Waste to e-gain: turning waste into treasure in the UAE

‘We don’t want them to end up in landfill’ – one of the messages Dubai is trying to promote in order to shift this waste away from the UAE For years, more than 30…

Waste to e-gain: turning waste into treasure in the UAE

‘We don’t want them to end up in landfill’ – one of the messages Dubai is trying to promote in order to shift this waste away from the UAE

For years, more than 30 tonnes of e-waste have been discarded every day in Dubai. It’s a massive amount of waste, and one that an awareness campaign is trying to shift in order to incentivise more households to reuse their gadgets rather than dispose of them in landfill.

Every day two tonnes of personal electronics waste is discarded in Dubai, including laptops, televisions, desktops, photocopiers, printers, printers’ accessories, printers, photocopiers, fax machines, scanners, scanners’ accessories, accessories for refrigerators, washing machines, and microwaves, and a wide variety of electrical and electronic goods, such as watches, shoes, headphones, and clothes.

While there are plenty of reports on the increasing problem of e-waste in Dubai and the region in general, in many ways, the issue has been ignored in the local and regional context. An exception is the World Bank, which has published several reports in recent years on the region’s e-waste problem. In most cases, the UAE is the hardest hit region in the Middle East, and a significant part of the e-waste in the region originates in UAE.

While the UAE has very strict laws to stop the dumping of e-waste, it’s still sending an enormous amount of waste to landfill. According to estimates made by the World Bank, in 2014, UAE’s e-waste was estimated at more than 62m kg. According to the United Nations’ Environment Programme, if current trends continue, the volume of UAE’s e-waste will increase to 200m kg by 2030, 70m kg of which will be exported to countries such as the Republic of Korea, Japan, and Germany.

Due to these statistics, the government is beginning to step up its efforts in trying to encourage recycling of electronic waste. The government has also established the largest e-waste recovery plant in the world, The Waste Recycling Company, in the International City area of Dubai. It’s designed to reduce the excess of e-waste in the local environment.

Dr Amna Yousuf, deputy director general at the government’s General Directorate of Statistics in Dubai (GDST), says there are three main reasons for collecting e-waste: detergent, medicines and batteries.

“A lot of detergent is in many homes [in the UAE], so we are encouraging those who own large quantities of detergent to take it for recycling,” she says. “We also collect foreign medicines and waste batteries.”

According to Aisha Buxawala, recycling project manager at WRC, “Cement mixers and large consumer goods [such as washing machines, refrigerators, and microwaves] are also reused as much as possible, but people would feel that they are open to recycling because they have tried it.”

However, to encourage people to recycle their electronics in the UAE, there are strict laws, which can affect the economy.

“Under the UAE flag, people would not have to pay when they take their household goods [to the UAE] for recycling,” says Yousuf. “But under the country that you are in, it is different. We have to offer certain incentives to encourage people, such as subsidised recycling services.”

Information on e-waste recycling in the UAE.

“Recycling is easy, but it is very expensive to do,” says Abdullah O. Rasheed, CEO of WRC. “One can recycle small appliances and household goods.”

Since WRC opened in 2013, in one way or another, Rasheed has operated or supported the company in each of the five recycling plants in the UAE. Each of the plants offers free, home-based recycling.

One of the biggest initiatives the company is engaged in is setting up an e-receipt system for the Emirates Identity Authority. This system will allow each individual to claim his/her Emirates ID card when they do any routine transactions online. “The ID card and its photos will allow the person to claim his/her ID card from the e-receipt,” says Rasheed.

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