Hastening the UAE’s journey to zero waste
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Hastening the UAE’s journey to zero waste

Hastening the UAE’s journey to zero waste

A good way to encourage recycling and composting is to make it expensive to put things in landfill

Gulf Business
zero watse

Waste collection services in the UAE efficiently remove the waste we create out of our sight, and in general, out of our minds too. The result is that an average resident in the UAE generates nearly 3kg of waste every day, almost double the amount of an average person in Europe, and among the highest amounts per capita in the world.

The scarcity of recycling and composting infrastructure in the UAE means that the vast majority of produced waste is still deposited in landfill facilities. A shift change in the amount of waste we generate and how we manage it is desperately needed. There are promising signs of progress, but also still a great deal of work for us all to do. Individual consumers have an important role to play, but the role of governments and companies is key.

Making the changes we require needs two different approaches. The first is to lean into our capitalist economic system, and ensure that waste is given a clear value, a price much closer to the environmental cost it has on the planet. The most basic economic lever for reducing waste and encouraging recycling and composting is to make it expensive to put things in landfill, a form of the ‘polluter pays’ principle. The implementation of progressive disposal fees is varied
across the different emirates.

They were introduced a few years ago in Sharjah and at the start of this year in Dubai. As soon as dumping waste becomes more expensive than recycling, and both are charged in line with the actual environmental cost, the greater the incentive to reduce waste.

The second significant change we need is one of mindset, with each individual and corporation feeling more responsible for doing the right thing – for reducing waste overall, for ensuring as much of their unavoidable waste as possible is recycled or composted, and – in the case of manufacturing industries – for using recycled content in their products.

While plastic used for food and drink has to be ‘food grade’ there’s some ongoing work to clarify standards around this. While the government is working to mandate these standards and use regulatory levers to encourage the use of recycled materials, we can reasonably expect large corporations to hold themselves to the same standards in the UAE that they do in Europe and North America.

This is true across all industries, from the big FMCG groups to the oil and gas sector. Corporations need to ramp up their sustainability efforts and hold themselves to the highest global standards across all their markets.

A high proportion of the waste we generate here is food; most estimates put it at around half of all municipal waste. At present, with the exception of a few good micro-composting initiatives, it goes into landfill where it decomposes in the absence of oxygen, generating the undesirable greenhouse gas methane.

If food waste were a country, it would be the third highest contributor to global warming in the world, after the US and China.

Leaving aside the morality of throwing away food in a world where so many people are going hungry, the environmental impacts are unsustainable. We must act faster to tackle food waste everywhere. Where possible food should feed people.

Where it is not suitable for people, we should use it for animal feed. Where it cannot feed animals, we should compost it and use the nutrient-rich result to improve soil quality and agricultural yields.

One significant co-benefit of taking food waste out of our bins would be to improve the quality of plastics and paper, enabling a much greater quantity to be recycled. Today, much of this potentially useful material is rendered practically unrecyclable due to contamination by foods and liquids. There is much to do, and where to start? The first place to start is by measuring waste, after all, ‘what gets measured gets managed’. All companies should monitor their waste outputs and examine the data for trends and opportunities to reduce the volume.

In addition to data analytics, creativity, innovation and generosity can also go a long way – if you are producing waste that might be useful to others, find a way to encourage second use. This can even be done with excess food, as shown by NYU in Abu Dhabi who use digital technology to make leftover food from events available to faculty staff and students. We are only at the beginning of a long journey towards a zero-waste future, and each one of us has an important role to play if we are to get there in time to leave a habitable planet for our children and grandchildren.

Malek Sukkar is the CEO at Averda

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