“Tadweer’s main objective is to develop sustainable waste management practices in Abu Dhabi in line with Environment Vision 2030”: Dr. Salem Al Kaabi

H.E. Dr. Salem Khalfan Al Kaabi, Director General, Abu Dhabi Waste Management Centre (Tadweer) sits down with Swaliha Shanavas to discuss the current state of the industry in the nation and the emirate of Abu Dhabi, the regulatory framework, waste management model adopted, latest waste and recycling initiatives that could serve as role model for others, as well as key objectives and plans for further growth of the sector.

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Business Leader
February 25 2020 Dr. Salem Khalfan Al Kaabi
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What in your view is the current state of waste management sector in the country and what are the programmes that enhance the performance of the sector in Abu Dhabi?

The waste management sector in the country has been making significant progress over the past few years. In the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, we recently commissioned a Rotary Kiln Incinerator for treatment of hazardous and medical waste, the first of its kind in the UAE. In 2019, we achieved significant diversion rates of waste and in about two years’ time we will be adding a couple of MRF and RDF facilities to increase the diversion rate to about 50 to 55 percent. Simultaneously, we will be working to establish either Waste to Energy or Waste to Biofuel plants. However, we need support in the form of regulations from the UAE Ministry of Climate Change & Environment (MOCCAE), for such projects.

Abu Dhabi has always taken the lead by setting examples, especially with regard to the regulatory framework, like the mandatory requirement of use of recycled concrete aggregate as road base material or the waste classification, etc., which were later adopted by MOCCAE. In Abu Dhabi, environmental service providers (both in private and public sector) involved in delivering the services are electronically monitored in terms of movement of waste through GPS system and the identification of source with respect to Quantity and Quality through the Electronic Manifestation System, which is mandatory for all the transaction of waste and recyclables.

On the municipal waste collection front, Abu Dhabi had introduced the two bin system in 2012 and has setup at least six big civic amenities (Recycling Centres) and several small centres, within communities for residents to deposit recyclables and unused electronics. We are also promoting the use of low carbon emission vehicles by our solid waste collection contractors.

Tell us briefly about your experience in the waste management sector. What inspired you to enter this industry?

I’ve always had a passion for sustainability and have been concerned with the traditional waste management approaches. Having graduated as Chemical Engineer, I had the option to join the oil industry, but my passion motivated me to earn my doctorate in Environmental Engineering. Being at Al Ain Municipality, I had the privilege to lead and direct the team to establish the then state-of-the-art facilities for recycling and waste treatment.

Currently, I am leading the Centre’s team that is working on several innovative solutions. For instance, we have been studying the production of Sustainable Fuels from Municipal Solid Waste. We have significantly invested in feasibility studies and have been closely working with the MOCCAE for such projects.

How has your journey been so far? As the DG at Tadweer, what is your normal day at work like?

Tadweer just completed eleven years in service, and during the anniversary celebrations held recently we reflected on our progress. We have achieved a lot over the past decade with regard to innovative solutions, regulations and so on. And for me it has been an enriching experience at all levels.  My typical workday starts with routine work like taking care of financial, HR and other internal matters as well as important emails.

And then I focus on specific projects at hand; I have some 14 meetings each month with different departments to discuss the progress of the projects and other issues. In addition, we have management meetings as well as executive level meetings with the Chairman, stakeholder meetings and so on. I visit the Control Room regularly to monitor the progress and, of course, there are the field visits for various projects. I also interact with people from the press fraternity and am able to convey my opinions and ideas.

What do you love most about your job and what is the most challenging aspect?

As I had mentioned, I’m passionate about waste management and have technically led the team working on the Integrated Waste Management Master Plan for Abu Dhabi. I enjoy leading the team strategically and technically, as well as contributing to decision making with the emirate level decision makers.

What model do you adopt in waste management projects and how do you ensure the smooth functioning of the projects?

Tadweer has adapted the policy of involving the private sector on a Build, Operate and Own (BOO) basis in the development of infrastructure for the management of waste in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. Waste treatment primarily includes investment projects. All our projects are outsourced, including waste collection, pest control, etc. An investment committee headed by a senior member of Tadweer is exclusively assigned to facilitate the investors and resolve issues related to establishing the projects. We also ensure the right selection of technologies, even for investment projects and we closely monitor and regulate the performance of these projects.

What are the challenges faced in effectively implementing the waste management programmes in general and how are you addressing these issues?

The main challenges facing Tadweer are with regard to regulating the private sector which is into unregulated grey market waste management activities and economy, illegal scavenging, transboundary movement of valuable materials and recyclables, and illegal dumping. Tadweer is coordinating with different government and private entities to develop a mechanism to regulate the unaccounted market of the waste sector.

Another challenge is to develop a sustainable waste management culture including sustainable consumption, which requires changing people’s behaviour, where media has a key role to play.

What are the latest initiatives Tadweer might have implemented in Abu Dhabi? Could you mention a couple of projects that could serve as role model for others?

As mentioned earlier, Abu Dhabi has set the standard in construction and demolition (C&D) waste recycling since 2010 and has been adopted by other emirates. We are the first entity in UAE to implement Rotary Kiln Incinerator for treatment of hazardous and medical waste. With the support of MOCCAE in the form of regulations, we will be able to set up the first plant in the Middle East for production of Sustainable Fuels from Municipal Solid Waste, which will not only meet the waste management targets, but will also support our aviation industry to comply with international requirements like CORSIA.

What are your key objectives related to waste recycling projects in the coming years and what are the changes one can expect in the sector in the near future?

Tadweer’s main objective for waste management is to develop Sustainable Waste Management practices in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi in line with Environment Vision 2030, meeting the Federal and Abu Dhabi government targets with respect to waste management.

With the development of integrated waste management infrastructure, the waste diversion rate from the landfill will significantly improve, resulting in contribution towards climate change and global warming initiatives. Secondly, in the area of pest control, our objective has been implementation of Integrated Pest Management, where Abu Dhabi is leading and guiding others in the field.