How to build recycling centres, Abu Dhabi style
Introducing recycling malls, Abu Dhabi's next big thing
I have a dirty little secret in my kitchen cupboard. Any day now, it will spill out and I'll be revealed as someone who should be on the US reality show, Hoarders.
Here's the secret: plastics. Not "plastic," like the secret whispered in Dustin Hoffman's ear in The Graduate. No. I mean plastic as in the containers that food deliveries come in. My cabinet is so full it looks as if I'm planning to open my own Tupperware store.
True, I could cook more and order in less, but given our hectic family schedule and the aggravatingly picky appetites of my children, that's probably not going to happen soon. In the meantime, after each delivery, I wash the containers, stack them, and put them away.
For a few months, I took the containers to whatever small recycling bins I saw around town. My children became bin-spotters: "there's one!" they'd shout as we walked on the Corniche or drove through a mall car park. The next day I'd come back with my used containers and shove them into the receptacle, which was so small that it made me wonder if it weren't purely for show.
And you know what? I think these cans are for show, training cans to teach city residents about recycling. The problem is I don't think the recycling actually gets … recycled. I kept seeing these containers being emptied into regular rubbish lorries, so I gave up. Thus the Tupperware now breeding in my cabinet.
The discrepancy between the size of the recycling bins and the amount of trash produced in Abu Dhabi alone is laughable: about 1,500 tons of municipal waste finds its way to Abu Dhabi landfills every day. In a year, Abu Dhabi produces 4.7 million tons of waste - in fact, Abu Dhabi is one of the world leaders in per capita waste production.
Is this the kind of record we want?
Here's another big number: Dh3 billion. That's the rough cost of a projected mega-mall that Majid Al Futtaim (MAF, developer of Mall of the Emirates) wants to build in Abu Dhabi. I don't know about you, but I'm thrilled to have yet another climate-controlled space in which to walk around and buy stuff in. I'm sure we need another Carrefour, another Nine West shoestore, and another bookstore that sells book-related products but few actual books.
According to a recent article in The National, MAF wants to open 10 malls over the next five years, adding hundreds of thousands of square metres to the 800,000 sq m of retail space they already own.
Developers talk about landmark experiences, iconic buildings and extending their brand, all of which I'm sure is tremendously exciting - if you think shopping malls represent the pinnacle of civilised society.
However, I have a modest proposal about development, one that might satisfy both the developers' need for expansion and my need to get these plastic tubs out of my cupboard.
Let's build a "recycling experience." I can see it now: a wavy green-glass solar-panelled Municipal Waste Facility. It could house a St. Regis Recycling Ranch, a combination recycling plant and high-end spa. Or maybe the Radisson Blu: Green, which would offer its guests an opportunity to do hands-on composting and then sleep in rooms featuring beds with high-thread-count bamboo sheets.
To anchor the facility, what about the Intercontinental Eco-Intervention Center, which, in developer-speak, would be an iconic, signature destination for business travellers- and a paper-recycling plant.
Just think of all the good press these companies would generate for their community service. Corporations would be falling over themselves to put their brand on Abu Dhabi's recycling facilities.
Branding. Let's make it work for us. We could promote these name-brand facilities to eco-tourism agencies around the world and the tourist dollars would just roll in. Tourists in bio-fuelled buses could tour the facilities; queue up for "black mud compost and massage" treatments; dine on locally grown vegetables; and then buy "I Recycle Abu Dhabi" T-shirts (made from recycled textiles).
I'm telling you, this could be huge.
But if there are no takers, I'm going to approach MAF directly about their next project. I could spell out "Mega-Mall" in plastic boxes.
Deborah Lindsay Williams is a professor of literature at NYU Abu Dhabi. She blogs at www.mannahattamamma.com