x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

No time to waste in rubbish debate

Dubai's landfill sites get thousands of tonnes of rubbish each day, a figure set to increase. A conference is addressing the issue.

Tyres dumped at the solid waste landfill in the Sajaa industrial area of Sharjah.
Tyres dumped at the solid waste landfill in the Sajaa industrial area of Sharjah.

DUBAI // The emirate's development has thrown up many wondrous things, among them some remarkable buildings set in a thrilling urban landscape, and tales of personal and corporate success.

Such rapid expansion, however, has also thrown up a lot of waste, and what to do with a growing mountain of refuse has become a pressing problem. It is one of the topics being addressed this week in the Arjaan area, where international and regional experts on "strategic waste management" have gathered for four days to talk rubbish - or, rather, how best to get rid of it. Yesterday, at the City Waste 2009 conference, figures provided by Hassan Makki, director of the municipality's waste management department, told their own story.

In 2004, Dubai generated 4,000 tonnes of rubbish a day. Today, it creates 10,000 tonnes a day, an amount expected to rise to 14,000 tonnes by 2015 if new measures are not taken, Mr Makki said. With a 40 per cent increase in waste predicted over the next five years, and landfill sites getting close to capacity, there is a worry that the emirate will run out of places to dump it. "Managing waste in Dubai is a very challenging job. It is hard with the growth that we have seen in the recent years," said Mr Makki.

With this in mind, the municipality has several big projects in the works, including a major incinerator and plants dedicated to recycling old tyres and oil waste. But they are not without controversy. About 6,500 tonnes of waste a day - most of it household rubbish, rejected material from the emirate's waste-sorting facility and sewage sludge from water treatment plants - would be incinerated. This month, the municipality will invite proposals from companies interested in designing, building and operating an incinerator, or perhaps two, the operation of which would eventually be handed over to the municipality. Some conference delegates, however, questioned whether committing to such a large incineration project would scupper attempts to promote recycling and minimising waste.

Others wondered about the steep cost of such a project. But Mr Makki said an incinerator would not only tackle waste and deal with environmental problems, the energy that it generated could make money. The municipality had already held talks with the Dubai Electricity and Water Company on the issue, he said. It had also talked to other government departments about financing. However, money made from electricity production would not cover the cost of the project.

Tipping fees, which apply at landfill sites, are a possibility. But, at Dh10 a load, Dubai's current municipal solid waste fees would not be enough to pay for an incinerator either. Mr Makki said a "creative financing solution" was being sought, although he did not clarify whether this meant tipping fees would go up. Incinerators also bring environmental concerns, because of the emissions they release as waste is burnt, such as dioxins, which have been linked to cancer.

Supporters, though, point to technological improvements that have reduced harmful emissions. Mark Siddorn, manager of sustainability development at Masdar, the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company, said incinerators could be fed different kinds of waste in a specially-determined ratio that would keep any emissions safe. One technology that produces less pollution is pyrolysis, in which waste is burnt at higher temperatures so that it dissolves into composite gases, and ends up as mainly carbon dioxide, hydrogen and ash. It is understood, however, that because of the cost this will not be considered in Dubai.

At present, no more than 10 per cent of Dubai's waste is recycled, according to Mr Makki. However, in addition to incineration, the municipality is planning more recycling schemes. A facility to recycle old tyres is expected to be up and running by the end of the year, operated by Emirates Recycling, a subsidiary of the Al Rostamani Group. It has quite a task - eight million unwanted tyres have piled up in Dubai in the past 20 years.

Another private company, Global Investment Group, is behind a facility that will recycle oil waste and sludge. It was expected to start work at the end of 2010, Mr Makki said. It will not be the first time that the municipality has relied on private companies to help it reduce the amount of waste being sent to landfill. In 2006, Tadweer Waste Treatment, began operation of what was then said to be the region's first sorting plant, which was supposed to process around 4,000 tonnes of waste a day, automatically picking out recyclable materials.

A year later, a project aimed at recycling construction waste, run by Emirates Recycling, was announced. Both projects have been hit by delays, meaning the majority of Dubai's household and construction waste still ends up in landfill. vtodorova@thenational.ae