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10 December 2023

Thermal recycling to take care of waste

By Muna Ahmad



A Dh20 billion thermal recycling project was announced yesterday by Dubai Municipality to manage the growing problem of waste, making the emirate the first in the region to use the technology.


Thermal recycling involves incinerating waste materials and using the heat generated as energy. The technology would eliminate the need to bury most waste in landfills – freeing up space that the emirate needs to grow. The method is used in countries such as Japan, Germany and Singapore.


Every day Dubai produces 9,000 tonnes of waste, and the amount of rubbish produced per person – around 1,000kg – is higher than the rate in the United States and other developed countries.


“The municipality will soon tender the project to ask consultants on how to implement and start the project, which aims to have 90 per cent of the waste completely managed by thermal recycling by the year 2020,” said Abdullah Mohammad Rafia, assistant director general for environment and public health affairs at the municipality. Rafia spoke to Emirates Business on the sidelines of the two-day Recycling Middle East conference that started yesterday in Dubai.


Thermal recycling is particularly attractive given the emirate’s lack of space, said Rafia.

“Earlier, landfills used to be about 20km away from the residential areas. With urbanisation and growth of population, there is no room for landfills as residents do not want them next to their homes. The other reason is the increase in the usage of land in development projects, which means no more space can be wasted for landfills.”

In this way, Dubai is experiencing many of the same waste management pressures as European Union countries.


“In Europe, France was the first country to stop dumping waste in landfills. Today this method is used by almost all European Union countries. Now Dubai is following the same steps of ending landfills, and I am confident that other GCC and Middle East countries will follow the same steps,” he said.


Other pluses to the method include potential health benefits. “We are also trying to reduce the number of diseases that happen due to mismanagement of waste.”


The official said the new technology is proof of a new strategy that lessens the emphasis on waste reduction. He acknowledged campaigns to get residents to cut back on their consumption and disposal had not met with success.


“Earlier, we tried to reduce the amount of waste by starting the Target 555 programme. In this, we were aiming to cut down the per capita waste generation to 555kg annually. However, this never happened because the emirate is changing the habits.

From the day we started the programme to date, the amount of per capita waste has not reduced. Today, the per capita waste generated in the emirate, including tourists, is around 1,000kg – which is too high,” Rafia said.


However, the municipality has not given up on education as a partner in the solution. Rafia said he still hopes people will change the way they think about what they throw away.


A successful implementation of the thermal recycle method would cut down the amount of landfill space used by around 90 per cent, and thus only 10 per cent of the waste generated would need to be buried.


“The method will also give us alternative energy sources, and thus help to save energy and fuel. The main reason for us to implement this method is to solve the growing problem of waste control, not to save money,” Rafia said.


Prosperity and wealth in Dubai has been driving the boom in garbage, according to the municipality. “The vision of Dubai is all about success and prosperity. Unfortunately, waste grows with prosperity, and this is the price we have to pay,” he said.

Thermal recycling joins a host of other programmes initiated by the municipality to reduce the amount taken to landfills. “For domestic waste, we have strategic private partners to carry out recycling work. The contracts with the private sector started sometime ago.”


The private sector, he said, is also currently recycling construction waste, tyres, oil and grease from vehicles and restaurants and animal waste from slaughterhouses.

“We are also recycling 100 per cent of medical and hazardous waste according to international standards,” Rafia said.


However, investments by the municipality in new technology should not remove the burden of environmental responsibility from the shoulders of residents, he said.

Families and businesses can do a lot to reduce waste.


“It requires a lot of education and awareness. For example, in supermarkets they should use paper bags rather than plastic bags. The problem with educating the public is that there are two categories: the young and the old. As for the young, we have special classes in schools where we educate them on how to reduce waste.


“The main problem we face with the older ages is that only 40 per cent of the residents of the emirate – both nationals and expatriates – are living here [permanently], and the other 60 per cent come here to ensure better life for themselves and their families in their home countries and then leave in a few years time.”


Small steps, such as recycling paper, cans and bottles, can help.  “There are recycling points at many Emarat petrol stations where people can drop cans and bottles.”


Private companies benefit from collecting recyclables and Rafia said if malls and hotels collected their re-useable waste they can create partnerships with recyclers.

“There are many companies collecting and recycling waste. If hotels and malls have recycling points, then I believe these companies would be more than happy to collect the waste.”

In numbers


Tonnes of waste was generated in Dubai in 2007



Tonnes of waste are created every day in the emirate



Kg of rubbish is created by a single resident in one year