A few years ago, the Ghayati area was a remote patch of sand in the Abu Dhabi desert.
But now, 2,000 tonnes of construction waste are recycled every day into material that builds the country's roads.
It all happens in the Ghayathi desert – about 250 kilometres west of the capital – where a 60-metre crusher turns huge stones into gravel.
All stone from construction sites and demolished buildings in Al Dhafra is recycled, reused and sold to boost the economy.
Previously the waste was taken to landfill, which damaged the environment.
The crusher opened in 2018, then closed for a few years but reopened in January and expects to process hundreds of thousands of tonnes of waste this year.
“Now we can sell it and use it for infrastructure projects such as road construction,” said Khalid Al Khanbashi, senior waste officer at Tadweer.
“This boosts the economy by providing reusable material rather than collecting it from natural resources," he said.
“It also opens the door for investments in the waste-management field."
Al Dhafra is a region on the rise. Sir Bani Yas Island is one of the country's top tourist destinations. Ruwais, once a small oil town, is being transformed with new parks, shops, markets and beach developments, while the first operational line of Etihad Rail runs from the Shah and Habshan gas fields to Ruwais.
The crusher receives its waste chiefly from projects in these areas – and the work is painstaking and methodological. The area is piled with massive loads of waste. A tractor first takes a load to the examination station. The material is inspected and checked by camera to ensure it is suitable for crushing.
It is then cleaned before being fed into the crushing plant. The waste travels on a magnetic conveyer belt where any metals or contaminated materials are removed.
“Air blowers clean ... the waste in case it has any plastic attached to it,” Mr Al Khanbashi said.
It then goes through a second screening to ensure it has been crushed to the right size – between 0mm and 37.5mm. “This is the criteria set by the government,” he said.
The crusher has automatic water pumps spraying the waste as it travels from station to station.
"The water is to limit the dust that comes out from crushing, [without this] we would not have been able to stand here," said Mr Al Khanbashi, standing on a hill overlooking the crusher.
The material is then lined up on the other side of the crusher, waiting to be sold.
"The product is not affected by weather conditions," Mr Al Khanbashi said. "In fact, when it rains it is better for us, to wash off the dust."
Diverting "as much waste as possible away from the landfills", has been a top priority for the Abu Dhabi government for years.
“It is important to save land space and to find alternative sustainable solutions,” said the senior officer.
In addition to the Ghayathi crusher, there are similar plants that operate on a larger scale for Abu Dhabi city and Al Ain. Together they can recycle up to 12,000 tonnes of waste per day. Tadweer collected 2.4 million tonnes of construction and demolition waste from Abu Dhabi emirate in 2020 and recycled 1.91m tonnes.
“It helped the environment in general, and with this we are able to save natural resources and find an alternative source for aggregates in the emirate of Abu Dhabi,” Mr Al Khanbashi said.
Last year, the crushers in the capital city and in Al Ain recycled more than 1.5 million tonnes of construction and demolition waste that would have gone to the dump yards otherwise.