Nabil Al Yafeai, Environment Manager at ADNEC, Abu Dhabi outlines the exhibition centre’s journey in sustainability and their waste management and recycling best practices in partnership with Dulsco, in an interview with Swaliha Shanavas.
The Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC), which started operations in February 2007, is one of the leading venue providers for international exhibitions, conferences and live events industries with world class venue facilities and management, also focusing on sustainable solutions and services. And right from the beginning, Dulsco has been ADNEC’s main waste management partner and together they have been introducing various environmental initiatives that have seen the facility take the lead in the area of waste recycling. “This partnership started a decade ago. Ever since I joined ADNEC in 2008, Dulsco has been receptive to innovative ideas and over the years, they have become our main partner in sustainability,” says Nabil Al Yafeai.
Back in 2008, when the concept of recycling was not known or practised in this region, they were discussing new ideas and initiatives, and started with basic things like collecting paper, he explains. “Working with Dulsco, we gradually built a programme with improvements in many areas and expanded the scope of our recycling initiatives as we moved on. At present, we recycle everything including aluminium, steel, plastic, paper, wood, etc., except for the carpets in the exhibition halls.”
SETTING THE TREND
One of Al Yafeai’s main goals was to set up ‘recycling stations’ as part of the sustainable measures at ADNEC. He had also conceived a design and asked an equipment supplier to find a good manufacturer for this equipment. It was initially produced in the UAE, but the end product was not satisfactory. The manager says they finally found success with a company in Malaysia and after certain modifications he received the final design. “Once it was ready, we installed 24 recycling stations within ADNEC. We call it a recycling ‘station’ because it can accommodate paper, plastics and cans, and there are four chambers inside.”
In his view, recycling projects will be successful only if there is proper waste segregation. To further support this process, they use clear bags so they can see what is inside and separate the mixed material, if any.
A few years later they introduced RFID, which was a joint effort by ADNEC and Dulsco, says Al Yafeai. An electronic chip installed in the recycling stations, colour coded bins in the loading bay and the waste transportation truck helps them to keep track of the level of material in the skips, etc., and track the movement of the truck from ADNEC right up to the landfill.
“And this we started way back in 2011. We are the leaders in this area. Only a couple of years ago Tadweer applied this system in Abu Dhabi, while other emirates are still in the process of putting in place the RFID system,” he comments.
ADNEC has created a ‘Green Team’ that includes staff or ‘ambassadors’ from different departments. They meet regularly to discuss various issues, share reports, new ideas, initiatives and best practices, and pass on the message to other employees. “At present, I can confidently say we have a ‘green culture’ at Adnec,” the manager says.
Food Waste Recycling
Al Yafeai is proud of their food waste recycling initiative. A few years back, he says ADNEC partnered with Dulsco to install a small machine to treat this waste stream to produce compost. Recently, they switched to liquid food composting, with Dulsco installing the innovative LFC machine (liquid food composter) at the facility, which has helped minimise food waste.
“It was an excellent jump for us. When we first started recycling, we achieved around 5 percent diversion overall, which gradually increased over the years. My target for 2016 was 20 percent, but we achieved about 37 percent, which is a high figure even at the global level. And there is zero food waste,” the manager remarks.
Awareness Building and Waste Reduction
Earlier, the exhibitors would normally dump everything at the venue once the show was over and they would be left with 40/50 truckloads of material to dispose of, says the manager, adding that over the years, working together with Dulsco, they have been requesting exhibitors individually during build-up to take back all the material after each show and also encouraging them to reuse certain material at future events. “This exercise led to a change in the attitude of many exhibitors and contractors. They have become smarter and construct their stands in a manner that they can reuse the material later, so at present we have a small amount of waste to deal with,” he highlights.
Biodiesel production from used cooking oil
Another key initiative at ADNEC is biodiesel production from used cooking oil, which is collected from the restaurants within the facility. The material collected is processed and converted into biodiesel with the help of a machine installed at the venue itself. A by-product of the process is glycerine, which they use for cleaning the loading bays. Prior to that, the facility management division faced a problem “as the restaurants used to dump the used cooking oil into the drain, which would clog the drain and sewage lines, and we had to hire another company to clean the drain which was an added expense of about AED 24000 a year,” Al Yafeai emphasises. The biodiesel produced is used in their vehicles, mainly the man lifts or cherry pickers at the facility, with blends of 30 percent biodiesel and 70 percent conventional diesel.
Reverse Vending Machines
Another recent introduction is the custom-made reverse vending machine, and there are eight of these mobile machines that can be placed at convenient locations. The system is said to be wireless and can be connected through wi-fi and also via cable. It transmits all data related to the number of cans deposited, etc. aiding in smooth operations, he says.
Energy saving measures
The facility has made a complete switch to led lights and solar panels have been installed at one the car parks, which generate enough energy to power lights on three floors at the facility, says Al Yafeai. Further, a solar water heating system has been installed at ADNEC’s Aloft hotel.
Among ADNEC’s awareness programmes is the educational campaign in three schools that aims to encourage children to adopt waste recycling practices. “Since it is easier to mould younger children, we selected students from KG to grade 5. Through Dulsco, we donated recycling bins to schools, mainly for paper, plastic and aluminium cans. When the bins are full, the schools contact us and Dulsco collects the material for recycling. This programme has been running since 2011 and each year we award certificates in recognition of their efforts,” the manager notes.
ADNEC and Dulsco have also decided to put aside the revenue from the Reverse Vending Machines (plastic and cans), and at the end of each year donate the full amount to charitable organisations.
“To reach this far, it has taken a lot of patience, cooperation and research. We have worked with Dulsco for about 10 years and they have always been willing to try out new concepts that we suggest. With this partnership we have managed to achieve a lot. I like challenges and love to do new things, and we have won global and regional awards that prove that our projects are sustainable,” Al Yafeai concludes.
ADNEC had won the Sustainability Award in the Middle East for two years in a row (2011 and 2012) and in 2014 and 2015 they won two Global Awards in London for Sustainability.