The challenge of reducing the UAE’s waste
Educational targets must be achieved alongside waste management capacity improvements, says Khaled Al HuraimelShow transcript
The waste management sector is still in its infancy in the UAE. Khaled Al Huraimel, Group CEO of Sharjah-based environmental management company Bee’ah, discusses the Emirate’s zero-waste to landfill target, and the challenges the city-state must overcome.
The waste management sector is still in it’s infancy in the United Arab Emirates. Yet demand for this service has hit an all-time high, and that’s thanks to rising migration and consumption levels. Here to give us insight on the evolution of this industry is Khaled Al Huraimel.
The New Economy: So first, can you tell me about some of the cultural challenges you face in the waste management sector?
Khlaed Al Huraimel: Well, in the UAE, as you know, we have people living and working from all over the world. So one of the challenges we have, on the cultural side, is the attitude and opinion of many different nationalities; so the awareness is important and working on changing attitudes of people towards recycling and waste is a challenge. But we’ve been able to successfully overcome that through various initiatives that Bee’ah and the UAE as a country have been doing.
The New Economy: The UAE tops a list that perhaps it may not be so proud of in that sense: one of the world’s largest per capita waste producers. So is the government very much confronting this reality?
Khlaed Al Huraimel: The region, not just the UAE, is going through rapid development, which leads to also increasing population; this has lead to the high waste generation per capita. But the UAE and Sharjah, where we are based, has been doing a lot to tackle this challenge and, of course, requires a lot of education for people to recycle, to reduce waste and putting the infrastructure to resolve this. But, right now in the region, the waste per capita generated is 2.5kg, which is one of the highest, but we are taking the steps to manage that.
The New Economy: Can you be more specific about Bee’ah’s role in tackling these concerns?
Khlaed Al Huraimel: Bee’ah is still a new company, we established the company in 2007 it’s a public/private partnership and since the establishment of the company, we have been looking at setting up the infrastructure to tackle the problem of waste. This includes setting up many recycling facilities, we’ve also set up MRF which is a Material Recovery Facility, we have a company under Bee’ah called Tandeef which is responsible for waste collection and street cleaning. And we have various initiatives that we do and projects to manage the problem of waste; we’ve set a target for Sharjah zero waste to landfill. Already to date we’ve achieved 67 percent diversion rate away from the landfill, which is considered probably the highest in the Middle East today.
The New Economy: Now, of course, there is a business imperative that’s involved in this, but even more so as you said in uncharted territory, you’ve got to really educate the public. Tell me about that arm of your company.
Khlaed Al Huraimel: Well, we do a lot on the education and awareness front: we have the Bee’ah School of Environment, which has been running now for a few years. It runs across all the schools in Sharjah; we’ve been able to educate over 200 000 students to date, and [have] over 200 schools so this is an ongoing programme, this is an initiative from Bee’ah. We also have another programme called My Bee’ah, which is a loyalty programme and outreach programme for the general public. So we have programmes, events running throughout the year also to educate the population on the environment, on recycling to help us to achieve our goals.
The New Economy: One of those goals being your zero waste target; Khalid, tell me about some of those plans.
Khlaed Al Huraimel: As I said earlier, we’ve built the infrastructure to try to recover and recycle as much waste as possible: to date we’ve reached around 67 percent diversion. And, to get towards zero waste, in 2014 we signed with a UK company for a waste to energy facility, it’s a gasification plant, which will be one of the largest gasification plants in the world and construction will start during 2015. And this plant will help us reach our target of zero waste, the plant capacity is around 400 000 tons which will generate up to 18MW of power.
The New Economy: Finally, you’ve talked about all this momentum that’s been built; how long do I have to wait until the UAE has really embraced this waste management culture?
Khlaed Al Huraimel: It’s already been embraced and we already see this with the increase and recycling increase and environmental education. There’s a lot of cooperation between the different emirates, we work closely with the ministry of environment and the federal government. We, as Bee’ah, have offices in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, so there’s lot of cooperation between the different emirates and the whole country as a whole is leading the way when it comes to sustainable development.