Making waste a resource

Environmental management firm Bee’ah believes the key to economic recovery is optimising the usage of resources – which, in Bee’ah’s view, begins with waste. Juliet Langton speaks to Khaled Al Huraimel, Group Chief Executive of Bee’ah, to learn of its impressive development so far and its plan for making landfills a thing of the past.

It is not as well-known internationally as its larger neighbours Abu Dhabi and Dubai, but Sharjah – the third largest of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – is quickly becoming a global leader in terms of environmental management. In fact, if it continues along its current rapid trajectory, Sharjah could be one of the cleanest places in the world by 2015.

In the space of just four years, the Emirate of Sharjah’s capital city has managed to divert 60% of its total waste away from landfill through recycling alone. The construction of one of the world’s largest and most advanced waste-to-energy facilities this year is set to make possible the diversion of 100% of waste by 2015 – reducing the city’s net waste production to zero. This spectacular progress can be ascribed almost entirely to one trailblazing company – Bee’ah – which will not stop until its environmental initiatives have rolled out across not only the rest of Sharjah, but eventually the entire Middle East region.

Bee’ah was established in 2007 by an Emiri Decree issued by the Ruler of Sharjah to create the infrastructure required to manage the city’s waste. With only three employees, the company introduced Sharjah’s first recycling scheme with 52 three-stream recycling bins and appealed to the public to begin separating their paper, plastics, cans and general waste for recycling. This was part of a citywide call to action asking the public to reduce their consumption and to reuse and recycle where possible – concepts that were quite new to Sharjah’s population.

“When we started Bee’ah, every bit of Sharjah’s waste was going to landfill,” recalls Group Chief Executive Khaled Al Huraimel, an employee of Bee’ah since 2008.

“There was also a lack of awareness about recycling, so in addition to building new waste management infrastructure we had to spend a lot of time educating the population – on how to segregate waste, for example, and why it was worth doing. The very multinational make-up of the city added to the challenge.”

Bee’ah also had to address waste management from a regulatory point of view, working closely with the Government of Sharjah to introduce new legislation around waste management and protecting the environment. It conducted a public survey to analyse the waste contents discarded by households in the Emirate of Sharjah, and used that data to begin building the infrastructure necessary for conducting its environment and waste management services.

Cleaning up

By the end of 2008, Bee’ah had 300 staff and 500 recyclers, with which it managed 278,190 tonnes of waste produced by 150,000 people. These figures continued to increase with each passing year as Bee’ah continued to build more infrastructure.

In 2009, Bee’ah grew its ranks to 1,000 employees and 1,000 recyclers. It took over the control and management of the Al Saj’ah landfill – estimated to be one of the world’s largest – so that it could begin making it more efficient. Bee’ah also created its Tandeef division, to provide the city of Sharjah with a reliable and cost-effective solid waste collection and city cleaning service.

By the end of the year, Bee’ah had managed 414,482 tonnes of waste – pretty impressive – but in 2010 that total jumped to more than 3 million tonnes. This was achieved with the help of a number of new facilities and services: the Tyre Recycling Facility (TRF); the Confidential Document Destruction & Recycling service; and a huge Material Recovery Facility (MRF) – the largest in the Middle East and third largest in the world. This facility separates recyclable materials from waste, providing a vital step in reducing what goes to landfill.

Further steps arrived in 2011, in the form of an E-Waste Pre-Sorting and Dismantling Facility to collect and recycle unwanted electronic waste, as well as Sharjah’s first Public Recycling Depots and recycling vending machines designed to make recycling more rewarding. The myBee’ah Loyalty Programme took this concept further by enabling people to earn points by recycling. Bee’ah also launched its Environmental Research & Advisory service; hosted the first Green Middle East exhibition; and, in partnership with the Sharjah Education Zone, launched the Sharjah Environmental Awareness Award (SEAA). The company won a number of awards itself: the Arabia CSR award for its educational and community engagement initiatives, and the award for ‘Best Waste Management Company in the Middle East’: its first of many from the Facilities Management Middle East Awards.

In 2012, Bee’ah had 2,000 staff, 1,750 recyclers and was servicing 1 million of the population. It launched the Emirates’ first Residential Recycling Programme, as well as the community portal. The company built a Car Shredding and Recycling Facility and introduced newly developed recycling machines for domestic light bulbs and batteries, making Sharjah only the second city in the world to receive them.

Bee’ah signed agreements to develop the ‘Gulf Ecosystem Research Center’ with the American University of Sharjah (AUS), and to cooperate with the UAE’s Ministry of Environment and Water towards improving the UAE environment. Most notably, the company introduced its services to the Emirate of Dubai and established an office in Business Bay.

Aiming high

Last year saw Bee’ah invest in further recycling plants and an Organic Composting Facility, which, combined with the effects of previous facilities, helped achieve the diversion of more than 60% of Sharjah’s waste away from landfill – a tremendous milestone for the company.

“In quite a short period, Bee’ah has achieved a lot of milestones, won many awards and become the fastest growing company in Sharjah,” remarks CEO Khaled Al Huraimel.

“Sharjah city is now very clean; we’re getting a lot fewer complaints and, in addition to that, we’ve educated the population and implemented a programme across more than 200 schools. Bee’ah and Sharjah are now leaders in environmental awareness, but we have set our benchmark far higher still. We have set a target for Sharjah to achieve zero waste to landfill by 2015 – which will make us one of the first cities in the world to achieve it.”

Zero waste to landfill is a major challenge, but Al Huraimel is confident that Bee’ah’s next big investment will make it possible. The new facility, planned for construction this year and operation in 2015, will be a Waste-to-Energy plant. This will convert all the waste that cannot be recycled into clean energy, using technology never seen before in the Middle East.

“Most waste-to-energy plants use incineration, but we have decided to go for a more advanced technology that will have completely no emissions but be completely high in energy,” Al Huraimel explains.

“We will be the first in the Middle East to build such a plant, and it could be one of the largest plants using this technology in the world.”

Bee’ah started the tendering process for the plant late in 2012 and will announce the chosen international company soon. Alongside building the Waste-to-Energy facility,

Bee’ah will also begin looking at how it can address other environmental challenges such as air and water quality. It plans to install air quality monitors across the Emirate, so that it can take action in accordance with the amount of pollution in the atmosphere.

With the waste of Sharjah’s residential and commercial sectors pretty much covered, Bee’ah will soon be taking over the industrial sector’s waste management too. Geographically, the company will be extending its services outside the capital city to cover the entire Emirate and, dependent on talks now underway, into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as well.

“Our achievements in Sharjah are not only suitable, but furthermore ideal to be applied in the Kingdom,” Al Huraimel remarks.

“We aim to continue expanding on an international scale, offering our services throughout the Middle East. But our immediate goal remains to achieve zero waste to landfill by the end of the first quarter of 2015.”

Bee’ah has done so much in Sharjah: building the Middle East’s largest Materials Recovery Facility and establishing the region’s most extensive recycling and environmental education programmes. With the wheels now in motion for building one of the worlds’ largest and most advanced waste-to-energy plants, Bee’ah is transforming waste into a resource and creating a model for a clean and green future – not only for the region, but for the world.

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