Recycling is no longer optional, but necessary

Entrepreneurs, institutions and residents must work together for better waste management

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - Ayoola Brimmo, helped develop a Òsmart binÓ at New York University, Saadiyat. Khushnum Bhandari for The National
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Most of us typically pay little attention to what we throw into our rubbish bins, yet the packaging, milk cartons, fruit peels and other household waste that we produce daily inflicts untold damage on our health, local wildlife and the environment more generally. Every day, we produce 3.5 million tonnes of waste, according to data from the World Bank, most of which ends up polluting the planet’s oceans, air and soil. The scale of devastation is immense; the acts that cause it are so minor. A simple change in habits goes a very long way.

Yesterday, Abu Dhabi's Waste Management Centre, Tadweer, made a public appeal for this change. Tadweer revealed to The National that last year Abu Dhabi produced 11 million tonnes of rubbish – the equivalent of two Burj Khalifas of waste every month. The amount of rubbish collected in the city over the past three years has sharply increased, and only a third of it is recycled.

It includes everything from food scraps to plastic, construction materials and animal parts. Most of the material is non-hazardous, and can easily be processed in Tadweer’s 26 treatment and recycling centres. So why is it that 70 to 80 per cent of Abu Dhabi’s refuse has been left unrecycled? Much of the blame lies in a fundamental lack of environmental awareness. Some are failing to recycle out of a misplaced desire for convenience, but how convenient is an impending environmental crisis? Others lack recycling bins in their building of residence; authorities have taken steps to counter this issue, but there are plenty of other steps for individuals to take. More than 15 recycling stations open to the public have sprouted up in Abu Dhabi since last year, as part of a campaign launched by the Minister of Climate Change and Environment, Dr Thani Al Zeyoudi.

A disregard for the environment is, of course, a problem that exists throughout our region. In war-torn Tripoli and crisis-hit Beirut, states have failed to rise to the challenge and people have found themselves surrounded by mountains of garbage, which turn into carcinogenic particles when burned.

Abu Dhabi has been proactive, and set the ambitious goal of recycling 75 per cent of all its refuse by next year, which would effectively reverse its current trend. It is also intent on becoming a centre of innovation in waste disposal. Tadweer has announced plans to launch new facilities to produce fuel out of recycled materials. StartAD – an initiative by New York University Abu Dhabi and local company Tamkeen – has funded a start-up called Cycled, which has in turn just released a new “Smart Bin”.

Why is it that 70 to 80 per cent of Abu Dhabi's refuse has been left unrecycled?

The rubbish bin identifies and sorts the materials users drop into it. This is a particularly important function. According to Fehily Timoney, managing director of an environmental consultancy working with Tadweer, if one non-recyclable item is thrown in the wrong bin, the rest of the rubbish contaminates otherwise recyclable items, rendering the whole process pointless.

One of the other great benefits of the Smart Bin is that it gives users information about their carbon footprint – a significant move toward raising awareness of individual impact. It may be that the key to changing simple habits might be a simple nudge.