste disposal goes up, and incentives for recycling rise in conjunction, will landfills being to shrink.
Part of the problem is economics. Private companies in Sharjah pay just Dh50 per tonne of waste dumped, which means it is cheaper to dump than recycle. Only 10 per cent of household waste there is reused.
Compare this to the Netherlands, where 80 per cent of household waste is recycled, 16 per cent burned and the rest turned under. In that country trash haulers must pay the equivalent of Dh552 per tonne to dump. No wonder the Netherlands is a global recycling leader.
Of course, price alone will not dictate reuse. Consumer attitudes must change and infrastructure must be built. In both these regards the UAE is making headway.
Recycling bins along the Corniche in Abu Dhabi and at grocery stores in Dubai already give people a place to dump their plastic and glass. Soon residents in Sharjah will have their own bins, too. The municipal company Bee'ah plans to invest Dh100 million in waste-collection equipment and plastic bins for households in the coming year. The new project will also help retrofit collection systems in old buildings. The hope is that people's habits will shift as the ease of recycling improves.
But these plans will take time. And as infrastructure analyst Nigel Mattravers tells The National, a more immediate step would be to increase the price of leaving waste in landfills in the first place. Doing so would force companies to consider replacing their outdated methods which, by default, could help build markets to meet the demands of recycled product.
Getting rid of waste by burying it in sand will remain a preferred choice for companies and consumers until economics and ease of use alter the equation. Achieving zero-waste may be ambitious, but it's a target worth working for.