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Wed 15 Oct 2008 04:00 AM

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Sustainable strategy

Sharjah leads the Middle East towards a greener future with its latest environmental initiative.

Sharjah leads the Middle East towards a greener future with its latest environmental initiative.Sharjah is facing a crisis. Every day, around 600 lorries arrive at the emirate's largest landfill site to dump between 8500-10,000 tonnes of waste.

The site will soon become full and an alternative will need to be found. It is a similar story around the world. But where many just see waste, officials at the municipality have seen opportunity.

Last year, government officials launched Bee'ah, an environmental initiative that will produce enough recycled waste to not only solve the emirate's landfill problems, but even make the endeavour profitable.

Involved in the public-private partnership (PPP) are plans to build a gargantuan waste recycling plant - indeed, the second biggest of its kind in the world.

But waste needs to come from somewhere and thousands of bins that neatly divide paper, cans and plastic into separate divisions are being distributed across the emirate. In charge of collecting these will be a fleet of around 300 specially-designed trucks.

At the helm of this most unusual logistics operation is Kevin Croucher, a Canadian who has worked in the Middle East almost continually since 1995.

Since arriving at the company in June, he has been charged with purchasing trucks from around the world as well as beginning the elementary stages of planning routes.

"We're a start-up business and with every start-up there are a lot of things to put down on paper at first," says Croucher. "So since I joined I've been evaluating procurement and logistics policies and compiling these into documents that we can follow."

Croucher had worked on a variety of projects before including handling the logistics operation for US giant Raytheon in Saudi Arabia, where he was responsible for revamping the entire supply chain. However he acknowledges that building up an entire logistics operation for an environment company from scratch presents something of a unique test.

"It is a challenge because if you manage to fit all the pieces together, you still have to keep returning to your plan to make changes. We are not yet at the point where anything is going to take hold," he says.

"Once we start running with our collection network and street sweeping, it's almost certain that we will have to go back and revisit the steps. You are blind, because you really don't know what works and what doesn't. You can write down anything you want at the evaluation stage, but when operations commence, it's more than likely you will have to go back to the drawing board to make amendments."

However, the guiding vision behind the project is a grand one. Last January, Bee'ah opened a US$136 million waste recycling plant in the Al Saja'a Industrial Area of Sharjah. The recycling plant spans around 25 million cubic metres and officials say that the facility will soon deal with around 4.4 million tonnes of waste a year.

Tyres are currently being shredded at the facility and being sold to tyre recycling companies. In the course of the next year, Bee'ah will develop this process into a full-scale tyre-recycling plant capable of converting four million used tyres a year into new products such as outdoor flooring tiles, sports facility flooring and paving materials.

Also within the next year, the company hopes to have up and running a material reclamation facility (MRF) for sorting and recycling municipal solid waste that would otherwise be sent to landfill sites. The MRF sorts recyclable materials such as aluminium, paper, cardboard and box board, glass, plastics, wood and steel into homogeneous groups and prepares the material for re-insertion into production facilities to make a series of brand new products.

Al Saja'a itself is an engineered landfill site, built up of huge ‘cells' underneath the ground. Although little is currently recycled there, officials believe that around 30-35% of waste will be saved from landfill sites within three years.As well as managing the collection of waste, Croucher will be responsible for ensuring that many of the materials that will go into the MRF are brought into the country via sea freight. "Getting 181 containers into the emirate in an efficient manner in time with the construction schedule is going to be a massive challenge."

He says that he will be working closely with the MRF operations manager, James McGuire, who conveniently sits next to him, to ensure an efficient process.

"Once everything is up and running we'll be talking all the time about getting the material in and out," he says. "We are going to be shipping a lot of containers out every single day - perhaps up to 40 - and that will require a very efficient freight programme. All this freight will be recycled waste that will be transported out before being sold."

Another logistics challenge that Croucher has to manage is the procurement of collection trucks. As well as 72 street sweeper vehicles that will be be shipped in at the end of the year, there are also a host of other trucks needed for the collection of waste from special bins distributed around the emirate. In keeping with the need to respect the environment, the company is looking globally to purchase trucks that run on environmentally friendly fuel.

"We went outside the emirates and brought in a fleet that runs on a very low sulphur diesel, a lot less than you can purchase here," says Croucher. "We have outsourced our fuel for now, but plan to work with Enoc, Epco and hopefully Adnoc. I've opened discussions with Enoc and Epco to secure a future supply of low sulphur diesel. North America and most of Europe are running on it."

In order to reduce gas wasted from the congestion that is now ubiquitous in the emirate, the collection trucks will typically run at night.

However, like everything else at this stage, these are still matters pending confirmation. How the fleet will be managed is a point that is still up for debate. During previous employment briefs, Croucher worked as the director of RFID projects at Industry Labs Canada in Saudi Arabia. Moreover, he has also been in charge of fleets in other jobs, not least at Pan Emirates in Dubai.

It is this wealth of experience that the executive is now drawing upon to help him develop creative solutions.

"I have kept records of everything I worked on previously, so I go back and read about how I did it then," he says. "I think about it all of the time."

Drawing upon his knowledge of RFID, Croucher is considering the technology for fleet maintenance in the recycling yard.

"With RFID, as soon as it comes into the yard I know where it is," he says. "For example, our data shows us instantly that we have got 30 trucks parked at night or 10 trucks in the maintenance shop and we know what part of the shop they are in and how long they have been there."

While he is sure that he will use RFID technology in some form or another, GPS software is not yet on the cards to track the trucks around the emirate as they collect waste. However, the form that the business will take will rely a lot on other factors in the business, not least the current computer software system the company employs. "I've dealt with a lot of software systems in my time. I've found some fleet management software already but as a company we need to look at the big picture with regards to our little spokes. I know what I would like, but it has to be able to be integrated into our main IT structure," says Croucher.

"We have been looking at a couple of route optimisation solutions that can sit on a mapping base. This will enable us to take Sharjah's streets and really map out our routes so we are not criss-crossing, wasting time and gas," he adds.

But there is little doubt about the direction in which the emirate is headed. One year from now, when the recycling scheme finally grinds into action, the waste disposal process will be very different in Sharjah.

But half of the battle will be to raise awareness of the importance of the environment and the need to recycle. Some of the advertising schemes will target children in schools in the emirate. "They are the next generation," says Croucher. "We also hope that they will encourage their parents to recycle. After all, there's nothing more persuasive than a nagging child," he smiles.

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