The citizens and government of the United Arab Emirates are taking action on problematic waste habits.
Nidal Abou Zaki, managing director of public relations company Orient Planet, told Gulf News for a May 19, 2008 article that a recent report had found that the United Arab Emirates has one of the highest levels of domestic waste in the world. According to Zaki, per capita household waste has reached an annual average of 730 kilograms in Abu Dhabi and 725 kilograms in Dubai.
Zaki explained that experts predict a two- to three-fold increase in plastic consumption in the U.A.E.’s near future. They are concerned about an even more significant accumulation of solid waste and plastic litter; plastics are notorious for taking centuries to biodegrade and the resultant harm done to the environment.
Orient Planet is one of more than 100 companies associated with the U.A.E.’s Emirates Environmental Group (EEG), an IS0-14001 certified and voluntary non-governmental organisation. Founded in 1991, EEG is “devoted to protecting our environment through the means of education, action programmes and community involvement,” according to the group’s website.
Not only businesses and private citizens are involved. In response to the looming crisis, the U.A.E. government has stepped up efforts to reduce waste and encourage recycling, with a number of emirates initiating eco-friendly recycling systems worth millions of dollars.
In fact, the World Bank estimates that the United Arab Emirates will invest around $46 billion over the next decade (through approximately 2020) in environmental projects, according to Gulf News.
According to an August 27, 2008 article in the Abu Dhabi-based newspaper The National, a pilot recycling project will begin within two months of August 2008. The project, which will have residents sort their domestic waste at home for pick-up, will launch in Abu Dhabi’s second largest city, Al-Ain. Al-Ain has approximately 600,000 residents and is also a popular vacation spot for Emiratis. Following its implementation at the inland resort town, the project will be applied throughout the emirates.
“Today, the importance of waste management has become a focal point for municipalities, environmental agencies, populations and companies worldwide. Dr. Salem Al-Kaabi, Al-Ain’s director of public health, told The National, “We also need to engage the public through long-term public education in parallel.”
The government of Abu Dhabi has invested AED 1 billion ($272 million [USD]) in a new waste treatment park, as part of an initiative to improve the emirate’s facilities, according to an August 7 article in The National.
The investment follows a July 2008 government announcement that it is cleaning up six landfills that are the sites of years of uncontrolled dumping. According to The National, the waste in these landfills includes a mix of medical, chemical, household, industrial, construction, agricultural and military refuse — a potentially dangerous and unstable combination that could lead to widespread pollution.
“We have to take steps to correct that, so in the last two years, we’ve been designing and building new sites that are engineered to international best practices,” Olabode Esan, the director of solid-waste management in Abu Dhabi told The National.
He added that a properly engineered waste system would be operational by 2009.
At a cost of more than AED 1.2 billion ($326 million), the central waste system would include a recycling sorting station and a composting site, according to The National.
Elsewhere, Dubai authorities have warned air-conditioning and refrigeration companies that ignore environmental laws regulating the emission of harmful carbon gases will face hefty fines and closure, according to an August 15 article in The National.
The new initiative follows a 2007 survey carried out by the Dubai Environment Department, which found that most firms in Dubai were in violation, often pumping the untreated CFC gases straight into the atmosphere.
Citizens and businesses welcome the new initiatives.
“There are many like me who want to do what we can for the environment but do not have the facilities available,” an anonymous Abu-Dhabi resident told The National. “This country is fairly small at the moment but is getting bigger all the time, and we cannot keep going on in the same way we are at the moment.”