A major milestone in Dubai’s efforts to get a handle on its waste management problems will be passed this year when a much-awaited invitation to companies to prequalify for a waste-to-energy project is issued.

Dubai has traditionally dumped almost all of its waste in five landfill sites located around the emirate. But in light of its rapid expansion, most of these are nearing full capacity and alternative solutions are urgently being sought.

The rapid urbanisation and population growth of the past 10 years have resulted in a steep rise in the volume of waste produced each day in Dubai.

Municipal solid waste generation in the emirate has almost quadrupled, rising from about 2,800 tonnes a day (t/d) in 2000 to more than 11,000 t/d in 2009.

Construction and demolition waste has increased more than seven-fold over the same timeframe, reaching 23.3 million tonnes from 3.0 tonnes in 2008.

Growing problem

Changing lifestyles and rising personal wealth have also contributed to the higher volumes of waste being generated in the emirate. The UAE has the highest per capita waste in the world, at about 2 kilogrammes a day or 730kg a year. This is double the amount produced per person in the UK, for example.

Dubai’s urban sprawl is also beginning to encroach on some of the areas where the landfill sites are located. As a result, finding suitable, affordable land for new dumps is becoming increasingly difficult.

“Fifteen years ago, Al-Qusais landfill was far from the city, now it is within the city,” says Naji al-Radhi, head of waste treatment at Dubai Municipality. “It is hard to operate a site within a city. It is causing us problems and people are complaining because now it is surrounded by either industrial premises or by labour accommodation.”

In response to this growth, Dubai Municipality has in recent years taken steps to find technical solutions to its waste management problems, introducing recycling into the emirate through private-public partnerships.

In 2004, the municipality signed a 20-year build-own-operate-transfer contract with the local Tadweer for the construction of a materials recovery facility at Al-Warsan on the edge of Dubai.

Automated systems

The first sorting line started up in 2006, with the second following in 2008. A further two lines began operating this year. The plant is able to sort 4,000 t/d of municipal solid waste.

“We are the first in the region to deal with domestic waste on a high level in a fully automated plant,” says Lina Chaabon, environ-mental care manager at Tadweer.

The plant separates out dry recyclables such as paper and cardboard, plastics and metals. The company has also installed two granulation lines for recycling polyethylene bags. Each line has a capacity of 25 t/d. In addition, Tadweer converts green waste into compost, producing 30 t/d.

Dubai Municipality has also signed build- own-operate deals with Emirates Recycling, a subsidiary of local conglomerate Al-Rostamani Group, for a tyre recycling facility and a construction and demolition materials recycling plant.

The tyre recycling plant is located in Al-Qusais near the Deira area of Dubai and has a capacity to reprocess 1,200 tyres an hour into shredded granules.

The AED65m ($17m) construction and demolition waste plant at Al-Lusaily on the Al-Ain-Jebel Ali road separates out wood, plastics, metal and aggregates. The facility is expected to ramp up to its 8 million-t/y capacity by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, in June, the municipality inaugurated an AED24m medical waste incinerator at Jebel Ali, built by a consortium of the local Zenath Group, the recycling and waste management arm of ETA Star Group, and technology providers Mitsubishi Corporation and Plantec of Japan. It is the largest medical waste incinerator in the GCC.

The plant has been built to cater for the additional medical waste that is expected to be generated by Dubai Healthcare City, a healthcare zone being built by state-owned real estate developer Tatweer.

The emirate currently produces about 6-7 t/d of medical waste, but the new inciner-ator has a capacity of 19.2 t/d. It replaces an older unit that burned 500kg an hour.

Unfortunately for Dubai Municipality, in the time that these projects have been executed, the volumes of waste generated in the emirate have continued to soar, so much so that Tadweer now has the capacity to sort only one third of the municipal solid waste produced in Dubai.

Furthermore, it was expected that 80 per cent of the waste sent to Tadweer’s sorting facility would be recycled, but due to high levels of contamination, only 20 per cent of the waste received by the plant is sent for reuse.

Construction and demolition waste levels have also continued to grow on the back of Dubai’s construction boom.

Key facts

  • 11,000 – Tonnes of solid waste produced in Dubai each day
  • 1,200 – Number of tyres processed every hour at the Al-Qusais shredding plant
  • AED24m – Cost of Jebel Ali’s medical wasteincinerator

Source: MEED

The situation at the emirate’s landfill sites is nearing critical, with the majority expected to exceed their capacity within the next two years. This is despite the slowdown in the economy as a result of the global financial crisis.

Dubai is not alone in its struggle to cope with its mounting waste volumes. Throughout the Gulf and the wider Middle East, local authorities face similar challenges due to this inevit-able consequence of population growth and increased economic activity, and it is a growing area for investment.

Elsewhere in the UAE, Abu Dhabi has also linked up with the private sector. In 2007, it awarded a 10-year build-own-operate-transfer contract for two new engineered landfill sites and a materials recycling plant to the local Al-Qudra Holding and Italy’s Ama International.

The sorting plant is currently under construction in Al-Dhafra. In February, Australia’s Thiess Services, in a joint venture with Al-Habtoor Leighton Group, signed an AED1.1bn 15-year concession deal to manage Abu Dhabi’s construction and demolition waste, which includes the delivery of a recycling facility.

Sharjah, meanwhile, has plans to build a second construction and demolition waste plant, and Ajman is expected to award a contract for a materials recycling plant before the end of the year.

But the scale of Dubai’s recent growth makes waste management a far greater headache for the emirate. Abu Dhabi by comparison produces 1,500 t/d of municipal solid waste.

Fully aware of the magnitude of the challenge it faces, Dubai Municipality has commissioned UK consultant Atkins to prepare a waste strategy for Dubai.

The document, which is due to be submitted by the end of this year, is intended to provide an action plan for reducing the amount of waste generated in the emirate.

Dubai is a case apart when it comes to waste generation. The emirate attracts 7.5 million visitors each year, while expatriates are estimated to comprise as much as 95 per cent of its total population.

Transient populations generally have different attitudes towards waste and recycling, and with their so-called ‘throw-away’ lifestyles, they tend to produce more waste than the average person.

Furthermore, due to the nature of its climate and economy, Dubai is heavily dependent on imported goods, which generate huge volumes of packaging waste.

In the mid 1990s, Dubai attempted to introduce recycling in the emirate through its Target 555 initiative, which aimed to cut per capita waste production to 555 kilogrammes a year. But the scheme proved unsuccessful.

“It did not work as we did not provide the proper framework, legislation and logistics to achieve the targets,” says Hassan Makki, director of waste management for Dubai Munici-pality. “We still believe recycling must be the main part of the solution, but they have to be sustainable recycling schemes that can serve the emirate in the best way.”

Recycling option

Municipal solid waste accounts for about 10-15 per cent of all waste produced in the emirate and studies have shown that about 82 per cent of it is recyclable. In 2007, 3.35 million tonnes of municipal solid waste was produced but just 1.42 per cent of it was sorted. It is estimated about 2.5 million tonnes of domestic waste considered to be recyclable was sent to landfill that year.

The municipality says it previously studied the potential for sorting waste at source, but concluded that it would be too hard to implement in the emirate.

For that reason, a waste-to-energy plant, as used in many countries in the West, is seen as the best answer to Dubai’s waste problems in the short term.

“It is hard to operate a [landfill] site within a city. It is causing us problems and people are complaining”

Naji al-Radhi, Dubai Municipality

France’s Cabinet Merlin, which is acting as consultant for the project, is due to issue a pre-qualification announcement imminently for a 6,000-t/d facility to be built at Al-Warsan.

If all goes to plan, the plant will be operational by 2012.

Expectations are high that the Atkins proposal will provide Dubai with a coherent waste management strategy that will equip the emirate well for the future. But changing attitudes towards recycling and reducing the total amount of waste produced in the emirate will be a long-term endeavour, and Dubai needs a more immediate solution.