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By Swaliha Shanavas

Waste & Recycling Middle East and Dulsco Waste Management Services organised a Round Table discussion that focused on key aspects related to the region’s dairy industry including the current scenario; types of waste being generated and current practices; challenges pertaining to waste management; policy and regulations and the role legislation can play in sustainable dairy operations; opportunities for waste management partners to work with the sector to improve their performance in this area including recycling possibilities; and recommended best practices. The round table discussion was initiated by Dulsco as part of its ongoing efforts to work with the industry and identify suitable solutions to achieve maximum diversion from landfill. The event was hosted by Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI) and the discussion was moderated by Swaliha Shanavas, Editor, Waste & Recycling Middle East magazine. The dialogue featured industry experts including Ammar Kamil Mohammed, principal development studies section, waste management department, Dubai Municipality; Nasir Ayub, logistics & purchasing manager, Marmum; Rakesh Shukla, manager QA/QC/R&D, Marmum; Iyad Ahmed, quality assurance manager, Al Ain Dairy; Amit Datta, regional QHSE manager-UAE, Al Marai; Someraj Lahiri, regional sales support manager-UAE, Al Marai; Mustafa El Hanafy, public relations manager, National Food Products Company (NFPC); Shaikh Shaukat, Gulf & Safa Dairies Co.; Eng. Abdulrahman Mirghani, environment department in-charge, Al Rawabi Dairy; Rakesh Sharma, head of engineering & maintenance, Unikai Foods; Pieter Dewulf, general manager, Precision Products Co.; Shiju Koshy, HR manager, Precision Products Co.; Vineetha Mathew, senior executive–CSR training, Centre for Responsible Business, DCCI; Indranil Dutta, director, Dulsco Abu Dhabi; Madhumohan, director of waste management, Dulsco; and Aruna Narayanan, senior manager, marketing & customer service, Dulsco. Roundtable-Orignal

“Market returns” a key concern

Considering the significant presence of the dairy industry in the UAE and the region with two major segments of manufacturing and distribution, this sector generates large quantities of waste, and managing this food waste in a proper manner is critical as they could also pose health and safety issues. All the experts agreed that dealing with “market returns” was the biggest challenge. There are three broad classifications of waste being returned from the market – bakery products, dairy, juice and beverages; plus the packaging material including plastic, cardboard, glass, tin and aluminium foil. Almarai factory is based in Saudi Arabia, with distribution across the UAE, and a major portion of the waste they have to handle is market returns, which is their biggest challenge said Someraj Lahiri. “As you know, the expiry date is mentioned on all dairy products and those that remain unsold are transported back to our distribution centres.” At present, a waste management company supports them in disposing of the waste in the landfill. But whether this is a sustainable process needs to be examined along with options to derive some economic benefit from this waste, he noted. Iyad Ahmed of Al Ain Dairy said apart from the waste generated at their farm and factory, market returns is the main issue. They have their own crusher machine and at present separate the liquid and solid waste; and a municipality approved company picks up the liquid waste for proper disposal. Recyclables such as cartons and plastic scrap are collected by certain companies. “We have a production facility and storing expired products there creates problems of waste, pests, etc. Running costs are high and we are seeking a good solution.” “Unikai faces the same problems, where returns are a major concern. We separate the liquid, and all components with the exception of cardboard and plastic go to landfill. Normally, everyone should be getting around 5-6 percent market returns and to take it back and deal with the products involves costs,” Rakesh Sharma emphasised. In Eng. Abdulrahman Mirghani’s view, disposing enormous quantities of returns regularly turns out to be expensive for Al Rawabi’s operations. “We face the same challenges and the running cost is high as the dumping charges are quite high.” Answering Ammar Mohammed’s question on Production waste, Nasir Ayub said it was a negligible 0.1 percent. The main concern was the “returns” and like Al Ain Dairy, Marmum uses the crushing process, which is carried out on their premises, he noted.

Consumer perception – awareness is paramount

Another major challenge is the lack of awareness and consumer perception regarding the quality of a product on the shelf, opined Someraj Lahiri. While the ‘expiry date’ indicates the product is fine for consumption until the date specified, the general perception is that, if it is closer to ‘expiry’ it’s not good for use, “mainly because the consumer looks at the production date rather than expiry, so the person does not buy this product”, he said. “There should be awareness that if the cold chain is proper from the factory to the retailer, and the retailer’s cold chain is efficient, the product would be good even on the date of expiry. But consumers think otherwise, and if this perception changes, a major portion of market returns will come down.” Ammar Mohammed emphasised the need to create awareness among consumers. “They have to understand that the product is good from the production date right until the date of expiry.”

Legislation and waste disposal issues

Touching upon legislation, Ammar Mohammed said the waste disposal fee is the lowest in Dubai as compared to other emirates, though they are looking at increasing the fee gradually considering “sustainability for businesses, Dubai and the environment”. At present, the charge is a nominal AED10, while in Sharjah it is AED50 for general and 150 for commercial waste, it was noted. Currently, in Almarai’s case, there is a specific schedule (twice a week) given by the municipality for disposal of market returns (considered as food waste destruction). “We are implementing food safety systems, pest control measures, etc., but it tends to create unhealthy conditions within our premises because we are unable to get rid of the waste on a daily basis,” Amit Datta lamented. “More than 150 tons of waste is generated per month just in Dubai and its disposal is a challenge. The two days allocated is insufficient for us. Is there a way to increase the frequency disposal so we can get rid of food waste daily to keep the premises clean and hygienic?” The matter has to be clarified with the food control department in consultation with the service provider, Ammar Mohammed advised.

Sustainable solution options

Recycling  Rakesh Sharma wondered about the possibility of recycling the market returns. Present regulations do not allow them to recycle, so they have to dump them. “Could we possibly take back the yoghurt, milk, etc. a couple of days before expiry and reprocess them?” he observed. Or maybe produce goods such as animal feed or possibly non-food items, added Amit Dutta. “We are looking at options like recovering water and making it potable, and converting the remaining waste into certain products. We are not aware of the existing regulations in this regard, so we’d like to know how to approach the subject.” Madhumohan added that the purpose of Dulsco initiating such focused group conversations was to gather consensus from all stakeholders and look at industry wide recycling solutions. Sustainable packaging Companies now try to make their bottles slimmer and bottle caps smaller in size so they utilise less plastics, said Pieter Dewulf. “That is one area where progress has been made.” While the UAE produces certain types of packaging material, countries such as Turkey manufacture better quality products as they have better packaging machines, etc, added Nasir Ayub. “It is two years since we started using paperboard for packaging certain measures of milk – 95 percent paper and only 5 percent plastic including the cap and so on,” said Iyad Ahmed. Ammar Mohammed suggested the use of glass bottles as a sustainable option. Citing Coca-Cola’s approach, he said it would help reduce manufacturing costs as well. “There’s a glass manufacturing company in the emirate and a production line could be started as pilot project to see if it works. You could also think of options like takeback for rewards, or door-to-door deliveries and collection for a price.” The packaging material should also be made available locally because importing it would increase the costs, Nasir Ayub responded. “Regarding door to-door deliveries, the distribution costs will increase, which I don’t think any dairy can afford. The milk prices have remained constant since 2008 and we have to think of ways to maintain the margin to run the company. Many dairies have addressed this with the concerned ministry, but as long as the milk prices don’t go up, parent companies will hold on to the investments.” From a plastic manufacturer point of view Pieter Dewulf said, though a lot of recyclable material is not utilisable at present, they could look into potentially adding new applications where the raw material requirements are not as stringent, and there might be opportunities to start producing certain products. “We could possibly look into applications and if all of that recycled material could be accommodated to reach us, we might be able to find solutions. We have not explored into such applications so far mainly because the inflow of material is not structured and big enough to sustain the project. Once the volumes are there I think it’s worth exploring.” It’s all about the ‘date’ Highlighting another critical aspect from legislation point of view, Someraj Lahiri asked if it was possible to remove the production date from the dairy product and retain only ‘best before’/ ‘use before’, so the consumer would know the product was good for consumption until the specified date. “This option would decrease the market returns a great deal and companies across the board will benefit from the legislation if it is implemented by the authorities.” The forum agreed that it was a valid point and suggested putting forth the idea before the respective authorities. Organic waste treatment A proposal for an organic waste treatment plant has been included in the Dubai Municipality Master Plan, and if it becomes operational in a few years’ time and the project is well implemented, it would be beneficial to all concerned, said Ammar Mohammed. “Food waste represents a major portion of the waste generated in Dubai and requires a sustainable solution, and we could possibly discuss with Dulsco something practical and economically viable.” Madhumohan said Dulsco would try to evaluate the potential quantities available to ensure treatment and appropriate solution for both organic and recyclable material. In terms of appropriate solutions, for instance, a crusher would help separate all the recyclables from the organic waste and these two could be then handled separately. Dulsco is already involved in waste sorting and so this can be done, he remarked. If Dulsco could with the support of Dubai Municipality bring together all the players, and the organic waste produced in various facilities could be brought to a central location, they could evaluate the total amount of waste generated, based on which Dulsco could possibly set up a Biogas plant, which would provide enough energy to run the facility so it could be self-sustaining, he observed. “With the municipality and industry’s support, we could set up a facility. Another option would be to put up an industrial grade casein unit for milk based products, which has huge demand globally,” he said, adding that proper data was also required to determine the volumes available. Roundtable-3

Data mining – key to finding the right solutions

Dulsco along with Dubai Municipality could have a questionnaire initiated so they could collect the data in terms of the total waste generated, which would help in determining the solutions one could seek, said Madhumohan. Ammar Mohammed seconded the proposal saying they could work together on the methodology. “We need to have solid data before deciding on the most suitable option. We also need companies to be more active in providing the data regarding the waste being generated in each stage, and based on the report we could decide what steps to take.” They were already providing the data to Dubai Statistics Centre, a government organisation Nasir Ayub stated. “Every month we have to provide them with details of what we produce, the quantity, production cost, etc.” And if Dubai Municipality is involved in the survey, companies would be willing to share confidential information, he said. Touching upon the role of Centre for Responsible Business, Dubai Chamber in promoting CSR and sustainability to their member companies, Vineetha Mathew said Dubai Chamber will support the questionnaire survey and the effort to bring in more contacts, so the required data could be obtained to identify suitable solutions. The session concluded on the note that Dulsco along with Dubai Municipality’s waste management department and the Dubai Chamber’s Centre for Responsible Business would work on consolidating the statistics from various dairies to see how much and what type of waste was being generated in order to work out a solution for the same. Based on the forum’s suggestions, they could look at the feasibility of implementing them. The experts agreed on the need for a second round of discussion which would also include other stakeholders such as ESMA, Dubai Municipality’s Food Safety Department and so on. Indranil Dutta said they should definitely have a sequel to this “because the loop is still not complete; the first step would be data gathering, the second would be to rope in most stakeholders and then as a unified body, arrive at a solution.”