Complex Made Simple

UAE’s lofty sustainability aims met with inadequate waste management practices

Many businesses faced challenges related to the process of waste management in the workplace, including segregation, collection, storage, transportation, and recycling

11 million tons of waste are generated in the UAE every year, produced by households, offices, and workplace The UAE aims to spend 600 billion Dirhams ($163 billion) by 2050 on clean-energy projects Hygiene practices and quarantining have led to a rise in the volume of single-use plastic waste

At a recent Dubai Chamber Sustainability Network Task Forces webinar aimed at helping businesses improve waste management practices, it was revealed that out of the 44 participants representing 35 companies in the UAE, many faced challenges related to the process of waste management in the workplace, including segregation, collection, storage, transportation, and recycling, as well as best practices for identifying and engaging with waste service providers.

Waste in the workplace

The presentations revealed that 11 million tons of waste are generated in the UAE every year, 33% of which is municipal solid waste produced by households, offices, and workplaces.

Around 80% of recyclable materials are going to landfill due to lack of segregation, of which 25% comes from businesses and communities. One ton of recycled paper saves 24 trees, 1,600kg CO2, and 6,500kWh of energy, according to statistics shared by expert speakers.

A survey found that 59% of the participating businesses face challenges with waste segregation, 30% with recycling, and 11% with collection. 

Read: How COVID-19 made us health, environment, and cost-conscious

UAE Waste management plans

Dubai aims to reduce the amount of waste being sent to landfills to 0 in 20 years.

Dubai Municipality has announced that it will establish the largest plant in the Middle East to convert solid waste into energy at a cost of 2 billion Dirhams ($545k) in the Warsan district, to be operational in 2020. The National Agenda is to reduce the landfill by 75% by 2021.

The UAE, which holds about 6% of global crude reserves, aims to spend 600 billion Dirhams ($163 billion) by 2050 on clean-energy projects. It targets meeting half of its energy needs from sources other than fossil fuels — including solar, wind, and nuclear power — by then.

A group including Electricite de France SA and Jinko Power Technology Co. signed a recent deal to build a two-gigawatt solar facility in Abu Dhabi. Dubai is building a solar park designed to produce five gigawatts by 2030.

Private company efforts

1. Etihad Airways

In an effort to reduce waste, economy-class meals served on Etihad flights will be tracked to record food consumption patterns and waste levels across the airline’s network using Lumitics’ Insight Lite product, which will monitor the number of uneaten meals on a plane when it reaches an airport.

The program uses artificial intelligence (AI) and image recognition to identify the types and quantity of unconsumed food, without the need for human interaction.

In 2017, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) found that 1.14 million tons of food was wasted from in-flight catering and about 20%of all food produced by in-flight catering teams is wasted every year.

2. Expo 2020

A partnership between Expo 2020 Dubai and UAE firm Dulsco will ensure that 85% of waste from the site will be diverted from landfills.

10 composters will be placed near the kitchen areas to treat food waste that will be used as fertilizer to green the 4.38 sqkm area that will include pavilions, exhibition and science centers, play areas, and walking tracks.

The team is evaluating whether organic waste will be converted into energy on site as part of assessments being carried out.

3. Bee’ah’s landfill power 

A waste-management firm in the UAE has a novel idea for a disused garbage landfill: convert it into a solar-power farm.

The project would produce more than 42 megawatts a year, the government-backed company Bee’ah said in a statement.  It plans to build the solar farm on 116 acres of closed landfill in the emirate of Sharjah, near Dubai. Closed landfills contain garbage but are no longer usable for waste disposal.

Read: Meals on wheels further Saudi obesity, health issues, but other culprits weigh in

A sustainability pandemic with COVID-19

While lockdowns initiated in response to the pandemic are expected to result in an estimated 5% drop in greenhouse gas emissions this year, according to the UN Conference on Trade and Development, other measures to contain the virus such as hygiene practices and quarantining have led to a rise in the volume of single-use plastic waste. Single-use face masks are made from polymers such as polypropylene, which has been identified as a significant source of plastic pollution. 

An increase in the manufacture of private protection equipment (PPE), coupled with the temporary shuttering of recycling facilities and reduced operational capabilities, have set back global efforts to reduce the usage of plastic.

According to business consulting firm Grand View Research, global sales of disposable face masks are set to increase from about $800 mn in 2019 to $166 bn in 2020.

Some 8 million tons of plastic waste is estimated to end up in the ocean every year.  

Covid-19 has also necessitated the use of delivery services during the resulting lockdowns, which led to an increase in plastic packaging and single-use utensils. 

e-commerce is forecast to grow by almost 20% this year and the global plastic packaging market is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 5.5%, from $909 bn in 2019 to over $1trn by 2021.