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Rubble at 'mill as UAE is forced to look at recycling

This week the United Nations released a report saying an immediate plan of action was needed to halt the effect of global warming. Hugo Berger examines how campaigners are calling for the construction industry to play its part by reducing the amount of waste it produces.

The EEG, during the launch of its annual Clean-Up UAE National Campaign, said construction waste was an issue needing addressing.
The EEG, during the launch of its annual Clean-Up UAE National Campaign, said construction waste was an issue needing addressing.

Statistics show that four out of the six GCC countries produce the most carbon dioxide per head in the world.

The worst offender is Qatar, with 13.66 tonnes of CO2 per person, followed by the UAE with 13.31; Bahrain with 9.47; and Kuwait with 8.32 tonnes.

The excessive use of gas-guzzling cars and the cool draught of the air-conditioning units in these countries are partly to blame.

However, environmental experts are also blaming the huge construction boom in the region as another reason.

The government has a role to play in this. As it is a tax-free economy, it cannot introduce tax breaks for companies so instead it needs to encourage and persuade people about the advantages of sustainable developments.

All of the components used in buildings, if produced from raw materials, use methods which produce greenhouse gases.

For example, the Ecosmart Foundation has estimated that every tonne of cement made produces one tonne of CO2.

In the UAE, where the majority of the region's construction work is taking place, 35.4 million tonnes of cement will be produced this year.

And the country's vast number of building sites means that industrial and construction waste has gone from three million tonnes in 2000 to 10.5 million tonnes in 2006.

According to figures from Dubai Municipality, construction and demolition waste accounts for 75% of all waste produced in the city, 50% of which could be recycled.

For example, concrete - which accounts for 70% of all construction waste - can be re-ground and used as road and construction base aggregate.

In the UAE, the issue of sustainable building became top of the agenda when Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE vice president and prime minister, and ruler of Dubai, announced the green building initiative earlier this month.

He aims to turn Dubai into a leader in the field in which all new buildings must adhere to strict environmental standards.

Last week, the Emirates Environmental Group, during the launch of its 12th annual Clean-Up UAE National Campaign, said construction waste was another issue which needed addressing.

Group chairman Habiba Al Marashi said that although government legislation can help the problem, much of the responsibility lay with the construction firms themselves.

Dr Sadek Owainati, founder and chairman of the Emirates Green Building Council, believed that the responsibility lay with all parties involved.

He said: "Many construction companies do have a social responsibility but they are also beginning to realise that to recycle as much as you can is good for business.

"Just as a tailor will use every spare piece of material, contractors can save money by using every spare piece of marble, tile or gypsum.

"The government has a role to play in this. As it is a tax-free economy, it cannot introduce tax breaks for companies so instead it needs to encourage and persuade people about the advantages of sustainable developments."


At present, much of Dubai's construction waste is disposed of at a landfill site in Al Warqa.

This is set to change next year when a new US $18 million (AED 66 million) recycling plant is set up in conjunction with Dubai Municipality.

When operational, it will be able to recycle 8.5 million tonnes of waste a year.

The centre is being built in a joint-venture between Al Rostamani Group, the Italian General Work company and Dubai Municipality.

Kewal Thapar, group head of corporate development, Al Rostamani Group, said the plant should be fully operational by mid-2008.

He said at present, much of the waste was lumped together on site, making it more difficult to re-use.

"As long as the construction waste is segregated at the site itself, we should have no problems with recycling a large amount of it," he said.

Andy Baird, operations manager, Al Futtaim Tarmac, said the plant's opening was greatly needed in Dubai.

"At the moment we are using 100% virgin material in our road building.

"All our aggregate comes from a quarry and the bitumen is shipped into the country.

"Roads that have been dug up are a good source of bitumen and so recycling them would help solve the shortage of it in the country."

Baird added that not only would this process save money, it would also produce a lot of environmental benefits.

"I am very much in favour of using recycled asphalt products but at the moment our hands are tied until legislation changes.

"In the UK, I believe that all roads have to have a certain amount of recycled material in them, but this doesn't seem to be the case here," he said.

So although measures are being taken to reduce the amount of rubble, wood, plastics and metals sent to landfills, most agree that more could be done.

If current trends continue, experts predict that sea levels could in fact rise by 88cm by the year 2100.

Since many of the largest cities lie on the Persian Gulf, a rise in water levels will have a catastrophic effect on these waterside communities.

So unless changes are made to how waste is disposed, ironically, the construction industry could be hastening the demise of the cities it has created.

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