The worldwide Covid-19 pandemic has taught us many important lessons. One of the biggest is that we cannot assume that major problems will magically disappear. On the upside, the sense of purpose that has been shown here in the UAE, and in many other countries around the world, to face this crisis demonstrates that when we have the collective will, we can respond to challenges with imagination and clarity.
This same collective purpose and drive to combat Covid-19 must be applied to longer term environmental challenges. For years, scientists have crunched the data and warned us that disaster awaits if we do not change our humankind’s relationship with the environment. I hope that we will now learn to trust the data and not just assume that things will turn out for the best. The spread of novel coronavirus has been a salutary reminder that inconvenient truths cannot be wished away.
Facing up to waste
One such issue is waste disposal. The World Bank estimates that 2.01 billion tonnes of municipal solid waste are produced globally every year, with around a third of that waste not managed in a responsible manner. Here in the UAE, we have one of the highest waste generation rates per capita in the world, with the average person here generating around 2.7 kg of waste every day. While we have worked hard to ensure the recovery of recyclables from waste, non-recyclable residual waste will continue to fill landfills, imposing massive environmental costs.
Over the years, we have improved the recycling and material recovery capabilities to achieve a waste diversion rate of 76 percent in Sharjah, the highest figure in the Middle East. But to help close the gap and drive Sharjah towards becoming a zero-waste city by 2021, we established a joint venture company with Masdar to form the Emirates Waste to Energy Company (EWTE). By combining our competencies in environmental management with Masdar’s expertise in renewable energy, we can discover new synergies in transforming waste into energy to power cities solving both the waste challenge and meeting the demand for clean energy sources.
EWTE is also exploring opportunities with various governments to develop waste-to-energy plants in the region to achieve zero-waste targets and tap into new sources of renewable energy to power their cities.
Our first project together is to build the region’s first waste-to-energy plant in Sharjah, which I’m happy to report is still on track to be completed by the end of 2021. This facility will process more than 300,000 tonnes of residual waste each year to generate around 30 megawatts of energy, which will be able to power up to 28,000 homes and displace almost 450,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions yearly. Most importantly, it will meet the strictest standards to ensure that toxins and pollutants are removed from the flue gases emitted during the process. The leftover fly ash will also be treated separately to ensure that it is a harmless byproduct that can be reused for other purposes.
The facility will not only help us completely eliminate our landfills but also contribute to the UAE’s target of diverting 75 percent of its solid waste from landfills by 2021, and support the UAE Energy Strategy 2050, which aims to increase the contribution of clean energy in the total energy mix from 25 percent to 50 percent by 2050 and reduce carbon footprint of power generation by 70 percent.
As the UAE pushes towards economic diversification away from petrochemicals, EWTE is working towards developing domestic capacity in the renewable energy sector, by enhancing the skillsets and expertise of local talent and research & development (R&D) capabilities. More broadly, EWTE is enhancing energy security while paving the way for a more sustainable future in the region.
At Bee’ah, we believe the key to a sustainable future is through digitalisation and heading towards a circular economy model. By creating an economy where nothing goes to waste, we are extending the lifespan of resources and their economic value. With this foresight, innovation and planning, we can have a future that is low in carbon emissions, resource efficient, and socially inclusive.
That’s why we are not only proud to be supporting our nation throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, by supporting the nationwide disinfection campaign to ensure that our communities are cleaner and safer than ever. We are also looking beyond this crisis and asking how we can face seemingly insurmountable tasks with imagination and purpose. We are working on new technologies and projects to improve the quality of life, such as sustainable mobility solutions, district cooling, sustainable buildings and smart offices of the future.
I have more hope than ever that together, we can reimagine the future in a way that benefits our society, our economy and the environment. And dealing with waste will be a good place to start.