Adopting Circularity in the UAE

What has camel manure in common with landfills? Apart from being waste, both can also play a central role in driving the circular economy, a concept that is fast gaining significance in the UAE – along with the rest of the world. In elementary terms, a circular economy is based on the premise that resources can be used multiple times to increase their lifestyle and minimise waste, which is practically the exact opposite of the take-make-waste linear economy model.

Today, the UAE has taken firm steps towards a circular economy model. In Ras Al Khaimah, for example, camel manure is being used for fuel production at the emirate’s cement factories. Since the project commenced in 2018, more than 100,000 tonnes of camel manure from 6,000 camels have been diverted to produce fuel – helping save 18,000 tonnes of carbon emissions in addition to reducing the cost of fuel needed for the cement factory.
This waste-not, want-not model is integral to the circular economy. While the concept of circularity has been in circulation since the 1970s, it is only recently that a global call to action has gained strength, under the Paris Agreement to fight climate change.
Solutions to rule out waste, by reducing it, reusing it and ultimately reaching a state of zero waste are now considered achievable, and indeed relevant for the region.

A report by Strategy & Middle East, unveiled at the World Government Summit this year, observes that to “maintain their growth rate, GCC countries need to move away from the current linear model described as “take, make, use, waste”. By following the linear model, “total waste in the region is expected to increase from 94 million tons in 2015 to 120 million tons by 2020, and this rise will have material consequences,” warns the report, urging to move towards a circular economy.

Incorporating circular initiatives in urban areas can generate savings in the GCC of $138 billion by 2030, equivalent to about 1 per cent of the region’s cumulative GDP from 2020-2030. It can also reduce emissions by 150 million tonnes. The report also suggests that the GCC should target its construction sector which produces 35 to 40 per cent of the waste in the region. The UAE has been taking tangible steps to address these concerns. In April this year, the UAE government, in cooperation with the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), became the first signatory to the “Scale 360” initiative, which aims at moving towards a more circular economy while using less natural resources and reducing pollution to tackle climate change.

Further, the UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment formed a coalition which includes select government and private entities pushing forth a circular economy, focused at piloting a ‘closed-loop recycling model’ for plastic bottles, beverage cartons, and other packaging in Abu Dhabi. 

The UAE’s concerted move toward ‘circularity’ aligns with its strategies and initiatives including the UAE Vision 2021 and the Centennial Strategy 2071, which aims to drive sustainable growth and position the country among the best in the world.

Emirates Green Building Council, which has been at the forefront in driving dialogue and action on built environment sustainability, took the discussion on circularity further at its 8th Annual Congress. The Council highlighted the role of circularity in the building sector and the need to apply its principles to reduce the embodied carbon of buildings. The building industry and construction sector play a central role in global energy consumption and associated emissions, which account for more than 35 per cent of global final energy use and 39 per cent of energy-related CO2 emissions. The operational emissions from energy use in buildings account to 28 per cent of the total emissions, which makes it imperative for the industry to transform its current operational standards. 

In a bid to shift the construction industry toward a net-zero future, in 2018, EmiratesGBC formally established the Net Zero Centre of Excellence, a think tank and accelerator which provides a platform for the public sector, academia, civil society and the private sector to learn and share knowledge on net-zero buildings. To support the uptake of Net Zero Buildings in the UAE, EmiratesGBC signed a partnership agreement with the International Living Future Institute to offer Zero Energy and Zero Carbon buildings certifications in the UAE.

These are great examples of how the UAE and its leaders are driving the country toward a sustainable future on a strategic level. However, it is important to celebrate the action being taken to adopt circularity – such as the use of camel manure for fuel – and continue to play a responsible and innovative role in closing the loop. The saying that “necessity breeds creativity” seems to be at the core of adopting a circular model when managing waste and using it to produce products that we can be proud to consume and utilise in a practical and responsible fashion.

One such creative use of waste materials is being used to drive a portion of the UAE fashion industry. ETUIX, an innovative luxury goods producer, has been using PVC (polyvinyl chloride) from advertising posters to produce luxury goods such as purses, bags, shoes, belts and other items. In Dubai alone, over 500,000 kg of PVC material is destroyed every year, which is equivalent to over 3 million kg of CO2 emissions produced; so why not transform this energy to something useful and give it the added benefit of style.

UAE’s aim is to reduce landfill waste by 75 per cent by 2021 is an ambitious one and we are positive that strides are being taken toward achieving these targets. Adopting a circular economy model will play a central role in reducing landfill. The genius about the concept of circularity is that involves the participation of all living organisms; no one is left out of the equation when it comes to churning the wheel of sustainable existence. It will be a wonderous vision for our future generations to witness what now seems like a fragmented effort toward closing the circularity loop, which seems far from broken but only calls for concerted action by all the stakeholders.

This article was written by Majd Fayyad, Technical Manager at EmiratesGBC and Maha Khogali, Communications and Stakeholder Engagement Officer at EmiratesGBC