x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Recycling route proves full of obstacles

How easy is it to dispose off your rubbish the environmental way? The National reporter Matt Kwong finds out the practical way.

The National's Matt Kwong discovered that it was not easy to find places where he could recycle his household waste.
The National's Matt Kwong discovered that it was not easy to find places where he could recycle his household waste.

ABU DHABI // In a month when experts at a conference in Dubai said the region lacked the "political will" to address its rising amounts of waste in a sustainable manner, The National investigated the ease, or otherwise, of recycling household items in the capital. At the Middle East Waste Summit 2010, an official from the United Nations Environment Programme's regional office for West Asia said the UAE Government needed to create and support a recycling industry with strong regulations and tough enforcement to support them.

Fareed Bushehri said some recycling did take place, but not enough to divert the huge amount of waste that goes to landfills, which do not always meet international safety requirements. When it comes to recycling in the capital, having the will to properly dispose of plastic bottles, glass jars, tins, cereal boxes and even electronic waste is easy. The challenge appears to be finding a convenient way to dump the stuff properly.

The Centre of Waste Management-Abu Dhabi (CWM) launched a kerbside recycling project in three "pilot neighbourhoods" in November. Some government buildings, certain malls, shops and recycling centres in Mussafah apparently also take certain recyclable materials. The National hauled around a month's worth of hoarded rubbish, seeking to act responsibly and close the recycling loop. Over the course of an afternoon, however, one thing became apparent - it is not always easy being green in the capital.

11.36am: Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi People do not typically ask if they can dump sackfuls of rubbish at the recycling centre here, said Mohammed al Mazrouei, a receptionist for the environment agency. They just dump away. "You'll find a big fence behind for this recycling," he said. "But I think it's for the building, not the people." Would he be opposed to accepting an offer of flattened cardboard boxes? "Go ahead. No problem," he said. So long as there was no glass, as the recycling cages only sort paper, plastic and cans.

11.48am: Al Wahda Mall This is one of three "recycling points" at Abu Dhabi shopping centres, according to Eman al Rumi, a call centre agent with the CWM. But Marla Gimoros, a customer services worker at the mall, is perplexed when presented with a bag brimming with plastic milk bottles and asked where they can be disposed of. She calls Marceline Ceatano, the mall's executive housekeeper, who is unequivocal: "We cannot collect this from you. We only take cartons and oil cans from our restaurants, but nothing like this."

In the car park downstairs, he opens the storage area housing stacks of bound cardboard from the mall. Asked if he would kindly accept one bag of plastic bottles, Mr Ceatano must decline: "If we take this, we'll have to put it in the garbage." 12.32pm: Abu Dhabi Municipality New recycling bins greet visitors at several entrances, but they only accept cans, paper or general waste. For those five-litre plastic water jugs, Kamal, a security guard, suggests checking a narrow alley near Gate 14. Sure enough, an empty blue bin labelled "plastics" sits right outside. As for where the recycled material goes, he names two recycling plants - Green Mountain, and Zenath Recycling and Waste Management.

1.50pm: Green Mountain Establishment, Musaffah Industrial Zone Finding this sorting facility in labyrinthine Mussafah, half an hour from the city, is the first obstacle. The second hurdle is that residents need written approval to drop off even a few cans, explains Hari Krishna, a co-ordinator at the plant. "This is our procedure," he said. "By verbal is not okay with us. We want to see what is the type of waste."

A detailed audit of the items with volumes and weights included would be preferable, he said. But maybe that is too much trouble for the casual recycler. Recyclables brought to the centre might be held over as "samples", Mr Krishna added, but they would not be processed without consent from management. 2.07pm: Zenath Recycling and Waste Management, Musaffah Industrial Zone "No problem to come in my yard," welcomed a grinning Haja Mohideen, the purchase officer at the recycling plant.

Upon realising that The National was not asking for money for its recycling, he opens his facility. Cans, tins, plastics and paper welcome, but not glass. He shows off his industrial baler at work, pressing dozens of bottles into manageable blocks. About 40 tonnes of waste pass through the facility daily, he explains, with much of it coming from big businesses such as Carrefour and Spinneys, schools, hotels, even the US Embassy.

About one tonne of high-grade cardboard could be worth between Dh200 and Dh250, "but you have very little material". "You are always welcome to my company," Mr Mohideen added, promising to deliver the lone glass item - a spaghetti sauce jar - to a truck for transport to Dubai for recycling. Success at last. 3.10pm: Adnoc petrol station, Khalidiya Onto the tricky part - the safe disposal of electronic waste. The used batteries, a pair of broken headphones and a broken computer keyboard must be handled differently, due to chemicals and toxins that can leach into the earth.

Adnoc's "EnviroFone" campaign accepts old mobile phones at all petrol stations in Abu Dhabi. Or, at least they used to, according to a supervisor. "That stopped maybe two months ago. It was more of a space consumer," he said, gesturing at a crate of water bottles in the corner. "We used to put that [EnviroFone] box there. But in one month, sometimes we'd have zero phones inside." Besides, he added, the campaign might only accept phones and not necessarily other forms of e-waste.

3.37pm: Spinneys, Khalidiya There was an outdoor recycling depot here about six months ago for cardboard, plastics and aluminium, said Ria, a supervisor. "I think the municipality may have removed it because they said it's not good to see here," she said. "But it was very useful. A lot of customers were asking where is it now?" She offers to take and re-use a plastic bag with the company logo on it, but the other plastic bags are better off elsewhere.

3.50pm: Khalidiya neighbourhood As one of just three "pilot" areas fortunate enough to have kerbside recycling bins in Abu Dhabi, Khalidiya attracts eco-minded residents from other neighbourhoods. Strangers come here to sneak their accumulated plastics, tins and glass into Khalidiya's roadside receptacles. Wallid, 13, does not mind if unknown visitors decide to share the bin outside his home. "All of the family is recycling," he said.

Lifting the lid on the green bin outside his villa, there is plenty of space below to fill with a dozen plastic bottles. "You're welcome," Wallid said. 4.12pm: Magrudy's bookstore, Al Wahda Mall The shop should accept used mobile phones for recycling as part of the EnviroFone campaign, but a collection box is nowhere to be seen. After some pestering, a cashier emerges from a back storeroom with the EnviroFone stand. The box is empty. "It's not popular," the employee said. He added that EnviroFone would not accept other kinds of electronic waste such as batteries, headphones and computer keyboards.

4.49pm: Lulu Hypermarket, Al Wahda Mall Plastic bags can be returned to Lulu for reuse, but on condition that they bear the Lulu logo, explains Mohammed el Sayed of customer services. Emma Smart, a shopper overhears our conversation. "I only know of two places you can recycle in Abu Dhabi - one's the British Club, the other's Spinneys," said Mrs Smart, 36, from New Zealand. Her husband had been keeping a box of dead batteries for four years because he could not find a place to recycle them safely, she said.

Conclusion The following morning, a call to Plug-Ins Electronix confirms that the store will collect electronic waste, and would be happy to take used batteries, headphones and computer equipment. Josephine, of customer services at Plug-Ins in Marina Mall, said roughly 10 people a day dropped off used electronic items and mobile phones. @Email:mkwong@thenational.ae Tell us how you tackle recycling at www.thenational.ae/yourview