By Changing How We View Waste, We Can Achieve Sustainability

September 21, 2018

By Eisa Saif Al Qubaisi 

Every year, the emirate of Abu Dhabi generates huge amounts of waste as a result of its booming urban development, large multinational population and progressive tourism sector. This includes household rubbish and waste produced by industries such as agriculture, manufacturing and construction.

Currently most of this waste ends up in landfills, where it is buried and left to decay slowly. Every emirate is faced with the challenge of waste disposal and therefore seeks the best methods to deal with this challenge. Abu Dhabi, in particular, is taking aggressive steps to deal with waste management.

To change the current inefficient and unsustainable landfill waste situation, Tadweer (The Centre of Waste Management – Abu Dhabi) is working in a number of areas to reduce wastage and extract value from waste. With Abu Dhabi’s population expected to reach five million by 2030, relying purely on current disposal methods could see large chunks of the emirate turned into fallow landfills.

One of Tadweer’s primary goals is to divert 60 per cent of total waste away from landfills by 2020 – a key stage in its long-term strategy, which is centred around the concept of “reduce, reuse and recycle”. This strategy will help us maximise the reutilisation of waste while creating a new attitude towards our rubbish: it’s not a waste, it’s a resource.

Tadweer is following best-in-class waste-recycling practices, including reduction at source, reuse and recycling through intensive awareness campaigns and special schemes that contribute to a safer and cleaner environment.

Another initiative is a system to manage used tyres. Tadweer successfully recycled about three million tyres in the second quarter of 2015. It also has a collaborative research agreement with the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, aimed at converting waste cooking oil into biodiesel. Biodiesel is a renewable resource and a carbon-neutral alternative to the commonly used carbon-emitting petroleum diesel.

Abu Dhabi produces about 20 kilograms per capita of waste cooking oil (WCO) annually. Processing and reusing it as fuel is an environmentally-friendly and energy-efficient solution that could contribute up to 5 per cent of the emirate’s sustainable energy needs by 2020.

The team at Masdar Institute, led by Dr Isam Janajreh, associate professor of mechanical engineering, has successfully demonstrated the small-scale capability of converting WCO to biodiesel and initial studies are targeted at assessing commercial viability.

Tadweer’s contributions include regulating and tracking the transportation and treatment of WCO from restaurants, hotels and cafeterias across Abu Dhabi, through a manifest system.

This research is now in its second year and is focused on achieving fundamental improvement of the waste-cooking-oil-to-biodiesel conversion process through further experimentation and sensitivity studies.

Viewing waste as a material resource, rather than something to be buried, is exactly the change in attitude and perspective required to bring Abu Dhabi closer to a sustainable, closed-loop waste management system where less waste is generated and more is re-used.

Collaborations like the one with Masdar Institute not only bring mutual benefit to the parties involved but also bring benefits to the country overall.

This project, if successful, could provide the UAE with a valuable resource for its knowledge economy – one that diversifies its energy sources away from a purely fossil-fuel based energy system, while safely converting a regular stream of unwanted waste into a valuable clean energy resource.

Eisa Saif Al Qubaisi is the general manager at the Center of Waste Management – Abu Dhabi (Tadweer)

This op-ed originally appeared in print in The National newspaper on 9 December 2015.