The UAE's electricity shortage is doing more than making residents hot under the collar. It is also hampering the nation's fledgling waste-recycling efforts.
Despite having plenty of sanitised drinking water on tap, thanks to the desalination plants that dot the Gulf coast, residents of the Emirates are the world's biggest per capita consumers of bottled water.
Perhaps that is because in summer, water emerges from "cold" taps at temperatures more suited to bathing than drinking. Alternatively, many residents may distrust the quality and condition of water tanks and pipes in their too frequently jerry-built accommodation.
Be that as it may, the UAE's bottled water habit translates into a massive problem with plastic waste causing unsightly litter and clogging landfill sites.
Hoping to capitalise on the problem while helping clean up the environment, a local firm,
, two years ago built a state-of-the art recycling plant in Fujairah to process the offending used water bottles and other discarded plastic packaging into clean plastic flakes and chips. It exports food-grade plastic chips and non-food-grade flakes to clients in South Asia, the Far East, Europe and the US.
Many local residents, including most western expatriates, support the idea of waste recycling and have long complained about the lack of opportunities to participate in home-grown recycling initiatives. It is therefore not surprising that Horizon's revenues more than quadrupled last year to Dh12.4 million (US$3.4m) from Dh2.8m in 2008.
Despite this, the plant is operating at only a third of its 2,000 tonnes per month capacity. The reason: It is short of power.
"This is a major issue for us. Since the company was established we have had to use generators for electricity," Rajnish Sinha, the general manager of Horizon told
in a recent interview. "We are still operating from generators and need a connection with Federal Electricity and Water Authority (FEWA)."
"I don't know what the problems are, but it is draining our resources," he added. "This issue needs government support."
As of January, 2008, however, FEWA, which has only about 1,120 megawatts of power generation capacity from aging and inefficient plants, is
for supplying electricity and water to residential customers in the UAE's northern emirates. The individual emirates are responsible for supplying commercial and industrial users as well as big real estate projects.
But the governments of Fujairah, Ras al Khaimah and Ajman were given this responsibility before they had time to set up their own power plants and secure fuel allocations for them. As a result, many recent developments have been waiting for grid connections for more than a year.
The Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Company is building a 2,000mw power plant in Fujairah which is due for completion by the end of this year. Fujairah businesses are hoping this will solve their chronic electricity problems.
Horizon, however, will continue to face other obstacles, including regulations preventing it from importing materials for recycling.
"Although we can export products, we are not allowed to import raw materials for recycling, so we are totally dependent on local materials," Mr Sinha said.
This is ironic, as Horizon biggest shareholder is National Mineral Water, or
, based in neighbouring Oman. Tanuf, a bottled water distributor, has set up recycling bins in Oman and hoped to be among Horizon's chief suppliers.
All that is needed for the scheme to work is a bilateral agreement between the two GCC neighbours on bottle recycling.
In the meantime, Horizon is just scraping by on "very tight" margins. Most of its input comes from Dubai, but the quality varies. It has no immediate plans to build another plant.
Little wonder, then, that only 8-9 per cent of the UAE population recycles, compared with an average of 21-22 per cent worldwide.
To add insult to injury, some of the biggest power consumers are the energy-intensive desalination plants that supply the potable tap-water that most UAE residents spurn.