By Dr. Udayan Banerjee, Ibrahim Abdul Majeed Ibrahim and Fatimah Ahmad Al Harmoudi
In the last fifteen years or so, the emphasis of the waste and resource management sector has moved from landfill to recycling. There is a lot of talk about Zero Waste, however practically zero waste to landfill is not possible. We can only reach about 98% diversion from landfills. Zero waste is a whole system approach that aims to eliminate rather than ‘manage’ waste. As well as encouraging waste diversion from landfill and incineration, it is a philosophy designed to eliminate waste at source and at all points down the supply chain. It shifts from the current one-way linear resource utilization and disposal culture to a ‘closed-loop’ circular system of re-incarnation on Nature’s successful strategies.The circular economy is based on a paradigm shift, where waste is considered as a resource. It is therefore an economy of recovery and re-use, as also and especially a re-creation economy. In doing so, it transforms production chains and consumption patterns, and decouples GDP growth from natural resources use. During the period 1970 to 2000, the broad measure of material consumption kept on increasing with economic growth in the lower-income countries of the European Union (EU), keeping material intensity fairly constant relative to GDP, while in the richer countries, economic growth was being largely “de-coupled” from total material consumption, leading to a steady reduction in material intensity per unit of GDP. A study published by the European Environment Agency in June 2013 presents some critical findings. The best performing countries that have high recycling rates are Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Austria, Sweden and the Netherlands that are landfilling less than 3% of their municipal waste, but on the other hand certain Central and East European countries are still landfilling more than 75% of their municipal waste. The recycling statistics of the better performing countries (Austria, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands) have already reached the 50% recycling target. The remaining of the diversion is achieved through incineration for power only or combined heat and power. It should be noted that these countries have maximized recycling and then opted for waste to energy.All these significant achievements have not been possible in short period. The high achievers have worked for decades to reach where they are. This requires a paradigm shift in the societal culture, especially practicing segregation of recyclables at source. Policies like landfill ban, extended producer responsibility (EPR) as well as economic instruments such as user charges for managing municipal waste (e.g. ‘pay-as-you-throw’ schemes), landfill taxes and product charges have played a significant role in diverting waste away from landfill. However, these are only effective, if designed in such a way that they regulate the behaviour of households, waste companies and producers. The “polluter pays principle” of quantity-based fees works only if appropriately designed to promote reduce, recycle and resource recovery. In the European context the EU Directive 1999/31/EC on landfill of waste has played a significant role in diversion which requires member countries to reduce the amount of biodegradable municipal waste going to landfill: • to 75 % of the total amount of biodegradable municipal waste generated in 1995 by 2006; • to 50 % of 1995 levels by 2009; • to 35 % of 1995 levels by 2016. Those EU countries that had been landfilling more than 80 % of their municipal waste till 1995 were allowed to apply for an extension of the time limits but not exceeding four years. Countries like the United Kingdom, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia have used the option and got relaxed timeframe to comply with the directive. The directive also prohibits landfilling of certain waste types (such as waste tyres and liquid waste) and introduces classes of landfill and a system for landfill permits.
The United Arab Emirates vision 2021 has set the clear target for diversion of 75% of waste away from landfills and all the Emirates have strategically started working towards the target. The Emirate of Abu Dhabi has been focusing on developing a sustainable waste culture among the residents. About sixty five thousand single and multi-family villas have been provided with green and black bins to promote segregation of recyclables at the source. Also large commercial and industrial waste producers (? 250TPA) have been enforced to maximize recycling and reduce waste generation through mandatory Waste Reduction Action Plan. Tadweer – the Center of Waste Management (CWM) has been conducting door to door awareness campaigns as well as targeted campaigns in all public schools, universities etc. to promote the culture of recycling. Also awareness campaigns for public at malls and special tents in the residential areas have been organized.Moreover, a specifically designed drive to boost the material recovery from mixed waste and increasing the efficiencies of the recycling facilities has been in initiated. The recycling rate of Abu Dhabi Emirate has increased from 19.5% in 2014 to 26% in 2015, which is lower than the top European performers like Germany (45%), Belgium (40%), Slovenia (39%), Sweden (36%), Republic of Ireland (35%) and the Netherlands (33%) as reported in Waste Management in Central and Eastern Europe (September 2013). In the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, to facilitate segregated collection at source and encourage residents to practice segregation of recyclables, 10 recyclable collection points in Abu Dhabi main city and 10 more recyclable collection points in Al Ain are planned. However these need to be strongly complemented with mass public awareness to develop a recycling culture among the residents.
Also Tadweer – CWM along with Environmental Agency Abu Dhabi has been working towards developing a robust regulatory framework for waste management to further strengthen the resource recovery from waste. Five policies and a technical guideline have been enacted last year. The most important one, which is key to segregation of recyclables, is the ‘Waste Classification’ policy and technical guideline. These are further strengthened by the ‘Duty of Care’ technical guideline. Additionally Tadweer – CWM is in the process of developing its Integrated Waste Masterplan to design the waste management approach in the Emirate for next 25 years. All these consolidated efforts would help Abu Dhabi to emerge as a leader in sustainable waste management in the region as well as to achieve the target of 75% diversion of waste from landfills in a sustainable manner. While keeping the focus on diversion of waste away from landfill, some countries have got wrongly motivated to adopt incineration of waste for energy, which undermines the approach of reduction, reuse and material recovery. In other words, only incineration (waste to energy) to achieve diversion from landfill without maximizing reduction, reuse and material recovery is not a sustainable approach.Dr. Udayan Banerjee is Policy & Legislation Specialist, Ibrahim Abdul Majeed Ibrahim is Head of Recycling Section, and Fatimah Ahmad Al Harmoudi is Public Awareness Officer at Tadweer – the Center of Waste Management, Abu Dhabi