A mountain of waste

Dubai has experienced massive growth in the last 30 years and its infrastructure is struggling to cope with the mountain of waste being produced. Lauren Hills explores some of the major issues.
A mountain of waste
By Lauren Hills
Tue 24 Feb 2009 04:00 AM

Dubai has experienced massive growth in the last 30 years and its infrastructure is struggling to cope with the mountain of waste being produced. Lauren Hills explores some of the major issues.

Approximately 120 million tons of waste is currently produced in the GCC and the UAE and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are listed as two of the highest waste-generating countries in the world per capita.

This is according to statistics issued by the Middle East Waste Summit 2009, which indicates that 55 percent of the waste produced in the GCC region is from construction and demolition, while two percent is municipal, 18 percent is industrial and seven percent is hazardous.

The amount of waste is continually increasing. It has tripled in the last three years from 3000 to 9000 tons a day.

Looking specifically at Dubai, the city's rapid growth and urbanisation has led to an enormous amount of waste production, and as a consumer-driven society lacking an ingrained recycling philosophy, the Dubai Municipality and stakeholders are facing an upward battle in managing and minimising waste in the region.

"The amount of waste is continually increasing. It has tripled in the last three years from 3000 to 9000 tons a day," said Mark Siddorn, general manager, Dulsco, in an interview with FMME.

Prakash Parab, Dulsco general manager, who focuses on non-hazardous solid and liquid waste, reiterates the concerns voiced by Siddorn. "The growth rate has been so high in the last three years; domestic general waste has grown almost 300 percent, and contractors and the municipality are struggling to cope with demand."

Last year saw GCC countries responding to the waste issues with recycling strategies, sewage management and waste to energy initiatives. And while the UAE, and Dubai in particular, is feeling the pressure of excessive waste, 2009 should be a year of steady improvement for the city state and the rest of the GCC.

Legacy

For most people waste is a distant and inconvenient concern, and as such is often dealt with haphazardly. The affects of badly managed waste have serious consequences, not only for our health, safety and well being now, but for the sustainability of our resources in the future.

"We need to look after our future generations and leave a sustainable legacy. We cannot take resources for granted; we need to think about the future. We have to manage waste properly and see how much we can reduce, minimise and save. Waste management is a crucial part in sustaining our environment," says Parab.

There are many different types of waste and each needs to be handled accordingly ensuring it can be recycled, reduced and re-used, and ultimately minimised as much as possible. A percentage of the population remains uneducated on the subtleties of the process, and as such waste is often mismanaged or neglected in the region.

"Indeed, the average person will not understand the categories of waste: toxic, domestic, green, organic, construction... you need to deal with it specifically, utilising different expertise," says Mahmood Rasheed, executive director of the Environment Division, Imdaad.

There needs to be a system in place for handling different types of waste, and adhering to transportation criteria is very important. "You need the right vehicles, you need trained staff, and you need the latest technologies," continues Rasheed.

The Dubai Municipality has set standards and regulations stipulating waste management, and while major facilities management companies have dedicated waste management divisions that comply with these regulations, this is not the case across the board.

"The landfills are controlled by the Dubai Municipality, and the companies that use them have been approved by the municipality. Those companies do comply with the rules and regulations set out by the municipality," says Rasheed. "However, some pipes leak black water in certain areas and there have been cases of tankers dumping refuse sewage at sea and refuse in the desert.

Recycling and responsibility

Recycling is the obvious and crucial means of minimising and reducing waste, and the GCC is moving in the right direction to achieve parity with the UK, Australia and certain American states.

Although government initiatives to reduce, reuse and recycle have been implemented through projects such as Zenath Paper Traders, Emirates Environmental Group, and Bee'ah - the Sharjah-based waste recycling company - domestic recycling has yet to become the norm in the GCC.

With 80 percent of Dubai's population expatriate, and to an extent transient, education and buy-in as to the importance of recycling is somewhat hit and miss. Education has to be a priority, but the tools to recycle need to be in place to encourage people and make it easy.

"As you say, Dubai's is a somewhat transient population so education is difficult, and there are always expatriates coming in that need to be taught. But we cannot just go on training, people need to take responsibility. Trying to make recycling a habit is a very challenging task," says Rasheed.

Not only is recycling an issue of education, it is an issue of responsibility, and for effective recycling to happen in the region all sectors of society need to be invested in the process to ensure that the right solutions are reached and implemented.

"We cannot treat waste as waste, we have to see it as a resource, which is not possible without the help of stakeholders. It is not just a contractor or municipality issue, each member of the public needs to contribute to minimising waste," emphasises Prabar. Segregation

Source segregation is the most important and effective part of recycling, reducing the need for the costly, time-consuming and hazardous process of post-sorting through mixed waste.

"We need to make source segregation the norm in the region. We can introduce simple source segregation solutions first and as it becomes standard practice we can introduce more specific means of separating waste," says Prabar.

We need to look after our future generations and leave a sustainable legacy. We cannot take finite resources for granted.

Sewage plants

The Al -Aweer Sewage Treatment Plant (STP), located near International City, is currently the only wastewater treatment plant serving the city of Dubai. Both domestic waste water and septage are collected by sewers and pumped to the treatment plant site, about 25 kilometres away from the city centre.

In line with the rapidly expanding population in Dubai, the underground sewage system had to be expanded and extended quickly to cope with the city's waste. This has resulted in severe capacity issues, and certain solutions are scheduled to come to fruition this year.

Looking specifically at International City, the underground sewage system is struggling to handle the amount of waste being produced, and burst pipes and flooding has created an unpleasant living environment for the residents of the area. The issues of International City have received much media attention, however, the problems have yet to be fully resolved.

Rasheed points to overloading as the source of the problems at International City, explaining that apartments designed for two or three people have been occupied by far more, over loading the system.

"Yes, the problem is overloading. Dubai has become very costly and as such you may find five to 10 people staying in one apartment. This has significant affects on the sewage treatment plant (STP)," he says.

The sewage plant capacity is currently insufficient to service the whole of Dubai, says Prabar; "In trying to deal with the growing population, the municipality has connected the sewer lines from the city to the STP and the tankers collect the sewage from there to dispose of it. The population has grown so excessively, but the STP capacity has stayed the same."

Adding to the inadequate STP, the roads are not coping with the stream of trucks and tankers that travel to and from the Al Aweer plant. A few years ago one tanker could make approximately six trips in a day, but now tankers are stuck on the road for about 40 hours at a time.

"The tankers have no choice but to stay in the line of traffic and it is an incredibly slow process. In one day, one of my vehicles took almost 60 hours to make the journey. We need to take care of the transport needs and the traffic congestion. A separate line for the heavy traffic during the day time would possibly sort out the problem," says Prabar.

Plans for STP expansion in Dubai are underway, with a new sewage treatment plant in Jebal Ali scheduled for completion in May this year. Furthermore, waste lagoons are to be built in the desert to ease the burden.

While there are broad and complex issues facing the region in terms of waste management, there are many initiatives set to make improvements in the near future.

The Dubai Municipality will be hosting the inaugural Middle East Waste Summit in March 2009, inviting industry players and corporations to address the issues of waste collection, transport and treatment, material recycling and reuse, waste-to-energy and hazardous and medical waste solutions.

Positive steps in regional waste managementThe Dubai Municipality has allocated AED73 billion to waste-to-energy projects in the emirate.

Al Ain municipality has signed a contract worth AED270 million to operate a waste management facility that comprises a sorting plant with the capacity to handle 1200 tons of waste a day.

The Abu Dhabi Municipality has awarded a recycling project for home solid wastes for the emirate valued at AED1.27 billion.

An Emirates Recycling Plant valued at AED65 million is on plan to convert more than 80 million tons of construction waste material which is generated annually in Dubai into usable road and construction base aggregate - Middle East Waste Summit 2009.

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