In some parts of the United Arab Emirates, attitudes towards the environment are moldy and overgrown with ignorance. The daily feasts during Ramadan produced extraordinary food waste, and artificial islands continue to grow. Not to mention Dubai, that glittering blight on the UAE’s environmental horizon. But elsewhere in the Emirates, leaders are attempting to catch up to the more advanced Western approach. Strict new rules prevent tainted herbs from reaching markets, and more recently, the rulers of Sharjah, an otherwise conservative emirate that strictly forbids alcohol, or men and women to mix, invested $41 million in a recycling facility.
Motivated by guilt
In 2006, Samer Kamal – who was born in Montreal and graduated from the University of Toronto with a degree in pharmacology and toxicology – got the idea to begin a recycling center in Sharjah after witnessing his mother toss her recyclables into a bin with non-recyclables.
“Having grown accustomed to recycling in Canada, he felt a wave of guilt,” writes Sonia Verma for The Globe and Mail.
That moment luckily coincided with His Highness Dr. Sultan Bin Mohammed Al Qasimi’s interest in doing something more constructive with waste than bury it in the desert. So his mother arranged a meeting between the Emir and Mr. Kamal.
Subsequently, in 2007 the Sharjah municipality claimed a 50% stake in the business appropriately created and named Bee’ah, which means Environment, of which Mr. Kamal is the Managing Director. Two private investors – one British, and one from Sharjah – divvy the remaining 50% of the company’s shares.
Despite experiencing a few obstacles during the recession, Mr. Kamal has been extraordinarily successful at creating a voluntary recycling program among citizens who have very little experience with such matters.
“There are a few things that have been fantastic in the last little while. … Both the business community and the residential community have begun to understand that there’s a challenge we need to face and we need to face it as assertively as we can,” Mr. Kamal told the paper.
The Material Recovery Facility (MRF) where recyclables collected from 1,800 bins around Sharjah can process 3,200 tonnes a day, though the facility receives 13,000 tonnes by lunchtime.
Whirring conveyor belts
“Hundreds of workers, mainly from India and Pakistan, spend their days separating recyclables from garbage as it travels along whirring conveyor belts,” writes Ms. Veran.
The resulting post-consumer recylclables are then packaged and sold to local buyers. What can not be recycled is shipped off to the landfill. Bee’ah has even recently begun to purchase rubber from a tire factory, which is turned to dust and re-used for roads and children’s playgrounds.
“Bee’ah boasts $1.47 billion in assets and 600 employees, mostly waste sorters, as well as an international management team from Europe, North America and the Middle East,” according to Ms. Veran. The wages are competitive, and though the business has not yet produced a profit, Mr. Kamal explains that the Emir is less concerned with profit than with something more “complicated” than that.
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