The UAE’s war on waste
Rapid economic expansion means more homes, more industry and more construction. It also brings mountains of waste.
In the rapidly developing UAE, waste management has become a major industry, the roots of which can been traced to the pioneering ideas of Sheikh Zayed, the founding President, on sustainability.
For waste management to work successfully, however, this requires the cooperation of businesses and residents.
Working out how much waste we generate is another matter as the data can be confusing. The most recent government statistics revealed that 26 million tonnes of waste were collected across the country in 2012.
At Eco-Waste, an annual conference hosted by Masdar, the Abu Dhabi sustainable energy company reported that the waste generated by the UAE will increase from 6.6 million tonnes in 2010 to 8.4 million tonnes by 2017. For the whole Arabian Gulf, almost 29 million tonnes of rubbish will be generated, creating a waste management industry that potentially could be worth Dh6.2 billion.
Patrick Lloyd-Bradley, the brand and marketing director with the international waste management company Averda, says more waste does not necessarily mean it is in the best interest of his firm.
“Don’t think that for a business like us that the more waste there is, the better we are,” Mr Lloyd-Bradley says. “If you think about it intelligently, we want to be able to advise, consult and make sure that waste is put back into the system.”
When it comes to managing waste, the UAE has only recently started to adopt European standards, and the culture of minimising and recycling waste is still in its infancy among residents. “It will take time, but I would say that it is moving faster here than Europe because people are learning from Europe,” Mr Lloyd-Bradley says.
“Where I live, in Wales, I have five different things to recycle. To me, that’s excessive. I think that’s going too far. But here in the GCC it’s just general waste and recyclables.”
Government’s statistics show that 13 million tonnes of waste were collected in Abu Dhabi in 2012, up from 9.6 million tonnes in 2009. Dubai, in comparison, has reduced from 21.8 million tonnes collected in 2009 to 9.6 million tonnes in 2012.
Food waste, however, accounts for 55 per cent of all of Dubai waste, and each Ramadan the emirate disposes of 1,850 tonnes of food, which works out to almost a kilogram for each resident.
Dubai Municipality estimates the city recycles 25 per cent of its refuse, but it aims to increase this to 75 per cent by 2021. Public-private partnerships will play a crucial role in meeting this aim.
Perhaps the municipality’s best example of this partnership is the My City, My Environment campaign, which expanded its scope in May.
The programme, which now serves 15 communities, has seen private companies tender contracts to provide and manage segregated rubbish bins for homes across Dubai.
Averda operates on three main business levels in working with government municipalities, large corporations and small businesses. “The work we do with municipalities is primarily door-to-door collection, but at the same time, we have added value in terms of mechanical and manual street-cleaning and sweeping,” Mr Lloyd-Bradley says.
“So it’s not just about collecting the waste from the households, it’s also about keeping their communities clean.”
The success of the industry, he notes, depends largely on government legislation, infrastructure and consumer behaviour.
With Averda successfully winning contracts for Dubai’s Al Barsha 2 and 3, part of its programme there involves distributing educational leaflets in four languages. These tell householders how to correctly separate their refuse, how to use the coloured bins and why they should recycle.
Other companies awarded similar contracts, Dulsco and Trashco, have provided similar literature.
Averda also conducts consumer education in shopping malls and other public spaces, such as Averda Learn, its educational programme written by teachers.
Mr Lloyd-Bradley believes the UK and Europe are more advanced in their recycling cultures because of long-running EU legislation, something that has required consumers and the infrastructure used by municipalities to adapt.
“In the UAE, things are going to have to change. In terms of a cultural change, these are small steps. But in terms of literally having the infrastructure for the consumer to recycle, this is a massive step.
“I think the next step will be the different types of recyclables, with the objective of taking everything away from the landfill, because here in the UAE the landfill is still very cost effective.”
He notes the “circular economy”, involving recycling and reusing materials and putting them back into manufacturing, will become increasingly important.
But collecting waste is just one part of the equation, as once it has been collected it must be sorted. This is where Dubai company Tadweer Waste Treatment comes in.
The organisation receives about 500 tonnes of general waste a day, which it must sort before compacting all of the recyclable items to be sold on.
Such business is socially profitable, but it comes with high risk and low gains, compost engineer Mohammad Jarrar says. Working with local authorities is also crucial, especially as Dubai Municipality is the company’s only client.
“We work on four fronts,” says Mr Jarrar. “There’s the sorting line where we receive household waste and sort all recyclables, compact them and sell them.
“Secondly, we convert plastic film taken from garbage into plastic granules, which will be used to produce plastic bags again.”
Tadweer also receives landscape waste from the municipality – such as grass, shrubs and leaves to make compost.
The company is also looking into using a biogas digester to turn food waste, which constitutes 30 per cent of the total waste received, into methane gas to produce electricity.
Despite the efforts of various groups, Mr Jarrar says many people are still unaware of the importance of recycling. “There is actually a huge amount of waste here,” he says. “Our capacity is not able to receive all the waste of Dubai, only maybe 15 per cent.
“The challenge, of course, is cost. The technology is still growing but there are no fully integrated solutions. We’re still using manual labour.”
For the company, all of the waste received by 7am each day must be sorted and processed by 7pm, or a backlog builds to unmanageable levels. Tadweer’s contracts stipulate that only 20 to 30 per cent of the waste it receives can go to the landfill.
“There are so many nationalities here, different consumers with different needs, so there’s really a huge amount of waste,” Mr Jarrar laments. “But if you only work for business you will not succeed. You have to work for people.”
The expected development and population growth of the UAE leading up to Expo 2020 will exponentially fuel the waste management industry. But this could also make it even more difficult to foster a culture of sustainability among transient expatriates, says Mahmood Rasheed, the chief operating officer of waste management company Imdaad.
Despite the hurdles, he expresses his admiration for the My City, My Environment campaign.
“But the issue is that Dubai is a metropolitan city. People come from all over the world and by the time you go and educate people and raise awareness, the turnover is so fast that there’s new people and you have to start again.”
The community, Mr Rasheed says, needs to be aware of such programmes.
“When we started the first project with Dubai Municipality from Mizhir 1, initially we gave out flyers and then we taught all the housemaids because in the end they’re the ones who take the waste outside.
“But the results are still slow because you teach that housemaid and within two years she leaves and another one comes. It’s a continuous process and the culture is not there yet. That is why we’re focusing on the young generation.”
The company has a programme called Be’ati, which teaches kindergarten children about recycling to build a culture of sustainability.
However, Mr Rasheed says more regulations are needed for a recycling culture that involves the entire community.
Another challenge, he says, is that waste collection is a very competitive market. “With the market conditions now, the closing of the landfill in Jebel Ali and the diesel price increase, we are all affected. And everybody wants a cheaper price, so the competition is very high.”
The key to staying competitive, Mr Rasheed asserts, is logistics. High competition means the margins are very low while capital investments are high. Imdaad’s lorries, for example, can cost up to Dh800,000.
“If logistics are not controlled, you will have a great loss. We have more than 150 vehicles so we have a fleet management system.”
Technical support is also an important part of good logistics. The company spent Dh12 million to open a 30,000 square metre workshop to repair and maintain its vehicles in Jebel Ali in February last year.
“The workshop is also sustainable and environmentally friendly,” Mr Rasheed says. “Now we use oil for 10,000 kilometres, and we introduced bio-fuel. We’re not focusing only on making money, but we’re thinking about how we can save our environment too.”
Updated: August 19, 2014 04:00 AM