Think before you throw

More firms in the UAE have begun recycling waste.

Environmental responsibility is no longer a matter of choice. It's a logical step towards saving and making the most of our resources, which are in short supply. The World Bank estimates that the UAE will invest about $46 billion (Dh168.96 billion) over the next decade in environmental and pollution control projects.

Habiba Al Marashi, Chairperson, Emirates Environmental Group, an ISO 14001-certified NGO says, "The EEG was formed in 1991 by a number of committed citizens to support the government's effort of protecting the UAE's environment. The group sounded the alarm on the growing waste problem, excessive energy consumption and the urgent need to conserve water, a few years after its formation, pointing out an increasing throw-away tendency of residents."

Al Marashi believes that environmental issues aren't high on the agenda in the UAE. She says, "I believe that people are aware of the basic environmental issues and concerns of the country, but apathy is rampant."

More than 100 companies that have adopted waste management in part and in full are involved with the EEG. "Their involvement range from paper collection to sponsorship of EEG programmes and events," says Al Marashi.

Sue Le Boutillier works with the Dubai English Speaking School (DESS), a strong supporter of recycling efforts. She says, "Our initiatives began last year with paper and aluminium can collections following a few months of persuasion and planning to arrange with EEG to collect from us. In October we collected glass from the Jebel Ali glass factory to increase public awareness. By the year-end we started collecting plastics.

Recycling overdue

"Most of us do it routinely in our own countries," says Le Boutillier, "so why not here in the UAE where the disposal problem is even worse? A theatre group visited the school last year with a production about recycling - so the children have been well motivated. Many parents have commented that they are relieved to be able to participate and that recycling facilities are well overdue in Dubai."

Orient Planet was recently recognised for its contribution to EEG's projects and campaigns. The public relations company implemented several successful media and public awareness campaigns to increase EEG's visibility in the local and international community. Nidal Abou Zaki, Managing Director, says, "Safe-guarding the environment is the responsibility of all organisations, on a global level. We send daily newspapers, as well as bottles, cans, glass, toner cartridges and plastics for recycling. Scrap paper is used for notes and message pads while non-glossy paper is used for faxes and internal memos, though most information is circulated through electronic mail rather than making multiple copies on paper. The goal is to maximise the reusing of office waste paper and to minimise its disposal. We also create awareness among our staff on the recycling process and of using products made from recycled material. Our printers and copiers are capable of printing on both sides of the paper. We also encourage staff to proof and revise electronically and print only final copies."

Deleterious effect

Zaki believes the rapid expansion of the country is to blame for the increase in waste. "According to a recent study, the UAE has one of the world's highest levels of domestic waste. Per capita household waste has reached an average annual level of 730 kilos in Abu Dhabi and 725 kilos in Dubai. Additional refuse comes from street litter, gardens and from waste dumped in the sea and on beaches. It is expected that there will be a two-to-three-fold increase in plastic consumption in countries such as the UAE. This increase is accompanied by a vast accumulation of solid waste and plastic litter, which, due to their resistance to bio-degradation, have a deleterious effect on the environment."

Energy Management Services (EMS), the Middle East's leading energy management and conservation company, has been implementing energy value engineering solutions in the UAE's buildings. "We have been backing their work by promoting their solutions that help develop sustainable, high performance building environments," says Zaki.

Offices generate substantial waste and it's only sensible to dispose of this waste in a responsible manner. Fidelia Thomas, from 3M Gulf Limited, says, "We definitely produce too much waste in the UAE. This situation is unsustainable and we need to take urgent action through policy changes. Significantly increasing the amount of waste we recycle is an important part of the process." The company conducts weekly collection drives for a wide range of recyclable material.

Jotun Paints, a leading paint manufacturer, has been invited to join the Emirates Green Building Council (GBC). The council aims to advance work that supports the development and implementation of high performance green building principles, through partnerships with various industries. Jotun has implemented various recycling programmes including the recycling of general waste such as pallets, plastic and metal drums, waste water, waste solvent and powder collected from the dust extractor at its plant. The company's recycling procedures have been so successful that it generates more through recycling than it spends on disposal.

Erik Aaberg, Regional Managing Director, says, "We have invested in tank farms, so that incoming raw materials such as binders are offloaded directly from road tankers, thus eliminating spillage and raw material loss, which normally happens due to manual handling. A dust collection unit is used when powders are charged into the process tank. We reuse the dust powder in subsequent batches. We also recycle water collected from the AC and from the cleaning of process tanks and stands."

Creating awareness

The International Environment Group (IEG) plays a vital role in protecting the UAE's environment by creating awareness among the public of the need for recycling and making recycling user-friendly. 'Clean up the world' is one of its community-based campaigns that inspires and empowers communities around the globe to clean and preserve their local environments. IEG in conjunction with Dubai Municipality, has brought together businesses, community groups, schools and governments in a range of activities and programmes to improve local environments.

Dhanalakshmi, a coordinator with IEG says, "People can help with waste management by limiting the use of plastic carry bags, instead using reusable ones. On most occasions we carry more plastic bags than products when visiting shopping malls."

In the two years since its inception, the IEG has installed recycling units in schools across the UAE. "We were successful in creating awareness among children through presentations and workshops in association with Dubai Municipality," says Dhanalakshmi.

Fairmont Hotels and Resorts is known for its long-standing position as a dedicated environmental steward. The company developed its comprehensive 'Green partnership programme' in 1990 to minimise the impact of hotel operations on the environment. The programme addresses key issues, such as waste management and energy and water conservation, paired with a strong community outreach focus that centres on partnerships and alliances with local groups. Fairmont's role was recently recognised when it was awarded the prestigious 2006 Global Tourism Business Award, by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC). The award, which recognises and promotes the world's leading examples in responsible tourism development, acknowledged Fairmont for its innovative approach to sustainable business practices that include wind-powered check-ins in its North American properties, preserving nature trails, and educational programmes for children exploring environmental issues.

Green team

The Fairmont Dubai has established its own 'green team' of eco-champions within the hotel, and is currently in the planning stages of a comprehensive recycling programme. It has also established a corporate partnership with the EEG, to protect the local environment here.

The Al Maha Desert Resort and Spa is another leading eco-hotel. Built in association with Emirates airline, the resort is set in a secluded 25-square-kilometre wildlife nature reserve and offers the widest possible variety of flora and natural landscape. Its success and worldwide recognition has put Dubai at the forefront of conservation.

Otherwise threatened indigenous wildlife has been breeding successfully around the resort since 1999, and the animals are now being allowed to spread out from Al Maha into the wider Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve (DCCR). The resort received the world's premier conservation award in June 2004 winning the Nature Travel award, created by Conservation International and National Geographic Traveller magazine.

Marashi is optimistic about the future. She says, "The UAE can definitely implement policies and install facilities to control waste. The country is small and instituting a proper waste management system is not difficult. The crucial factor is the support and participation of the people."

...Do your bit

Here are a few ways you can make a difference at your work place:

* Use the 'sleep' or 'standby mode' on personal computers, printers, copiers and fax to save electricity
* Switch off unused computers or lights when everyone has left for the day
* Place information and memos on announcement boards rather than distributing hard copies
* Slash paper volume by using a smaller font size, a space efficient font such as Times New Roman, smaller margins, less white space, and reduced image sizes
* Avoid using disposable cups
* Use non-glossy fax paper that does not require copying
* Use data compression software for storing large quantities of data electronically, rather than on paper
* Conduct competitive used paper drives in the office at regular intervals and support NGOs involved in the same
* Invest in recycled products
* Educate employees about the importance of paper use reduction
* Use reusable mops and rags for cleaning
* Reduce water usage
* Reduce needless printing

Published in Gulf News, Earth Watch Magazine, June 11, 2006