Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 February 2020

New workforce of disabled residents join UAE fight to protect the planet

More than 100 disabled people are to help recycle 2 million plastic bottles by the end of the year

Students of Zayed Higher Organization for People of Determination sorting out plastic bottles during the recycling workshop held at Zayed Agricultural Center for Development and Rehabilitation in Abu Dhabi. Pawan Singh / The National
Students of Zayed Higher Organization for People of Determination sorting out plastic bottles during the recycling workshop held at Zayed Agricultural Center for Development and Rehabilitation in Abu Dhabi. Pawan Singh / The National

Dozens of disabled people have joined the UAE's war on waste - after enlisting for an ambitious effort to recycle 2 million plastic bottles by the end of the year.

The first 40 recruits are already hard at work after signing employment contracts with a major waste management company to turn a bold recycling dream into a reality.

As well as doing their bit to protect the planet, the initiative is providing the enthusiastic employees with a new-found purpose and a salary to afford them a greater degree of independence.

Waste management firm West Coast Group teamed up with Zayed Higher Organisation for People of Determination (ZHO) to draft in extra help for the plan to turn discarded plastic bottles into clothing.

I am just happy they are teaching them something good to do

Mouza Nasser, parent

ZHO runs centres and clubs across Abu Dhabi which offer education, training and counselling for people with disabilities as part of the country's mission to further integrate all sections of society.

The new employees are based at a recently-opened workshop at the Zayed Agricultural and Vocational Rehabilitation Centre, which is operated by ZHO.

“They are helping us with compressing, sorting and threading [the bottles],” said Mohammed Khalifa, a general manager at West Coast Group.

“We signed 40 students as a first phase, and we will be recruiting a total of 105. We aim that throughout 2020 we will manage to recycle 2 million bottles.”

Mr Khalifa said the target is big, so they decided to call on ZHO for support - and the deal is already reaping recycling rewards.

More than 1,000 bottles were compressed by the diligent students on their first day at work.

The workforce pick up bottles from a conveyor belt, remove the caps and carry them to a compressing machine.

Once compressed the bottles are placed on a scale, before being packed up and taken back to the factory for the next stage of the process.

“It is a nice feeling removing the cap from the bottle and taking it to the machine,” said one of the 40-strong team, Eissa Al Mansouri, as he demonstrated the steps of his job at the workshop.

Jasim Al Zabi (right) and Ismail Juma (left) put plastic bottles into a compressing machine at Zayed Agricultural and Vocational Rehabilitation Centre in Abu Dhabi. Pawan Singh/The National
Jasim Al Zabi (right) and Ismail Juma (left) put plastic bottles into a compressing machine at Zayed Agricultural and Vocational Rehabilitation Centre in Abu Dhabi. Pawan Singh/The National

Along with his colleague Ahmad Al Jilani, 31, they removed a pack of compressed bottles and placed it on the scale.

“Look now it weighs 162kg,” said Mr Al Jilani.

“When I step up the scale with it, the weight increases.”

The students took turns jumping on the scale to see how much their weight adds to it.

“Knowing the weight of the compressed bottles is important because the factory wants each box to weigh 250kg,” said their supervisor Mari Al Nahdi.

“The students are enjoying themselves with the recycling because it is a new activity and easy for them to do.”

It is just one of a number of tasks undertaken by workers at the centre.

Those include growing organic vegetables at the centre’s farm, manufacturing aircraft chocks at their mechanics workshop, and farming river fish.

The students were already getting paid Dh4,000 a month for their jobs at the centre, but with the new contracts they will receive additional benefits, said Hamda Al Mazrouei, a senior specialist at ZHO.

“They will receive a monthly salary of Dh4,000 and be registered with the Abu Dhabi Retirement Pension and Benefits Fund, and continue to receive support from the Ministry of Social Affairs.

“They will be working at the recycling workshop under the company on certain days, and for the rest of the week they will continue to work on their designated jobs at the centre.”

The students and their parents gathered at the centre last week to sign their contracts with West Coast.

“I don’t care how much the salary is or if they will get paid at all, I am just happy they are teaching them something good to do,” said parent Mouza Nasser.

She was signing the employment contract on behalf of her daughter, Raysa Humaid.

Miss Humaid, 40, started working at the centre four years ago. She wraps and packs the organic vegetables produced at the farm.

Ahmed Al Jilani places plastic bottles into the compressing machine at Zayed Agricultural and Vocational Rehabilitation Centre in Abu Dhabi. Pawan Singh/The National
Ahmed Al Jilani places plastic bottles into the compressing machine at Zayed Agricultural and Vocational Rehabilitation Centre in Abu Dhabi. Pawan Singh/The National

“Before that she wasn’t doing anything, just sitting at home,” said the 60-year-old housewife.

Her daughter was not accepted in school when she was younger “and now she is too old to study”, she said.

Miss Humaid is equally happy to be working at the centre.

“I am very happy here,” she said.

“I like to arrange the cucumbers, tomatoes and zucchini. it is very easy, and I have many friends at work.”

Maryam Al Ali said she was looking forward to start working on the plastic bottles after signing the contract with her father.

“We will also train on protecting the environment and to spread awareness,” said the 23-year-old, who proudly represents the UAE as an athlete.

She has been working on packing vegetables at the centre for five years, in addition to her sporting activities.

She has represented the UAE in several championships, earning herself a total of 52 medals, including 23 golds.

Updated: January 19, 2020 05:21 PM

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