What is a circular economy and how is Sharjah taking the lead?

By creating a resource loop where nothing goes to waste, we can extend the lifespan of resources and boost their economic value

By using smart bins and route optimisation technology, carbon emissions, fuel consumption, time, manpower and vehicle usage can be reduced. Courtesy Bee'ah
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Last week, I watched with keen interest as the young environmental activist, Greta Thunberg, arrived in New York after sailing across the Atlantic in a zero-carbon yacht. The Swedish teenager, who has galvanised support among young people across the world, will attend a UN summit on zero emissions, where she will issue a call for world leaders to do more to tackle the great environmental challenges we face.

I applaud her message that the world needs to act right now to reduce carbon emissions before it is too late. But the reality is there are many challenges on the path to creating a sustainable economy. How do we use our resources in a smarter way? How do we ensure economic prosperity but also create a greener future for our children? We must address this issue from multiple angles.

The key to this sustainable future is the creation of a ‘circular economy’. By creating a resource loop where nothing goes to waste, we are extending the lifespan of resources and their economic value while sustaining growth by turning used resources into new income streams.

Apart from reducing the depletion of resources and generating revenue in new ways, a circular economy has a number of other benefits. It plays an essential role in meeting the urgent requirement of reducing our overall carbon footprint. It creates significant opportunities for investment, if we are early adopters and developers of revolutionary breakthroughs in sustainable innovation. It enables the creation of strategic partnerships between government and non-government entities to build sustainable alternatives to present forms of production and consumption. And it allows for the diversification of the economy and investment from foreign entities. This enhances our natural wealth and ensures social being, in addition to increasing jobs at all skill levels.

At Bee’ah, the UAE's leading integrated environmental, recycling and waste management company, our aim is to ensure a sustainable, technology-driven future through creative and resourceful solutions. This goal is in alignment with our governments in this region, who have the vision and foresight to address the need for a sustainable future. With the introduction of initiatives like the UAE Vision 2021, the UAE Green Agenda 2015-2030 and the UAE energy Strategy 2050, there have been great efforts towards implementing a green economy in the UAE. Beyond the UAE, we also have great admiration for Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 goals.

Bee-ah’s approach to a circular economy began in 2007 with the goal of implementing a zero-waste to landfill strategy. Since then, we have tripled the diversion rates in Sharjah and we have now achieved 76 per cent diversion, the highest in the Middle East. We are now leaders in waste management. Through our technological innovations, together with an eco-friendly fleet of 1,200 vehicles, we are serving iconic landmarks across the UAE like the Burj Khalifa. Using a digitilsation solution such as our Bee’ah Waste Management System built on the SAP Prologa platform, we have reduced the number of vehicles used and the number of waste collection trips, even while increasing tonnage. All these features, in turn, save time, effort, resources and manpower.

As the first fully integrated waste management company in the UAE, we undertake everything from collection to disposal. We collect around three million tonnes of waste annually. This waste is brought to our transfer station and sorted, before being sent to our recycling facilities for processing. Through these facilities, we convert end-of-life products into recycled raw materials and products such as rubber tiles and concrete aggregates.

These hi-tech processes not only re-use precious resources, but also create a diverse revenue generation model, which is improving the future resource security of our community.

The notion of a circular economy would be impossible without clean energy sources. This requires disruptive technologies and disruptive thinking. That is why we have partnered with Masdar to form the Emirates Waste to Energy Company, which will establish waste-to-energy facilities across Mena. We have already started work on the UAE’s first waste to energy plant which is being built within our waste management complex in Sharjah. This facility will process more than 300,000 tonnes of municipal solid waste each year, produce around 30 MW of energy, and it will be able to power up to 28,000 homes. This development will help us to achieve the Middle East’s first zero-waste solution in Sharjah by 2021.

Of course, creating a circular economy also requires us to think deeply about how we integrate new technologies into our daily lives. Last year, we launched the region's first sustainable transport company, ION, in partnership with Crescent Enterprises, to help foster radical transport solutions for the future and reduce air pollution for the benefit of all citizens. ION sources electric vehicles and integrates them into existing infrastructure, like ride-hailing platforms, so people will always have the option of selecting eco-friendly alternatives in transportation.

While shifting to fuel-efficient and electric cars can help us in reducing our carbon footprint, technology can also play a pivotal role in making our activities even more sustainable. And by using smart bins and state-of-the-art route optimisation technology, we are streamlining our operations further, reducing carbon emissions, fuel consumption, time, manpower and vehicle usage.

This week, we will showcase our innovations in clean energy and pioneering waste-to-energy technologies at the 24th World Energy Congress, which is being held in the UAE for the first time. Two of our joint venture entities, ION and Emirates Waste to Energy Company (EWTE), will exhibit regional firsts in sustainable transport and clean energy at the event.

We are proud to support UAE Vision 2021, building a more sustainable future for Sharjah and the UAE, and hope to embark on new projects that will align with this ambition and set an example for many others to follow suit. By doing so, we hope that our young people across the world will inherit a greener, more sustainable economy that works to the benefit of everyone.

Khaled Al Huraimel is group chief executive of Bee’ah. The World Energy Congress will take place September 9-12 at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC). Visitors can find the Emirates Waste to Energy Company at Stand 110 in Hall 8, and ION at Stand 126 in Hall 9, at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC).