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Data dilemmas

As the region's waste hits an all time high, Deirdre Dudley-Owen, senior waste consultant, Hyder Consulting Middle East discusses waste management strategies, waste water and public private partnerships (PPPs).

INTERVIEWS, Facilities Management

As the region's waste hits an all time high, Deirdre Dudley-Owen, senior waste consultant, Hyder Consulting Middle East discuss waste management strategies, waste water and public private partnerships (PPPs).

The population of Dubai has increased from 2.4m to 4.3m between 1995 and 2004, with an average annual growth of 7.9% (State of Environment Report).

Figures from the UAE's government website show that per capita, household waste generation has reached 730kg a year in Abu Dhabi and 725kg a year in Dubai, although this may refer to municipal solid waste (MSW) as opposed to domestic.

In areas such as Ajman, the population could grow from the current 207,000 to 2.17 million by 2030. This is primarily due to the supply of new apartments and properties which are based on an allowance of 35m2 a person for the gross floor area.

This increase in population coupled with an increase in wealth and a society where the consumer is king, means that waste will continue to grow at rates which will outstrip the capacity of the current infrastructure.

The Emirates are gearing up for the challenge by building new waste transfer stations, new materials recycling facilities, new landfills and investigating the various residual treatment options.

These actions are a good start, but strategies are needed to guide waste management up through the principles of the waste hierarchy and provide clear action plans to enable the different municipalities to tackle waste in the short, medium and long term.

Waste management strategies

Waste management strategies set out key measures needed to achieve the goals of waste minimisation and recycling of materials such as paper, card, plastics, aluminium and other high value recyclate.

The strategies also include recommendations for treatment facilities ranging from landfill to incineration which may be the best environmental and economic option for residual waste treatment.

The efficiency of the waste strategy is based on the accuracy of the waste generation figures. These figures may sound simple to come by but the gathering of this data is one of the most time consuming and challenging aspects of waste management in the Middle East.


Waste scavenging for valuable materials happens all over the world. Scavengers are very low income earners and rely on this activity either to boost income or as a sole form of income.

They are a valuable part of the chain and waste they pick out of the bin will be recycled in countries such as China, Bangladesh and India. But we can't accurately assess how much of the waste generated at source is recyclable, unless there is a formal system in place to ensure all recyclable material is weighed.

This is not a feasible option as long as the scavengers continue to operate in the current manner, as it is not in their or the person who is buying the waste, interest, for the value of the waste to be known. 

International practices split the waste stream into domestic, commercial and industrial. It is then further divided into hazardous, construction and demolition waste. This is not the case in the UAE.

A recent survey carried out in a smaller Emirate by the Hyder Consulting waste team, found that waste streams are not divided up clearly. This means the collection of data on commercial waste streams, for example, has to somehow estimate the small amounts of commercial waste that may go straight to landfill without being weighed.

Ideally, for the data on this stream to be accurate, the waste collected must first go to a facility where it is weighed. Domestic waste is separated from commercial and industrial, but there is still scope for improvement.

There are other obstacles in gathering waste data such as language barriers and unavailability of accurate recording systems. Many of the labourers who work in this sector are from India, Pakistan and South East Asia that encompasses a multitude of languages and dialects.

The UAE is embarking on a new journey of data collection. The first attempts will provide the stepping stones for future data gathering exercises to take place but there will be gaps. If we continue to work with the local municipalities we can fill these gaps and strengthen the knowledge base for the future.

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