Eng. Yousif Alahmed Alrayssi, Director–Waste Management Department, Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, UAE, shares with Swaliha Shanavas his thoughts on the state of the waste management sector in the UAE, the significance of recycling, and their objectives as well as efforts to meet the strategic vision of the UAE Government with regard to waste recycling.
Please tell us about your background and experience in the waste management industry.
I started my career in 2000 as a health and safety engineer with a private natural gas company in Abu Dhabi. After a short period, I was transferred to the environment department to work on a team monitoring carbon emissions from a gas production plant. I was also in charge of tracking the waste generated by the company’s activities. Together with my colleagues, we developed plans that succeeded in reducing the volume of waste to acceptable levels.
In 2002, I joined the Environment Protection Section of Sharjah Municipality, where I contributed to several manuals and programmes related to categorisation of entities and environmental monitoring, auditing and inspection. Later, I was promoted to head of waste management section to lead the team that established an integrated environmental services management system. I have been with the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment since 2014 as the Director of the Waste Management Department.
As the Director of the Waste Management Department, what does your role involve?
I am responsible for issuing laws and regulations related to waste management and environmental work in the UAE. At the Ministry, I lead several teams and committees that review the regulations in place, develop them and update them in line with the latest trends and market requirements. We are also working to meet the strategic vision of the UAE Government that aims to increase the level of municipal solid waste treatment to 75%. Furthermore, we devise and implement various waste sorting, transportation and processing programmes and projects. One of our strategic objectives is to reduce waste through advanced technological solutions such as waste treatment and conversion that maximise the utilisation of waste and transform it into an economic resource.
What is the current state of waste management in the UAE?
The UAE is making great progress in this regard at the local and federal level. The President’s Initiatives Committee has allocated a substantial budget to fund a host of projects addressing waste management issues in the Northern Emirates. The first stage of the rehabilitation of two landfills and waste sorting stations in Umm Al Quwain is now 50% complete, while the rehabilitation of the Julfar landfill in Ras Al Khaimah and landfills in Fujairah and Ajman is underway.
Recently, the Ministry signed a memorandum of understanding with Masdar and Bee’ah to provide an integrated study for the establishment of a waste-to-energy plant to serve Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah. In addition, there are many other environmental projects under study and development.
What are your views on the development of the waste recycling industry in the UAE?
The waste recycling industry in the UAE has seen increased interest in investing in waste management projects from various entities. I am confident this promising trend will spur the development of the industry across the country. Coordinated through local authorities, waste management in the UAE focuses on recycling and converting waste to energy. The adoption of modern technologies has vastly improved the waste separation and collection systems used across the country.
In 2008, the Government of Abu Dhabi established Tadweer, The Centre of Waste Management – Abu Dhabi, which is responsible for waste management policy, strategy and systems across the emirate. In 2009, Abu Dhabi Sewerage Services Company (ADSCC) launched the AED5.7 billion Strategic Tunnel Enhancement Programme (STEP) that comprises the construction of 41 km of deep sewer tunnels, 43 km of supply tunnels and an underground pumping station. By 2018, the emirate aims to divert 85% of its waste away from the landfills.
With the aim of protecting the environment from methane gas emitted by the landfills, Dubai Municipality is working on the first of four upcoming green energy projects – building the largest plant in the Middle East to convert solid waste into energy in Warsan at the cost of AED2 billion. The move aligns with the objective of the UAE Vision 2021 National Agenda to reduce the number of landfills in the country by 75% by 2021.
With the first phase scheduled to commence operations in Q2 2020, the plant will have the capacity to process 2,000 metric tons of municipal solid waste per day and produce 60 megawatts of electricity. In line with the Dubai Clean Energy Strategy, Dubai Municipality in collaboration with the concerned authorities aims to supply seven percent of Dubai’s total energy requirements from clean energy sources by 2020.
In 2007, the emirate of Sharjah established Bee’ah, a municipal waste management company in the form of a public-private partnership. In 2011, Bee’ah developed a state-of-the-art waste management centre that processes and recycles waste to achieve the ambitious target of 100 percent landfill diversion announced by the Sharjah Government. In 2012, the company introduced two-stream waste collection with state-of-the-art blue and green odour-proof bins deployed across the emirate, as well as a new tipping fee structure to incentivize waste reduction and regulate landfill contents.
How important is waste recycling in the context of a circular economy and what are the opportunities this sector presents?
Recycling contributes to the national economy through reducing the costs of transporting waste and disposing it in the landfills, and creating jobs in producing materials, such as cardboard, plastic and aluminum, from waste.
At present, a dramatic surge in the demand for recycled materials has resulted in strong competition among companies active in this area. Waste has now become a source of income and great economic value for individuals and companies. In the future, I envision a new kind of sustainable partnerships forming between waste production, collection and transportation companies and factories that manufacture products from recycled material.
What are the major challenges regarding sustainability in waste management?
One of the most significant challenges is the budget required to implement projects, therefore the Ministry encourages private sector entities to invest in waste management and recycling projects. Another issue is the duplication of powers among the concerned authorities that we try to resolve during our legislative updates to avoid confusion.
What are your key goals with regard to waste recycling and how do you plan to implement them?
Our goal is to facilitate integrated management of all types of waste through developing and updating relevant laws and regulations, and launching new waste management projects. The Ministry is keen to achieve the targets set in the UAE Vision 2021 National Agenda in continued cooperation with local waste management authorities.
What changes can we expect in this area in the near future?
The introduction of new waste treatment solutions, such as waste sorting stations and plants that produce energy from waste; Improved ways of waste handling with unified regulations and processes; More private sector entities investing in waste management projects; New public awareness and education programmes that seek to change misconceptions about waste management through promoting the concept of reducing, reusing and recycling, and instilling the habit of waste sorting among the citizens; An increased variety of treatable waste, such as municipal waste.
What do you love most about your job, and what is the most challenging aspect?
I enjoy my job, as I love challenges and problem solving. I believe that waste management is one of the most challenging responsibilities in the country due to the risks associated with it. As this industry plays a crucial role in safeguarding public health and safety and protecting the environment, I am well aware of the significance of my work. I hope that with my experience, I can make a valuable contribution to achieving our national goals in line with the aspirations of our wise leadership.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
My hobbies include fitness activities such as jogging and sports. I enjoy reading, although I mostly end up with industry publications. I also love to travel, whether for work or leisure.