Sharjah landfills bulge with plastic water bottles

Landfill sites in the UAE continue to expand as too few people recycle plastic – including millions of bottles of water.

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DUBAI // Landfill sites are bulging with discarded plastic water bottles while recycling plants lie almost idle, a survey has found.

The Sharjah waste management company that carried out the study recovered 3,342 tonnes of plastic last year and says the full quantity discarded is probably six times that. Only a third of Sharjah residents recycle their plastic waste, their research showed.

"We can potentially capture all plastics, if they end up deposited in the right ways," said Reinhard Wilkes, acting vice president of operations at the company, Bee'ah.

UAE per-capita consumption of bottled water is among the highest in the world: 259.7 litres in 2007, according to the Beverage Marketing Corporation, a US consultancy. Bee'ah estimates each resident uses up to 450 plastic water bottles a year, of which only a small percentage is recycled.

Polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, is used to make the bottles. Last year Bee'ah recovered 1,649 tonnes of PET.

A factory in Fujairah, Horizon Technologies, is the only site in the country where PET is reprocessed. The end products include granules, which can be exported for processing into other goods, or plastic film and containers.

Rajnish Sinha, the plant's general manager, said amounts of PET arriving at the factory from Sharjah, Dubai and elsewhere were increasing but were still far from sufficient.

"These are not very large figures if you look at the annual volume of waste," he said.

The plant opened in 2008 but is still operating at no more than 30 per cent capacity.

"There has been some increase over the years, but we are still far from what we are expecting. There is a long way to go," said Mr Sinha.

Bee'ah recovers most of its plastic waste at a facility in Al Saj'ah, where mixed household waste is sorted with the help of mechanical equipment and by hand into plastics, metal, glass and other recycleable materials.

They are then further divided and sold to companies that process them into useful materials. Mr Wilkes said plastic comprises the largest share of the waste.

"At present, plastic makes up almost 40 per cent of the total amount of materials recovered for recycling, of which the bulk is PET," he said.

Plastic is created by combining petroleum or natural gas with oxygen or chlorine. The process uses significant amounts of oil.

Recycling used plastic products requires up to to 40 per cent less energy than manufacturing new ones, according to Bee'ah. It also saves landfill space because discarded plastics take hundreds of years to degrade.

Both Mr Wilkes and Mr Sinha said more plastic waste could be recovered for recycling if, rather than throwing away drink bottles and other common plastic products, consumers put them in recycling bins.

Bee'ah has already installed roadside recycling bins across Sharjah, and has a depot in Al Qasba. Elsewhere, shopping malls and developers such as Emaar in Dubai offer some recycling infrastructure. Al Ain has a factory capable of extracting 63 tonnes of plastics a day from mixed waste.

In Abu Dhabi, there are no facilities to dispose of plastic separately or to extract it from mixed waste, but schemes to segregate plastic waste are expected to start this year in some residential areas.