Engr. Sonia Ytuarte Nasser, Executive Director, Ras Al Khaimah Waste Management Agency shares with Swaliha Shanavas her thoughts on the state of the waste recycling industry, Ras Al Khaimah’s strategy and significant initiatives that would help the emirate achieve the key goal of 75% waste diversion from landfill by 2021.
Tell us briefly about your background and experience in the waste management industry.
I started with the County of Orange, Waste Management Department in 1991 as a site engineer for the San Juan Capistrano Landfill. Since then I have held various positions; over the course of the past 27 years have held many jobs which involved either site engineering, planning, regulatory, collection, treatment, and disposal/landfilling.
In your capacity as Executive Director, RAK Waste Management Agency, what is your normal day at work like and how has your journey been so far?
There is no normal day… Resolving customer issues is a priority; another priority is to deal with and ensure that any VIP and or customer issues that are elevated to my level must be resolved as soon as possible. Dealing with budget and expenditures is also another challenge, as well as ensuring that we are working on projects and initiatives which are aligned to our vision, mission and strategy map.
What do you love most about your job, and what is the most challenging?
Every day I can leave the office knowing that my team improved the quality of life for residents and businesses of Ras Al Khaimah. The most challenging is that of coordinating multi-agency projects. This requires a lot of follow up and tracking to ensure that all parties are working together and that progress is being made.
What is your view on the development of the waste management industry in the UAE? What are the issues facing the sector at present?
The entire UAE is on an extremely fast track in improving waste management practices. The biggest issues are gate fees, to charge or not to charge residential customers, and developing a long term alternative to landfilling, which is economically sustainable.
What has been RAK Waste Management Agency’s experience over the past two years, and are there any recent changes in the model adopted to improve the waste management processes in the emirate?
Our experience is, just start trying different methods to get source separation going in both business and residential areas. Believe that people and businesses will listen to the message of source separation and then figure out how to get people to comply, whether by fines or some other means.
The message also has to come from the top down; our Ruler is extremely supportive of recycling and has helped us get the message out to all the people in Ras Al Khaimah.
How important is recycling in terms of a circular economy? What are the advantages as well as hurdles regarding this aspect?
Recycling or source separation is just step one, people must then buy recycled products to complete the circular economy. There has to be an economic benefit to using recycled feedstock, otherwise it will not work.
What are your key goals for the next few years and how do you plan to implement these programmes?
• Our key goal is 75 percent diversion of municipal waste from landfilling.
1. We are about to begin our material recovery facility upgraded from a manual operation to a semi-automatic operation
2. We are also evaluating different proposals for an organics composting project, which will divert green waste and food waste from the landfill.
3. We will be tendering the construction demolition plant in mid-2018.
4. We are working with the Ministry of Climate Change on energy from waste alternatives and hope that a decision will be taken by mid-2018 on what type of project will be built.
• To engage the entire community of Ras Al Khaimah in source separation (e.g. to have all 70,000 residential homes engaged in source separation).
1. We are providing at no cost green and brown bags to residents. So far we have 12,000 homes engaged in the activity, by the end of 2018 we want to be at 70,000 homes.
2. We will install 2 public drop-off centres for recycling.
3. We will build and operate three composting centres (in vessel) at the fish and vegetable markets.
• To have all 121 schools in Ras Al Khaimah actively engaged in teaching and doing source separation in their schools. We have 93 government schools and 28 private schools.
1. We launched the RAK Green Schools programme in October 2017 and in two months 47% of the schools have enrolled in the programme. We are targeting 90% enrollment by the end of 2018.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I love to read – I am a member of the Al Hamra Ladies book club; I attend fitness classes like yoga at our local Gold’s Gym; and I love to travel.
Any other comment.
Every individual in the UAE needs to really think about the waste they are producing and how to reduce it and recycle as much as possible. I would also encourage young people to seriously consider a career in waste management. It’s a very rewarding career and many changes will be happening in this field. People will always produce waste and we need young minds to think of innovative ways to reduce and manage our waste.