As another year comes to a close, we reflect on the performance of the UAE waste management industry including key developments in 2018 and examine what lies ahead for the sector in the coming years. Swaliha Shanavas writes.
Considering the waste management scenario here in the UAE, one can say there has been steady progress in all emirates in terms of addressing various waste recycling issues and delivering sustainable solutions in certain segments. Due to rapid economic expansion, the UAE has one of the highest per capita waste generation rates in the world. Over the past few years, there has been a positive change in attitude and a better understanding of the urgent need to manage waste in a scientific manner.
Respective waste management authorities and agencies have ramped up efforts to manage sustainably the waste generated by various sectors, very much in line with the strategic vision of the governments to achieve excellence through sustainable waste management to achieve the ultimate goal of ‘zero waste to landfill’.
While each emirate has its own development plan and ambitious targets, they have all been aligned to the UAE National Agenda that sets out a vision to divert away from landfills 75% of all waste generated, through a policy of reusing, recycling or other types of advanced treatment by 2021. There have been many advances with specific plans for the coming years, but there are also various challenges to be dealt with as expressed by senior industry experts.
Waste management projects and programmes
In Ras Al Khaimah (RAK), the Waste Management Agency (WMA) implemented three food treatment hubs (Al Hamra Mall, Ras al Khaimah Vegetable Market and Maarid Vegetable & Fish Market) and two drop-off recycling centres “to help the public understand and visually see why we need food waste and recycling materials separated,” said Eng. Sonia Nasser, Executive Director, RAK Waste Management Agency. “This is in line with our bag in the bin programme for residential source separation. These projects were implemented to help the general public understand why each person’s waste separation efforts are critical to achieving the 75 percent diversion from landfilling target.”
WMA began a pilot project to send camel waste and wood waste to Gulf Cement to be used as alternative fuels. They have also begun the upgrade of their Material Recovery Facility to convert it from a 100 percent manual sort facility to a semi-automatic plant; and have added a bag opener, trammel, glass breaker, eddy current, magnet and plastic bag recovery system and also an air cooling system for the sorters. These improvements will help them increase the recovery rate from five percent to 15 percent from the sorting plant, says Eng. Nasser.
Sharjah-based Bee’ah has implemented a number of projects to support the government’s vision for 75 percent diversion, says H.E. Khaled Al Huraimel, Group CEO of Bee’ah. “We have established a fully integrated waste management complex that houses specialised recycling facilities. Thanks to these facilities, we have managed to triple Sharjah’s waste diversion rate in less than 10 years. We have also achieved 100% recovery of tyres, furniture and construction waste. Encouraging a circular economy, we have also maximised the efficiency of resource recovery through state-of-the-art machinery and effective separation of waste streams,” he notes.
However, to achieve the stipulated diversion target, it was imperative to find a solution for the issue of unrecyclable waste. In partnership with Masdar, Bee’ah found a solution, in the form of converting waste into energy, and in 2018, they have made great headway towards this project, the CEO comments. “In 2017, we joined forces with Masdar to establish the Emirates Waste to Energy Company, and broke ground on the Sharjah Waste to Energy Facility. This facility will process over 300,000 tonnes of waste every year and generate 30 MW of clean energy, simultaneously meeting the Vision 2021 goals of diverting 75% of solid waste away from landfills and deriving 24% of required energy from clean sources,” he notes. This year, he says they finalised the financing of the project and have made headway in construction by awarding the DBO contract to French industrial contractor, CNIM.
In Abu Dhabi, various new projects and initiatives have been introduced under the future strategic vision for waste management in the emirate. Tadweer (The Centre of Waste Management-Abu Dhabi) has been educating the public on its role as an independent government authority in the field of waste management and its mission in achieving the strategy of Abu Dhabi and the UAE in the field of sustainability and innovation. Tadweer signed four new contracts worth AED 165 million in January 2018 to establish important waste recycling facilities in the emirate that would also generate significant employment opportunities in this segment in the coming years. The contracts were made public at an event in January. The projects include a Landfill Gas to Energy investment project at Al Dhafra Landfill, which is the largest landfill in Abu Dhabi; two contracts for Medical and Hazardous waste incineration projects in Abu Dhabi and one in Al Ain.
The medical and hazardous waste facilities in Abu Dhabi will be able to treat about 15,000 tons per annum, while the Al Ain facility will be able treat about 3,000 per annum, said Tadweer. Both projects are expected to be operational soon. Another key project is the recycling of used cooking oil to produce biodiesel and fatty acids, which in turn will be used for manufacturing certain products.
Tadweer also announced in September the opening of a new facility for recycling construction and demolition (C&D) waste in Ghayathi in Al Dhafra region. The plant will help ease the pressure on Al Dhafra landfill, which is anticipated to receive incoming C&D waste in the range of 60,000 to 70,000 tons per month. With a minimum production capacity of 31,000 tons per month and 150 to 200 tons per hour, the new facility recycles C&D waste and provides recycled aggregate for the construction of roads and other infrastructure projects.
In addition to several initiatives taken during the year, the Dubai Municipality unveiled in March the Wastenizer it has developed to transform waste into energy as part of its efforts to divert all of the municipal solid waste from landfill by 2030. The new project is the civic body’s proposal for the Dubai 10X Initiative, an ambitious venture overseen by the Dubai Future Foundation, DFF. The system uses technology developed by Dubai Municipality to treat all types of solid waste after sorting them using artificial intelligence (AI) and smart technologies.
The initiative is a continuation of the Municipality’s project to convert solid waste into energy and includes building the world’s largest energy terminal in terms of production capacity and thermal conversion efficiency. Once implemented, the Wastenizer system is expected to produce 17,500 tons of good ash for the production of green concrete. The municipality is working in partnership with local and international companies specialising in artificial intelligence, infrastructure, waste-to-energy, etc. in order to execute the ambitious project. The system is expected to enter full implementation in several regions of the emirate just before the opening of Expo 2020. Dubai Municipality also successfully commissioned the Jebel Ali hazardous waste treatment facility in Dubai in July 2018. The hazardous liquid waste treatment plant is set to treat 600 cubic meters per day of hazardous liquid waste.
The service providers have also been implementing relevant schemes to support the municipalities in this area. Imdaad has been working in line with the UAE’s Vision 2021, particularly regarding the target of 75 percent waste diversion by 2021. “As such, we have developed a comprehensive strategy to drive this agenda. As a regional leader in the field of waste management, Imdaad is implementing a series of measures to help the government reach its targets,” says Mahmood Rasheed, Chief Operating Officer at Imdaad.
A key part of their strategy lies in organising proper segregation of recyclable materials at source among all their customers, he states. More specifically, they propose a site survey to identify various categories of waste and the deployment of specific containers for each. The collection from the containers is carried out by their dedicated team and vehicles. As a recent example, he says they have deployed an electric vehicle in Jebel Ali Free Zone for the collection of cartons and plastics. “We also plan to provide regular updates on the performance of segregative collection and its positive impact on the environment through monthly reports to all concerned stakeholders. These reports will assist with tracking progress in terms of both quantity and quality, and help set targets for continuous improvements.”
The most exciting new development, Rasheed notes, is the ongoing construction of a new Material Recovery Facility (MRF) under the brand name FARZ in Dubai TechnoPark, which will have the capacity to sort and process up to 1,200 tons per day.
Ajman and Umm Al Quwain have introduced different programmes to deal with various types of waste being generated in these emirates including C&D waste. Following discussions in 2017 with relevant stakeholders, mainly the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change and the Municipalities of the Northern Emirates, “as part of a long term concession with the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment and supported by Ministry of Presidential Affairs (MoPA), Dulsco won an exclusive concession from the ministry to establish C&D recycling facilities in all the northern emirates of Ajman, Umm Al Quwain, Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah,” says Madhumohan S., Chief Innovation Officer, Dulsco.
The company initiated construction of the C&D waste recycling plants in Umm Al Quwain and Ajman as an exclusive concessionaire to handle the C&D waste as partners with the respective municipalities. “The target was to recover and process the C&D waste generated in these emirates at the recycling facilities with a recovery rate of over 90% of the same as reusable value-added products and diverting 100% of the C&D waste away from landfills,” says Madhumohan. The Umm Al Qwain and Ajman plants were commissioned in January and June 2018 respectively, and both units have started receiving and processing the C&D waste to produce useful raw materials like sub base, and aggregates which are used for roads, blocks, brick manufacturing, etc. They have ensured 100 percent of C&D waste is diverted away from the landfills, he says, adding that this helps meet their objective of contributing to UAE’s vision of 75 percent diversion by 2021.
Is the 75 percent waste diversion target achievable within the set time frame?
Through recycling alone, Bee’ah has managed to achieve 76 percent diversion, says H.E. Al Huraimel. “Moving forward, we believe waste-to-energy plants can lead to significant reduction in waste to landfill, and the UAE is making great strides on this front. With the completion of our waste-to-energy facility, we will achieve 100% diversion in Sharjah by 2021.”
Other experts view this as a tough target for various reasons. Achieving the 75% diversion target will be difficult without an end treatment system like a refuse derived fuel plant, gasification or incineration plant, “because there are a lot of materials that have no recycling value, which only leaves the option to convert them into an energy source if we are trying not to landfill them,” opines Eng. Sonia.
It is a very tough target, says Madhumohan “primarily due to the demographic nature of UAE with a large floating population and over 150 nationalities, which makes driving the recycling, waste diversion and other initiatives from a commitment perspective of all stakeholders a very difficult one.”
Further, the implementation of the tipping fees in 2018 has been deferred in Dubai which generates over 7000 tons per day of MSW that at present goes into the landfills. “This has affected the investment drive by private sector on technologies to achieve these targets. However, since this is only a deferment of the tipping fees and not a cancellation, we are hopeful of achieving these targets as soon as they are implemented,” he underscores.
Depending on the quality of the waste delivered to the plant, Imdaad expects to achieve up to 70 percent diversion from landfill through the direct recycling of cardboard, plastics, paper, glass, wood and metals, as well as by transforming refuse into RDF, which is used as a fuel for the cement industry, says Rasheed.
Since waste-to-energy projects are new to the Middle East, there are challenges in financing and setting up the required infrastructure, says Group CEO of Bee’ah. “However, since sustainability is widely gaining traction as essential for the future, most corporate establishments are willing to support such projects. This year, we achieved financial closure on our project, with the support of five leading financial establishments,” he highlights.
The first challenge is in getting budgets approved for the projects and then it is up to the agency to collaborate with other government entities and private stakeholders to get the projects executed, says Eng. Sonia. The municipality or private land owners have to allocate the land. “But we were really impressed on how many people were excited about the project,” she notes.
They had great cooperation from the Hamra Mall management (Wesam Aldora) to help them train all the food outlets to separate the food and bring it to the hub, Eng. Sonia explains, adding that they also had a great collaboration with the municipality food control section in helping RAK WMA train the fruit and vegetable sellers to separate the organics from the general waste. “My colleagues, Eng. Mateo Dugand and Eng. Aida Anniba were persistent in getting these projects executed. Our contractor Rainbow International (RI) Management, Chris Willshire and Ryan Ingram, CEO of Terra Loop our food waste consultant also went the extra mile to get the work done quickly and they resolved a lot of the issues that arose during testing and commissioning of these facilities.” This helped them in having everything ready for an Earth Day opening on 22 April 2018, says the executive director.
Dulsco’s Chief Innovation Officer enumerates certain challenges in implementing these initiatives: Awareness – which gets affected with a floating population which calls for year-round education and awareness programmes; Tipping fees – Unless the costs of investments are covered by the polluter pays concept with the introduction of tipping fees, large investments on waste management become unviable; Choosing the right technology – A cut and paste option of adopting technologies and concepts followed in Europe without having the necessary back up and collection drives in parallel along with awareness again creates a negative impact on the initiatives with such systems not performing as expected; Incentivising the generator – Implementation of various incentives for the end of life waste generator or consumer with various money back schemes for recycling has not found wide acceptance like the use of RVMs, etc.
“Challenges will, of course, remain – firstly, because we have set very ambitious targets to achieve within a short span of time, and also where gaining acceptance of the business model is concerned,” says Rasheed. Most of the recyclables have market value, but this value might not cover the full cost of segregative collection and processing, resulting in additional expenses for the generator. “In this respect, the planned introduction of tipping fees by Dubai Municipality would incentivise generators to segregate more, and thus drive further reductions in landfilling,” he comments.
Key goals for the next two years to achieve the diversion target
RAK WMA is considering building two new food hubs and three recycling drop-off centres each year. The agency also aims to: continue testing and sending materials to cement kilns to see if they can be processed as fuels instead of landfilling; Design and build an aerobic composting plant; Start up a used cooking oil to biodiesel plant; Start up a brown grease recycling facility; Start up a tire recycling facility; Develop a platform for construction waste recycling; Evaluate gasification technologies for municipal solid waste to see if there is something that an work out there and is financially sustainable. “Needless to say we have a lot of work to do,” says Eng. Sonia.
Apart from completing the Sharjah Waste to Energy Facility, Bee’ah is exploring similar opportunities across the MENA region, says H.E. Al Huraimel. “We aim to secure a clean energy future for our region and reduce the waste generation rates in the GCC through these projects.” In recycling, the company launched a facility for processing industrial wastewater this year, and is currently setting up an old corrugated cardboard recycling facility; projects in recycling wood, cooking oil, plastic film and PET plastic will be undertaken over the next two years, he states.
The goal is to be in alignment with the government objectives and focus on appropriate technologies and investment in relevant sectors including: MSW; Hazardous wastes; Marine wastes; and Oil and gas field waste streams, says Dulsco’s Chief Innovation Officer.
Opportunities in waste management
The opportunities are in the creation of a circular economy, says Eng. Sonia. “We can truly see the change from a waste management point of view to a material management point of view. We’re managing materials in Ras Al Khaimah not waste; that’s how we think. Materials have value and we need to see how we can extract maximum value from the materials we are collecting.”
The opportunities to tackle all types of waste are in abundance in various sectors “as this is virtually a virgin market with a per capita waste generation one of the highest in the world,” says Madhumohan. In his view, a focused approach with adequate government support in terms of tipping fees and regulations would pave way for a boom in this sector.
A green economy has been increasingly acknowledged as the economy of the future, and to grow and thrive, there must be a shift towards sustainable production, consumption and disposal patterns, says H.E. Al Huraimel. “The UAE’s wise leadership has set the targets under the Vision 2021, with the ambition of making this shift. Given the conducive environment for sustainable growth, the UAE and the region present new opportunities in resource recovery, renewable energy, transportation and technology.”