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Is it all rubbish?

Currently, the UAE only recycles 3% of its waste. Why? Becca Wilson speaks to waste management experts to reveal the reasons behind the rubbish worries and what more can be done.

Samer Kamal
Samer Kamal

Currently, the UAE only recycles 3% of its waste. Why? Becca Wilson speaks to waste management experts to reveal the reasons behind the rubbish worries and what more can be done.

It has been widely documented all over the world that the UAE and its neighbouring countries produce the largest amount of waste per person.

With Dubai in particular aiming to achieve the number one tourist destination status, being labelled as a wasteful country isn't helping in its quest.

While countries throughout the world implement useful and effective recycling initiatives, the region is falling behind and retaining this position.

"Only 3% of the waste in the UAE is recycled, the rest is diverted to landfill sites," explains Jasleen Bhinder, environment officer, Emirates Environmental Group (EEG).

There are various arguments trying to form some kind of justification as to why the region is so wasteful, with the increasing construction boom being the first.

"It is a young country and has gone through a phase of rapid development which has left gaps in the infrastructure required to fulfil the service requirements of many developments," argues one waste management expert.

According to Dubai Municipality, the most wasteful sector is the construction and demolition industry accounting for approximately 75% of all waste produced in the Emirate. Of this, 50% could be recycled.

Directly linked to this, is the increased expatriate population.

"The make up of the region's population is very mixed, with multi-nationalities from many different countries and backgrounds.

In many of the Asian countries, recycling has not been top of the agenda and the mindset of the people is not geared up to it," explains a spokes person from Molok deep collection systems.

Also, with attractive employment packages being offered to overseas candidates, many people moving to the area only plan on staying for a set amount of time.

For those who are coming from countries that do little or no recycling, there is a need for continuous education and awareness. But educating a transient population is a difficult task, especially when the industry is young and lacks a unified approach to recycling.

Currently, the few initiatives that are being carried out locally come from individuals and/or companies who have felt compelled to address the recycling issue.

Although it is encouraging to hear of people and/or organisations tackling the problem, it is also causing confusion and leading to a misunderstood stance on the subject.

"If people continue to work in isolation it is going to cause problems and I want to get across this message across," says Ali Bin Towaih, Enpark executive director.

"There is no interaction between the government, private sector and service providers. If the three entities don't understand what the other is trying to do then there is a missing link. This is a basic and commonsense thing to know.

"Even if the recycling facilities are there, even if the attention from the government to do it is there, if there is no interaction this will not work.

According to Mark Siddorn, general manager of waste management company, Dulsco, the amount of waste is increasing at such a pace that in two years, the Emirates might not be able to handle it.

"The amount of waste keeps growing. Is has tripled in the last three years and gone from 3,000 tons a day to 9,000. If the city keeps growing the way it is, the landfills will be bursting at the seams. If it isn't sorted out by say 2010, the landfills will be full," he claims.

Current initiatives

But it's not all doom and gloom. Although there is currently the absence of an overall effective waste management policy on a larger scale, there are companies trying to drive the reduce, reuse and recycle message. For example:

Zenath Paper Traders

Falling under ETA Ascon's Facilities Management, Environment & Automobiles/Waste Management Services/Zenath Environment Engineering Services division, is Zenath Paper Traders.

The paper recycling division was launched in 1988 to source, collect and export different grades of waste paper from the Middle East to paper mills in the Indian subcontinent and Far East countries.

Annual Exports exceed 118,000 mts and the paper is collected from all over the Middle East, including, Yemen, Lebanon, Egypt and Iran.

There are rumours ETA will also be developing a plastic recycling plant in the region.

Emirates Environmental Group (EEG)

The EEG has been involved in recycling campaigns throughout the UAE for over 10 years. It started with the launch of the Can Collection Campaign (CCC) and has since launched other schemes to collect paper, plastic, glass and toner.

"The CCC success, based on the response of the participants and its impact on the environmental movement in the UAE, was overwhelming. It prompted the EEG to launch campaigns for other recyclables," adds Bhinder.

Since 1997, 74,321 kilograms of cans have been collected. But paper is by far the most collected recyclable with the EEG diverting 3,421,202 kilograms from landfill since 2001.

Although the table above shows the odd decrease in the level of interest, the overall amount of paper collected has increased year on year.

"Toner and ink cartridges take over 1,000 years to biodegrade as they are manufactured using industrial grade plastics," explains Bhinder.

The EEG started toner collection in 2001 and has recycled 15,866 toners by sending them to a recycling facility where they are sanitised, refilled with ink and then ready for re-use.

In September 2005, plastic collection started and since then 32,462 kilograms has been retrieved. The next recyclable product to be added to the list was glass and collection started a month after the plastic. To date, 63,849 kilograms has been collected.

"EEG has been involved in various campaigns for the last 16 years. It is involved in numerous initiatives with regards to education and it gives monthly presentations to schools and higher colleges. It also holds community lectures every month," explains Bhinder.

Recycling bins for all these recyclables are available from the EEG, for a one off fee. It will then collect the waste free of charge upon a written request.


Initially launched for the commercial sector in September 2007, waste recycling company Bee'ah, has since grown and developed its recycling strategy and has recently launched its residential scheme.

"The pilot recycling scheme in Al Batha tower was a great success. Each office receives blue boxes from Bee'ah for recyclables to be placed. The waste is then collected and transported to a secure facility where it is sorted, weighed and stored.

It is then audited to determine the various types and quantities of the material collected," explains Samer Kamal, managing director of Bee'ah.

"Because the scheme is easy to take part in and no sorting is required, participation is maximised and the number of trucks needed to collect is minimised, saving costs and cutting down on air pollution.

The same approach has been adopted for the residential scheme and Kamal says the response has been really positive.

Another area Bee'ah has targeted is public space. Over 50 pedestrian recycling bins have been placed on the Buhairah Corniche in Sharjah and are emptied once or twice a day.

"The metal bins have three segments, paper, drinks containers and other waste. They are clearly labelled with images and text in seven languages, allowing pedestrians to quickly and easily place their waste in the appropriate segment.

The correct usage of the bins is 80%, which is on a par with other, longer-established facilities elsewhere in the world," adds Kamal.

Its next step is to enter the education market and promote recycling to schools, colleges and universities.


Currently the only waste management sorting plant in the UAE, Tadweer originally aimed to have three sorting lines for the waste by the end of 2006.

"We deal with domestic waste and have a contract with Dubai Municipality for 20 years to receive and sort 4,000 tons of waste a day. In order to receive this amount we should have three sorting lines, each taking around 1,000-1,500 tons a day.

But we are still in the construction stage and only have two lines working, the third line will be installed by 2009," explains Lina Chaaban, envirocare manager, Tadweer.

Soft operations were launched in 2006 and US $136.1m (AED 500m) has been invested into the project. Tadweer believes sorting at source would help reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills.

Its primary goal is to educate and promote the benefits of effective waste management and recycling to the wider community. In the future it hopes to handle 10,000 tons of waste a day.


One of, if not the largest developer in the region, Emaar, launched Earth Watch in 2006 aimed at its master-planned communities. It applies the first principle of recycling, sorting at source and was so popular, Emaar has since rolled it out among all its projects.

Dry waste is collected on a weekly basis from people's homes and the Molok Deep Waste System is positioned at all community centres, giving residents additional recycling facilities.

The scheme operates in three streams, paper related items, plastics and metals and glass.


At the end of 2004, Emarat decided to install 30 recycling units known as Reverse Vending Machines (RVM) in Dubai and the Northern Emirates.

Customers are able to dispose of glass, plastic and aluminium cans in return for goods redemptions at Emarat's convenience stores.

The machines automatically identify and sort the waste and then choose the appropriate redemption value. The more recyclables that are disposed of, the higher the reward.


The Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC) pledged its commitment to recycling in February of this year, announcing a three-year environmental strategy aimed to reduce, reuse and recycle exhibition waste.

Included in the waste category, is, carpet, wood, plastic, cardboard, paper and catering waste.

"Target areas to start with will be looking at the consumables used within our catering operation and looking at possible carpet options for the exhibitors to see if we can find one that can be reused or recycled, as this forms a lot of the waste," explains Karen Hennessy, executive housekeeper, ADNEC.

ADNEC will see 51 exhibitions and an expected 1 million visitors pass through its doors this year.

So what's next?

All of these companies are showing a positive step towards the region's waste problem, but with only two paper mills and one glass recycling plant in the UAE alone and dumping prices at landfills hovering at around AED 10 a load, most of the waste is still finding its way to landfills.

"In 2006, we only recycled 1.4% of 2.9m tons and the rest went to landfill," confirms Chaaban.

But the cost of landfills throughout the UAE is starting to change, with one in Sharjah increasing its prices.

"The drive to recycle needs to come from the top authority, but it would be better if it was done federally because if you set up something in Dubai and Sharjah isn't doing it, you are going to have problems," stresses Siddorn.

"For example, a landfill in Sharjah is charging AED 50 a ton for waste disposal, but people are smuggling it into Dubai and disposing of it here for AED 10 a load. So you have one party doing one thing and one doing another. You need a uniform approach across the UAE.

There is always a mixed response to the question: should legislation be introduced to help? But in this case, all the waste management professionals interviewed strongly felt the government should get more involved, with the possibility of a federal law being implemented.

"In my opinion, we need more efforts from the government sectors that are responsible for waste. We also need more contribution from the decision makers of private sectors to implement more recycling on a larger scale," reiterated Chaaban.

Some waste experts say that federal legislation already exists and is supported by local legislation. "The main issue is to bring the waste legislation up to date with waste management strategies to reduce, reuse and recycle," explains a waste management professional who asked to remain nameless.

Technology will also play a part in the successful reduction of waste, with waste to energy plants on the horizon.

Three years ago Germany decided to ban all landfills and now relies on alternative ways to manage its waste (recycling plants and waste to energy plants).

The Dubai municipality is also looking into waste to energy plants and is in the process of selecting a French or German consultant to assess the Emirate's waste management strategy and oversee the development of three waste to energy plants.

"In Europe you have to pay a gate fee to dispose of your waste and it's EUR 100 (AED 575) in Germany. The waste to energy plants sell the electricity, but they can't survive by this so the government has a fee per ton which pays for the plant, design etc," says Siddorn.

"The DM are looking at financing the plants externally, building them and asking the consultant to set up a system where there is a fee to dispose of waste. They don't want landfills anymore, eventually they will disappear.

Along with these technologically advanced plants, the industry is also calling for more recycling facilities to be implemented.

"There must be the provision of recycling facilities and services that do not create major inconvenience or require enormous lifestyle changes. The response to our initiatives has shown that people are ready and willing to make changes to their habits if facilities are in place," adds Kamal.

While it's encouraging to see and hear that people are starting to take the issue of waste and recycling seriously, the industry is highly concerned that without communication and a unified approach, the problem will continue to escalate.

In the April issue of facilities

management Middle East, we exclusively revealed the thoughts from people within the waste management industry, on the formation of a recycling body.

And maybe this is a way to combat the problems the region is currently facing? One body, one voice, one mission - to drive the industry forward and create a society that does reduce, reuse and recycle.

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