Recycling plant turns debris into roadways

Abu Dhabi's first construction waste recycling plant means debris is ending up as new roads in Al Gharbia rather than landfill.

ABU DHABI // Only five months ago, the truckfuls of construction debris would have been tipped at the Al Dharfa landfill, forming ugly hills of concrete, protruding iron bars and wood. But since the opening of the emirate's first construction waste recycling plant next door, after some sorting and crushing, most debris is ending up as new roads in Al Gharbia. "This seems to be where a lot of the interest is coming from," said Tim Harwood, general manager of Thiess Services Middle East, the private company behind the project.

The recycled concrete is primarily used in the region as road base, as well as subbase in highway construction. The practice has been approved by the Abu Dhabi Executive Council, which in late July issued specifications that the recycled concrete needs to meet, depending on its proposed use. "This was very important for us," said Mr Harwood. "We are now in the process of talking to the market and raising awareness that the specifications have been approved."

The Dh45 million plant opened in May. Since then, it has been compulsory for construction companies and those transporting construction waste to deposit loads at the new facility. Not all end up there, as concrete that has been mixed with large amounts of construction waste is not suitable for re-processing. "Some loads do get rejected because they are not suitable," said Mr Harwood. "But by and large, we process the bulk of the waste."

The plant has been operating at only half its capacity due to summer midday breaks and reduced Ramadan hours; later this month it will ramp up to capacity, processing between 5,000 and 7,000 tonnes of construction and demolition waste per day. The emirate produces about 9,000 tonnes of such waste every day, an amount that is expected to increase with many old buildings in Abu Dhabi slated for demolition.

Although it has so far only been processing concrete, the plant has been accepting asphalt and will soon be recycling it as well. The first batches are due late this year or early next. Dr Sadek Owainati, an engineering consultant and co-founder of the Emirates Green Building Council, said there were several ways recycling concrete helped the environment, beginning with reducing landfill space. Al Dharfa, Abu Dhabi's largest such site, is spreading to 16 square kilometres, six times the size of City of London, the English capital's core area.

Reusing concrete also helps reduce demand for fresh rock. Quarrying, which is usually done in the mountains of Ras al Khaimah and Fujairah, has substantial environmental impact, including disturbing wildlife and in some cases disrupting mountain wadis. Quarrying also requires large amounts of water to suppress air-borne dust particles, a process that is also required at recycling plants. A joint venture between Australia's Thiess Services and the Dubai-based Al Habtoor Engineering Enterprises, the company is responsible for operating the recycling plant for 15 years before transferring it to the Government.

Since its launch, the plant has recycled and sold about 50,000 tonnes of material, with plans to ramp up in the coming months. "From the middle of September, we are expecting to be up to full production," he said. Without providing specifics on how much the recycled materials sold for, Mr Harwood said the price is competitive with "virgin material". Pricing varies depending on the size of an order, when it is placed and where it is being shipped to, he said.