The Menace of Single-Use Plastic Bags

Single-use plastic bags are one of the most objectionable types of litter in urban areas. The sheer volume of plastic waste generated coupled with energy and material resources required for production, as well as emissions resulting from these processes paint a grim picture of the environmental havoc created by plastic bags. Single-use plastic bags are a huge threat to the environment as an estimated 1 trillion such bags are consumed worldwide every year. In the United Arab Emirates alone, nearly 12 billion plastic bags are used annually.

Major Hazards

Single-use plastic bags are notorious for their interference in natural ecosystems and for causing the death of aquatic organisms, animals and birds. In 2006, The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimated that there are 46,000 pieces of plastic litter floating in every square mile of ocean and upto 80 percent of marine debris worldwide is plastic which are responsible for the death of a more than a million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals each year from starvation, choking or entanglement. Infact, there is a huge floating dump in the Pacific Ocean called the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch" which is hundreds of miles wide and consists mostly of plastic debris caught  in the ocean's currents. 

Plastic bags are mistakenly ingested by animals, like cows and camels, clogging their intestines which results in death by starvation. In addition, plastic bags clog urban drainage systems and contribute to flooding, as witnessed in Mumbai, Dhaka and Manila in recent decades. Moreover, toxic chemicals from single-use bags can enter the food chain when they are ingested by animals and birds.

Unfortunately only a small percentage of these bags are recycled each year, and most float about the landscape and create a tremendous expense in clean-up costs. Several countries, regions, and cities have enacted legislation to ban or severely reduce the use of disposable plastic shopping bags. Plastic bags litter serves as a floating transportation agent that enables alien species to move to new parts of the world thus threatening biodiversity.

Plausible Solutions

The hazards of single-use plastic bag can be mitigated by raising environmental awareness among communities. Many municipalities in the Gulf region are targeting shopping malls and grocery stores to reduce dependence on single-use plastic bags. Environmental education at workplaces, schools and residential areas is a vital tool in the fight against plastic bags. Empowering people to take proactive actions and encouraging them to be a part of the solution can also be helpful in reducing the reliance on single-use plastic bags.

Municipalities can make use of 5Rs of waste management – Rethink, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Recover – to encourage safe disposal of plastic bags which may be facilitated by mass deployment of plastic bag collection systems and recycling facilities at strategic locations. Some of the alternatives are cloth-based bags, such as jute and cotton, which biodegradable as well as reusable. Infact, the range of durable fabric shopping bags is growing each year in the Western countries, including those that can be conveniently folded up into a pocket.

The introduction of ‘plastic bags tax’ can also be a handy weapon in restricting use of single-use plastic bags in the Middle East. For example, Ireland introduced a plastic bag charge called PlasTax ten years ago which has virtually eliminated plastic bags in the country. 

Regional Initiatives

The Middle East region has been slow in gearing up to the challenges posed by single-use plastic bags, though governments have been trying to raise public awareness aimed at behavioral change. The Ministry of Environment and Water in UAE launched an initiative called “UAE free of plastic bags” in 2009 to maintain the health of the natural habitat and enhance the environmental standards of the state. The Dubai Municipality has also launched an ambitious “No to Plastic Bags” campaign to slash 500 million plastic bags. There are similar efforts, but small-scale, efforts in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait to encourage clean-up campaigns in seas, deserts and citites. In Egypt, the Red Sea (Hurghada) is the first plastic bag free governorate having introduced a ban in 2009 which generated employment opportunities for women who have been charged with creating cloth bags in the place of plastic bags.

 

About the Authors

Eaman Abdullah Aman is MRLS graduate in Environmental and Natural Resources Law and Policy with a specialization certificate in Energy Law and Policy from Denver University, USA. Her expertise encompasses international petroleum transactions, petroleum contracts and agreements, international petroleum investment operations, energy policy and economics of natural resources law and policy. She has rich knowledge on issues related to climate change mitigation, environmental law and policy, environmental ethics, energy security, sustainable development etc.

Salman Zafar is the Founder of EcoMENA and a renowned expert in waste management, renewable energy, environment protection and sustainability. He is widely acknowledged as an authority on environment and sustainability sector in the Middle East and proactively engaged in creating mass awareness on clean energy, environment and sustainability through his websites, blogs, articles and projects. Salman can be contacted on salman@ecomena.org.

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Energy Efficiency Perspectives for UAE

With Abu Dhabi alone on track to generate more than 10,000 megawatts of electricity for the first time, discussion about improving energy efficiency in the United Arab Emirates is taking on a more critical tone. Daytime energy use in the hot summer months is still experiencing rampant year-on-year growth, with peak demand this year growing by 12 per cent. Lying at the heart of these consumption levels is the need for air conditioning, which accounts for about half of total electricity demand.

Business and Government Action

At the commercial level, considerable steps are being taken to reduce the Emirate’s carbon footprint. A building insulation program in Dubai has resulted in claims that all buildings there have become twice as energy efficient since completion of the program. Further steps are also underway in other ecological areas such as water efficiency and waste management with the intention of ensuring the green credentials of every building meet international environmental standards and expectations.

At the official level the Emirates’ Authority for Standardization and Metrology continues to implement its Energy Efficiency Standardization and Labelling (EESL) program. This introduced specific efficiency and labelling requirements for non-ducted room air-conditioners in 2011.

These measures were joined this year by requirements under the same program for many other household electrical goods including lamps, washing machines and refrigerating appliances. The labelling requirements under this program will become mandatory by 2013 enabling consumers to see which machines are the most efficient and make sound environmental choices that will also save them money on running costs. The EESL programme will be further extended in 2013 to include ducted air-conditioners and chillers.

The UAE’s oil and gas sector also is recognising the importance of the energy efficiency agenda. It might seem counterintuitive that a sector with oil reserves of about 97 billion barrels and natural gas reserves of six trillion cubic meters should be thinking about how to save energy. The issue is that these reserves, despite their size, are not finite and that oil for export produces greater revenue generation than oil for the domestic market. It is, therefore, in the oil and gas sector’s interest to work with those trying to drive down domestic consumption, as it will maximise the sector’s longer term sustainability.  

The Emirates Energy Award was launched in 2007 to recognize the best implemented practices in energy conservation and management that showcase innovative, cost effective and replicable energy efficiency measures. Such acknowledged practices should manifest a sound impact on the Gulf region to stir energy awareness on a broad level and across the different facets of society.

Significance of Behavioural Change

As much as formal initiatives and programmes have their place in the battle for a more energy efficient UAE, there also needs to be a general shift in culture by the public. Improving public perception of green issues and encouraging behaviours that support energy efficiency can contribute significantly towards the overall goal. As fuel prices increase in the domestic market, the UAE’s citizens are already adding more weight to fuel efficiency when considering what cars they will buy.

SUVs and 4x4s might still be the biggest sellers but household budgets are becoming increasingly stretched and many ordinary citizens are looking for smaller more efficient cars. Perhaps for the first time, the entire running costs of cars are being considered and the UAE’s car dealers and their suppliers are looking to accommodate this change in their customers’ attitudes. This trend is so significant that some car dealerships are seeing large year-on-year increases in sales of their smaller, more efficient models.

Car rental companies are seeing this trend also and in Dubai, at least one is making hiring a car with green credentials more appealing to a wider cross-section of the public – offering everything from the more familiar Chevrolet Volts and Nissan Leafs to the most exotic hybrid and fully electric cars available to hire or lease.

Capitalising on these trends makes both environmental and business sense but economic drivers cannot alone be left to change public behaviour. There are really simple measures that government and business should be encouraging people to take. Some may argue that switching-off computers, lights and air-conditioning at the end of the working day may save energy but is not sufficiently worthwhile promoting – voluntary measures of this sort will not impact on overall energy trends.

There is evidence however that if these behaviours are added to measures like installing energy efficient lighting, lowering thermostats and optimising EESL five-star rated air-conditioners, the energy savings really do become significant – potentially halving a building’s energy consumption.

Conserving energy may not yet be a way of life in the UAE but the rapid changes being seen there are an indicator of what is to come. Formal energy efficiency programs and voluntary measures combined will help the UAE maintain its economic strength in the region and because of this it is one agenda that will not be going away.

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Education for Sustainable Development: Key Challenges

education-for-sustainable-developmentThe basic aim of 'Education for Sustainable Development' is to nurture an individual who is capable to solve environmental challenges facing the world and to promote the formation of a sustainable society. The first challenge is to have an ethos in schools that openly and enthusiastically supports the development of ESD (Education for Sustainable Development). This is partly down to the curriculum the school follows, but is mainly as a result of the interest and effort shown by senior management in promoting integration and whole school engagement; a critical element being teacher training. It is also down to the expectations that are put upon schools by education authorities when it comes to ESD.

With trained and motivated teachers, it is far easier to inspire and motivate students. Teachers can often use the environment as a vehicle for teaching certain concepts in their own specific subject. Once teachers have decided that this is something they feel is worthwhile, they will increasingly find ways to do so.

Using environmental issues in student learning shows students the bigger picture, which can significantly improve motivation. By letting pupils know why the work they are completing is important, and showing them where it fits in on a local and global scale, you’re enabling them to see its value.

Another challenge is being able to bridge the gap between what happens at home and what is taught in schools. For example, if a child is learning about recycling at school, but parents are not open to supporting their learning by adopting recycling practices at home, then the child, especially at a young age, receives very conflicting messages.

Schools are busy places and there are increasing pressures on teachers within the workplace. These can create additional challenges such as gaps between awareness and understanding; motivation to and knowledge of how to become more sustainable; individual to collective empowerment; finding time; budget restraints; linking infrastructure change to mind set change and whole community engagement.

However, with a more directed focus and commitment towards ESD in schools, children generally need very little motivation to care for their environment. You just have to give them a voice and they are away! The problem often comes from adults not understanding the bigger picture about caring for the long term future of the planet.

Strategy for GCC Countries

When it comes to educating locals and expats in the GCC, it can be categorized into three parts:

The physical change: looking at how schools, households and businesses can reduce their waste, water and energy and focus on more sustainable resources in general.

The mind set change: this is all about raising environmental understanding, awareness and action programmes throughout the school and business communities through workshops, cross-curricular activities and presentations, so that everybody is on the 'same page', as well as giving students and employees a voice. This leads to a fundamental change in attitudes and the choices people make.

Learning to respect others and appreciate the environment, as well as giving back to society: this is focused around the opportunities to learn beyond the workplace and home, and connect back to nature, as well as help communities in need. In a nutshell, it about being more caring.

Partnerships and action orientated behaviour within all 3 parts are crucially important to their success. Environmental awareness in itself is not enough, simply because awareness without leading to meaningful action and behaviour change goes nowhere.

Using environmental issues in student learning shows children the bigger picture

Using environmental issues in student learning shows children the bigger picture

This approach can be illustrated in the Beyond COP21 Symposium series that I am currently running globally with the support of Eco-Schools. The event consists of themed high impact presentations from, and discussions with, guest speakers on the SDGs Agenda 2030 and climate negotiations in and beyond Paris; individual & community action; pledge- making and practical activities/workshops.

Local sustainable companies and organisations are invited to showcase their initiatives and engage with students from a variety of schools, both local and expat, in each city or region. Successfully run in Dubai twice and with an upcoming event in Jordan, the Middle East region has certainly embraced the partnership approach when it comes to supporting environmental education initiatives that benefit all those involved.

Role of Technology and Social Media

The greatest role it can play is through the spread of information and ideas, as well as the sharing of good practice within the GCC. Sometimes the hardest thing is to know where to start and how to become motivated, and certainly both can help. Also technology can help to source important resources for teachers. Bee’ah’s School of Environment, which I have been recently developing new online resources for, is a very good example of how well this can work.

Please visit my website http://www.target4green.com for more information about my organization and its activities.

The Paper Bag Boy of Abu Dhabi

Abdul Muqeet, also known as the Paper Bag Boy, has risen from being just another ordinary student to an extra-ordinary environmentalist. At just ten years old, Abdul Muqeet has demonstrated his commitment to saving the environment in United Arab Emirates and elsewhere. 

Inspired by the 2010 campaign “UAE Free of Plastic Bags”, Abdul Muqeet, a student of Standard V at Abu Dhabi Indian School, applied his own initiative and imagination to create 100% recycled carry bags using discarded newspapers. He then set out to distribute these bags in Abu Dhabi, replacing plastic bags that take hundreds of years to degrade biologically. The bags were lovingly named ‘Mukku bags' and Abdul Muqeet became famous as the Paper Bag Boy.

Abdul Muqeet’s environmental initiative has catalyzed a much larger community campaign. During the first year, Abdul Muqeet created and donated more than 4,000 paper bags in Abu Dhabi. In addition, he has led workshops at schools, private companies and government entities, demonstrating how to create paper bags using old newspapers. His school along with a number of companies in Abu Dhabi adopted his idea by exchanging their plastic bags for paper bags.

Abdul Muqeet was one of the youngest recipients of Abu Dhabi Awards 2011, for his remarkable contribution to conserve environment. The awards were presented by General Sheikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Commander of the UAE Armed Forces. In 2011, Abdul Muqeet was selected to attend the United Nation’s Tunza conference in Indonesia where he demonstrated his commitment for a cleaner environment through his paper bag initiative. He is actively involved in spreading environmental awareness worldwide, especially UAE, India, USA and Indonesia.

 

Abdul Muqeet continues to make headlines for his concerted efforts towards a plastic-free environment, and has been widely covered by leading newspapers in UAE and other countries. He tirelessly campaigned for the Rio+20 summit, urging world leaders to commit to the Green Economy. “Plant more trees; use less water; reuse and recycle; always remember that everything in this world can be recycled but not time,” offers Abdul.

He has been remarkably supported by his parents and siblings throughout his truly inspiring environmental sojourn. Abdul Muqeet’s monumental achievements at such a tender age make him a torch-bearer of the global environmental movement, and should also inspire the young generation to protect the environment by implementing the concept of ‘Zero Waste’.

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Food Waste, Ramadan and the Middle East

With the holy month of Ramadan only a few days away, huge food wastage in the Middle East is again hogging limelight. It is a widely acccepted fact that almost half of the municipal solid waste stream in the Middle East is comprised of food wastes and associated matter. The increasing amount of food waste in the Middle East urgently demands a strong food waste management strategy to ensure its minimization and eco-friendly disposal. 

Food Waste in Ramadan

Middle East nations are acknowleded as being the world’s top food wasters, and during Ramadan the situation takes a turn for the worse. In 2012, the Dubai Municipality estimated that in Ramadan, around 55% of household waste (or approximately 1,850 tons is thrown away every day. In Bahrain, food waste generation in Bahrain exceeds 400 tons per day during the holy month, according to Rehan Ahmad, Head of Waste Disposal Unit (Bahrain). As far as Qatar is concerned, it is expected that almost half of the food prepared during Ramadan will find its way into garbage bins.

The amount of food waste generated in Ramadan is significantly higher than other months. There is a chronic inclination of Muslims towards over-indulgence and lavishness in the holy month, even though the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), asked Muslims to adopt moderation in all walks of life. Socio-cultural attitudes and lavish lifestyles also play a major role in more food waste generation in Ramadan in almost all Muslim countries.

Economic Implications

The greater the economic prosperity and the higher percentage of urban population, the greater the amount of waste produced. A good example is the case of oil‐rich GCC which figures among the world’s most prolific per capita waste generators. High-income groups usually generate more food waste per capita when compared to less-affluent groups. Hotels, cafeterias, restaurants etc are also a big contributor of food wastes in the Middle East.

Food waste generation is expected to steadily with the rapid growth of regional economies boom. The per capita production of solid waste in Arab cities such as Riyadh, Doha and Abu Dhabi is more than 1.5 kg per day, placing them among the highest per capita waste producers in the world. These statistics point to loss of billions of dollars each year in the form of food waste throughout the Arab world.

Parting Shot

The foremost steps to reduce food wastage are behavioral change, increased public awareness, strong legislations, recycling facilities (composting and biogas plants) and community participation. Effective laws and mass sensitation campaigns are required to compel the people to adopt waste mimization practices and implement sustainable lifestyles. During Ramadan, religious scholars and prayer-leaders can play a vital role in motivating Muslims to follow Islamic principles of sustainability, as mentioned in the Holy Quran and Ahadith The best way to reduce food waste is to feel solidarity towards millions and millions of people around the world who face enormous hardships in having a single meal each day.

 

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Green Roofs in MENA – Prospects and Challenges

Green roofs are emerging technologies that can provide a wide range of benefits to communities interested in enhancement and protection of their environment. The major benefits of green roofs are reducing energy use as well as air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, enhancing stormwater management and water quality, decreasing heat island effect by regulating temperature for the roof and the surrounding areas and providing aesthetic value and habitats for many species.  

According to a 2013 MENA renewable energy status report, the Total Primary Energy Supply (TPES) in Middle East and North Africa has reached about 800 million tons of oil.  This equates to a 15% increase in energy demand since 2007. Increased energy consumption in the region is due largely to population growth, with related increases in demand for liquid fuels and electricity for domestic use and devices, heating, cooling, and desalination of water.  With heating and cooling being a reason for the increasing demand on fossil fuels, there is enormous opportunity for investment in green roofs as a way to stabilize or reduce energy consumption in the MENA region.  

Enhancing Stormwater Management and Water Quality

Stormwater is rainwater and melted snow that hits impervious surfaces and runs off into streets, lawns, sidewalks, and other sites. The main concern with stormwater is it can pick up debris, chemicals, dirt, and other pollutants and flow into a storm sewer system or directly to a lake, stream, river, wetland, or coastal water. In many places around the world, including MENA region, anything that enters a storm sewer system is often later discharged untreated into a nearby waterway polluting the same waters we swim, fish, and drink from.

In addition, stormwater runoff can cause flooding and an overflowing of sewer sanitary systems causing serious water quality impairments. In developing countries like Morocco and Algeria, where countrywide stormwater management and municipal waste management systems are deficient, stormwater runoff is a big problem. Rainwater flows from roofs straight onto streets carrying things like petrol, household garbage, bacteria, fertilizers and pesticides to nearby receiving waters.

According to an EPA study, green roofs are capable of removing 50% of the annual rainfall volume from a roof through retention and evapo-transpiration. By reducing the amount of impervious surfaces within a developed zone, green roofs reduce the amount of stormwater runoff.   Also, because green roofs absorb water, they delay the time at which runoff occurs, resulting in decreased stress on sewer systems at peak flow periods.

For conventional non-living roofs with a slope of 2%, a 96% runoff rate is observed.  On the other hand, intensive green roofs may have as low as a 15% runoff rate.  The benefits green roofs have regarding stormwater runoff could be amplified by more green roofs in a close-knit area and using green roofs with a deeper substrate layer. Nevertheless, if implemented, countries in the MENA region in which stormwater management systems are not in place could greatly benefit from the use of green roofs to help reduce hazardous runoff and subsequent contamination of water supplies. 

Decreasing Urban Heat Island Effect

Since the built environment tends to be constructed from materials that are impermeable and non-reflective they tend to absorb a significant proportion of the sun’s radiation and release it as heat. Because urban areas are densely populated with buildings, they tend to be hotter than the surrounding areas, a phenomenon known as heat island effect.  Urban heat islands have many negative impacts such as an in increase energy demand for cooling, an increase in air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions, and impaired water quality.

The heat island effect causes internal temperatures of buildings to rise which subsequently increases the demand for air-conditioning to moderate the buildings internal temperatures.  This in turn leads to higher emissions from power plants, as well as increased smog production as a result of warmer temperatures.  Additionally, hot rooftop surfaces transfer their excess heat to stormwater causing the runoff water to be much warmer than the streams, lakes, and other waterways it enters.  In many cases dealing with this rapid change in temperature causes stress to aquatic ecosystems.

Urban heat island effect is especially worrisome for areas like Middle East and North Africa, where out of a population of 300 million, 170 million people reside in urban areas. Furthermore, according to UN projections the MENA population will reach 430 million by 2020, of which 280 million are expected to be urban.  In order to combat the potential for the heat island effect in the MENA region, communities can utilize green roofs. 

The vegetative surfaces of green roofs utilize a relatively large proportion of the absorbed radiation in the evapo-transpiration process and then release water vapor into the air which helps to cool air temperatures.  Additionally, the shade provided by trees and other shrubbery greatly helps to reduce the rooftop temperatures and the overall heat island effect. 

Roof Lifespan

Rooftop vegetation moderates the factors that accelerate a rooftops breakdown such as extreme temperatures, UV radiation, and cold winds, thus dramatically expanding the life of a roof.  According to a study in Germany, a vegetated roof on average can be expected to prolong the service life of a conventional roof by at least 20 years. The result of this is not only cost savings to the building’s owner but also a reduction of landfill wastes. 

Habitats for Species

One of the more altruistic aspects of green roofs is the creation of wildlife habitats. Green roofs can provide habitat (food, shelter, water and breeding grounds) for many different species. Because of their high density, cities severely restrict green space and threaten or destroy habitats so the creation of such green space assumes particular importance in these areas.  Urban habitats are often seen as too degraded and depauperate to support biodiversity. 

Various recent studies in Europe have indicated that green roofs in large cities have high potential as habitat for species negatively impacted by land-use changes. For example, in Basel, Switzerland, surveys of birds, spiders and beetles on green roofs found high diversity levels for all groups, including many species considered rare or threatened.

For modern Middle Eastern citiies like Dubai, Jeddah, Cairo, Beirut and Tehran, creation of habitats for species could be very valuable.  Across the MENA region natural habitats are few and far, and green roofs can provide living space for plants and animals, especially for species such as invertebrates and birds. 

Aesthetic Value

Green roofs have the ability to significantly improve the beauty of buildings, the visual and environmental diversity which can have positive impacts psychological well-being. Studies across several countries have all shown the correlation between daily contact with nature and human well-being. In fact, the results of a large survey in the Netherlands showed that the amount of green space in the residential environment was positively related to the health condition people said they experienced in their daily life.

When people have contact with green space research has indicated a positive effect in levels of stress, health levels due to green space encouraging a higher level of use of the outdoor spaces, and mental well-being due to positive psychological effects plants and nature has on humans.

Current Scenario

While green roofs in Northern Scandinavia have been around for centuries, in North America green roofs are still a relatively new technology. In Europe, these technologies have become very well established mainly due to governments and legislatives financial support.  This support has led to the creation of a vibrant, multi-million dollar market for green roof products and services in Germany, France, Austria and Switzerland among others.

Currently, implementation of green roofs is rare in the MENA region.  However, there is a definite market potential as the benefits of green roofs address many of the major environmental concerns of this area.  Furthermore, the concrete architecture in the Middle East is ideal for a green roof implementation.  The structural soundness of concrete buildings has the potential to support the weight load of both intensive and extensive roofs. The swift progress of green buildings industry in the Middle East  promises a deeper penetration of green roofs in domestic as well as commercial constructions in the years to come.

However, one issue that may surface is that roofs are often fully accessible and are often used to dry laundry or to hold social events like weddings and other celebrations.  This may pose an issue for home owners if their green roof takes up too much of their roof to perform their daily functions.  An intensive roof may be more suitable for homeowners in this region as they lend well to daily visits and offer space to hold social functions.

Conclusion

Due to their extensive range of environmental and economic benefits, particularly their insulation and cooling properties, ability to significantly reduce rainwater runoff and urban heat island effect, as well as improve air quality and their value in promoting biodiversity and habitat in urban areas, green roofs have become important elements of sustainable and green construction in many countries.  While the green roof industry is growing in popularity, the industry is still young with many areas needing advancement.

The major barriers to green roof expansion in the Middle East include a lack of governmental support, high installation costs, lack of awareness and education about green roofs, and limited data quantifying green roof benefits.  However, with proper support these barriers can be easily overcome through research and innovation in design by the green roof industry. 

 

References

  1. After the Storm". (2013). 2013, from http://water.epa.gov/action/weatherchannel/stormwater.cfm#what
  2. Akbari, H. (2005). Energy Saving Potentials and Air Quality Benefits of Urban Heat Island Mitigation. 1-19. http://www.osti.gov/scitech/servlets/purl/860475
  3. Beattie, D., Berghage, R., Jarrett, A., O’Connor, T., Razaei, F., & Thuring, C. (2009). Green Roofs for Stormwater Runoff Control (pp. 81). National Risk Management Research Laboratory Office Of Research And Development: EPA.
  4. Bryden, J., Riahi, L., & Zissler, R. (2013). MENA Renewables Status Report. In L. Mastny (Ed.), (pp. 21). REN21 Secretariat, Paris, France.
  5. Colla, S. R., Packer, L., & Willis, E. (2009). Can green roofs provide habitat for urban bees (Hymenoptera: Apidae)? . Cities and the Environment 2(1), 1-12. http://digitalcommons.lmu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1017&context=cate
  6. Dinsdale, S., Pearen, B., & Wilson, C. (2006). Feasibility Study for Green Roof Application on Queen’s University Campus: Queens University.
  7. Dunnett, N. (2006). Green Roofs For Biodiversity: Reconciling Aesthetics With Ecology. Paper presented at the Fourth Annual Greening Rooftops for Sustainable Communities Conference, Boston.
  8. Green Roof Benefits. (2013).   Retrieved 12/9/2013, from http://www.greenroofs.org/index.php/about/greenroofbenefits
  9. Hermy, M., Mentens, J., & Raes, D. (2006). Green roofs as a tool for solving the rainwater runoff problem in the urbanized 21st century? Landscape and Urban Planning, 77, 217–226. Retrieved from www.sciencedirect.com website: http://www.floradak.be/downloads/eng.pdf
  10. The Future of Green Roofs.   Retrieved 12/18/2013, from http://www.hrt.msu.edu/greenroof/future/index.html
  11. The social role of green space – health, education and enjoyment of life. (2005).   Retrieved 12/18/2013, from http://www.thesteelvalleyproject.info/green/intro/people-2.htm#well
  12. Urban Challenges in the MENA Region. (2013).   Retrieved 12/14/2013, from http://goo.gl/IT8rWo 
  13. What Is an Urban Heat Island? (2013).   Retrieved 12/14/2013, from http://www.epa.gov/hiri/about/index.htm

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Hazardous Wastes in UAE

The United Arab Emirates signed the Basel Convention* in November 1992 and established a legislation called ‘Regulation for Handling Hazardous Materials, Hazardous Wastes and Medical Waste (Law 24 of 1999)’. Article 12 of the law states ‘Transportation and disposal of locally produced hazardous waste through land borders, marine environment limit and air space shall be controlled in accordance with the rules, procedure and controls mentioned and specified in Basel Agreement and in coordination with Federal Environmental Agency’.

UAE is not yet a signatory to Basel BAN amendments of Sep 1995 thus there is no mention of the Basel BAN amendments in the current federal legislation. At emirates level, various legislation were passed to organise the waste management sector in each emirates. Abu Dhabi passed the Law 21 of 2005 concerning Waste Management in emirate of Abu Dhabi. Centre of Waste Management is the Competent Authority to monitor and manage the transportation of hazardous waste in the Emirates

Major hazardous waste streams in UAE are Petrochemical waste, Medical Waste, and e-Waste. To avoid hazardous waste export the cash-rich government-owned petrochemical companies have established centralised treatment facility. Centre for Waste Management (CWM) has established treatment facilities for Medical Waste Incineration, Engine Oil treatment, Tyre Shredding through PPP business model.

The UAE Government is encouraging private companies for e-waste recycling. Major electronic distributors have established waste collection centres and subsequent transfer to established facilities. However, good fraction of e-waste is still collected in an unorganised manner and exported to South and Southeast Asian countries.

Shipment of hazardous waste coming into UAE is being well-monitored and well-controlled. In recent past only a single incident of mixed plastic waste was reported. The waste was imported through Dubai ports to be treated at a facility in Ajman. The Dubai government objected to import and the issue was raised at Environment Agency (UK). As a result, the transporting company was fined about GBP 75,000.

UAE has efficient law enforcement machinery. Thus after the establishment of CWM in 2008, there has been significant improvement in waste management in general and hazardous waste transportation in particular. Further impetus is required by the government to invest into the better treatment/storage facilities for e-waste, nuclear waste and other such waste. The legislations shall also be made more illustrative to check the aberrations regarding trans-boundary movement of hazardous waste.

Contributed by Mr. Yasir Bin Taiyab who can be reached on yasir@adh.ae

 

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Connected Vehicles – Enabling Green Transport

Connected vehicles technology is a wireless-based technology which enables vehicles (light as well as heavy) to instantly communicate with each other, through an onboard installed device that receives warning signals ahead of time about road closures, pile-ups and other potential hazards related to weather conditions. Connected vehicle aims to enable safe, inter-operable networked wireless communications among vehicles, the infrastructure, and passengers’ personal communications devices.

The United States Department of Transportation (DOT) defines this revolutionary technology as achieving “cleaner air through smarter transportation.” DOT, in coordination with major automakers and other public and private sector innovators, has been working to advance vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communications technology to help prevent traffic crashes before they happen. 

The network captures real-time data from equipment located on-board vehicles (automobiles, trucks, and buses) and within the infrastructure. The data are transmitted wirelessly and are used by transportation managers in a wide range of dynamic, multi-modal applications to manage the transportation system for optimum performance.

Multiple Advantages

An important role of this system is to mitigate environmental impacts of using roads and highways as it generate as well as capture environmentally relevant real-time transportation data and use this data to create actionable information to support and facilitate "green" transportation choices. The system focuses on improving air quality, reducing GHG emissions and decreasing fuel consumption. Connected vehicles technology is a good tool to mitigate climate change and achieve emissions reduction targets.

Through connected vehicles, drivers will have advance information about traffic congestion etc which will enable people to reschedule, postpone, cancel or carpool their trip. Informed travelers may decide to avoid congested routes, take alternate routes, public transit, or reschedule their trip — all of which can make their trip more fuel-efficient and eco-friendly.

People can also shift to public transportation which will result in fewer GHG emissions caused by significant reduction in fuel consumption and less traffic congestion thus enhancing the air quality. The traffic agency can also introduce a fine “pricing policy” in heavy traffic areas. Connected vehicles technologies promote eco-driving by advising drivers to minimize fuel consumption or directly control engine brakes without requiring the driver’s intervention.

Potential in the Middle East

Connected vehicles have the potential to solve transportation woes and ease traffic mobility in major Middle East cities like Jeddah, Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Dubai which are plagued by heavy traffic volumes. Moreover, deployment of this technology will enable people to take a real-time situation decision and maintain sustainable traffic practices. In addition, connected vehicles will be a handy and efficient tool to mitigate environmental impacts of the rapidly growing transport sector. Moreover, connected vehicles, ranging from cars to trucks can relay important safety and mobility information to one another which may help in saving lives, preventing injuries and easing traffic congestion.

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A Primer on Landfill Gas Recovery

Landfill gas (or LFG) is generated during the natural process of bacterial decomposition of organic material contained in municipal solid waste landfills or garbage dumps. The waste is covered and compressed mechanically as well as by the weight of the material that is deposited above. This material prevents oxygen from accessing the waste thus producing ideal conditions for anaerobic microorganism to flourish. This gas builds up and is slowly released into the atmosphere if the landfill site has not been engineered to capture the gas.

The rate of production is affected by waste composition and landfill geometry, which in turn influence the bacterial populations within it, chemical make-up, thermal range of physical conditions and biological ecosystems co-existing simultaneously within most sites. This heterogeneity, together with the frequently unclear nature of the contents, makes landfill gas production more difficult to predict and control.

Composition of Landfill Gas

Landfill gas is approximately forty to sixty percent methane, with the remainder being mostly carbon dioxide. Landfill gas also contains varying amounts of nitrogen, oxygen, water vapour, hydrogen sulphide, and other contaminants. Most of these other contaminants are known as “non-methane organic compounds” or NMOCs. Some inorganic contaminants (for example mercury) are also known to be present in landfill gas. There are sometimes also contaminants (for example tritium) found in landfill gas. The non-methane organic compounds usually make up less than one percent of landfill gas.

Hazards of Landfill Gas

This gas starts creating pressure within the surface of earth when no exit route is present. Excessive pressure leads to sudden explosion that can cause serious harm to people living in the surrounding areas. Due to the constant production of landfill gas, the increase in pressure within the landfill (together with differential diffusion) causes the gas’s release into the atmosphere. Such emissions lead to important environmental, hygiene and security problems in the landfill.

Accidents due to landfill gas explosions are not uncommon around the world. For example a mishap took place at Loscoe, England in 1986, where migrating landfill gas, which was allowed to build up, partially destroyed the property. Landfills in the Middle East are notorious for spontaneous fires and toxic emissions. Due to the risk presented by landfill gas there is a clear need to monitor gas produced by landfills. In addition to the risk of fire and explosion, gas migration in the subsurface can result in contact of landfill gas with groundwater. This, in turn, can result in contamination of groundwater by organic compounds present in nearly all landfill gas.

Treatment of Landfill Gas

Depending on the end use, landfill gas must be treated to remove impurities, condensate, and particulates. Minimal treatment is needed for the direct use of gas in boiler, furnaces, or kilns. Using the gas in electricity generation typically requires more in-depth treatment. Primary processing systems remove moisture and particulates. Gas cooling and compression are common in primary processing. Secondary treatment systems employ multiple cleanup processes, physical and chemical, depending on the specifications of the end use.

Uses of Landfill Gas

Landfill gas can be converted to high calorific value gas by reducing its carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and oxygen content which can be piped into existing natural gas pipelines or in the form of CNG (compressed natural gas) or LNG (liquid natural gas). CNG and LNG can be used on site to power hauling trucks or equipment or sold commercially. The gas can also be used for combined heat and power generation or industrial heating purposes. For example, the City of Sioux Falls in South Dakota installed a landfill gas collection system which collects, cools, dries, and compresses the gas into an 11-mile pipeline. The gas is then used to power an ethanol plant operated.

Landfill Gas Recovery Projects in Middle East

The number of landfill gas projects, which convert the methane gas that is emitted from decomposing garbage into power, has seen significant increase around the world, including the Middle East. These projects are popular because they control energy costs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Landfill gas recovery projects collect and treat the methane gas, so it can be used for electricity or upgraded to pipeline-grade quality to power homes, buildings, and vehicles.

Dubai Municipality has commissioned the region's largest landfill gas recovery system at its Al Qusais Landfill site. The Al Qusais Landfill is one of the largest sites for municipal waste collection in Dubai receiving about 5,000 tons daily. Construction work for the landfill gas project involved drilling of horizontal and vertical gas wells 22 metres deep into the waste to extract the landfill gas.

The Government of Jordan, in collaboration with UNDP, GEF and the Danish Government, established 1MW landfill gas recovery cum biogas plant at Rusaifeh landfill near Amman in 1999.  The project consists of a system of twelve landfill gas wells and an anaerobic digestion plant based on 60 tons per day of organic wastes from hotels, restaurants and slaughterhouses in Amman. 

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Green Building Trends in the Middle East

Siemens-MasdarThe Middle East region faces a unique set of environmental and socio-economic challenges in the form of water scarcity, harsh climatic conditions, ecological degradation and abundance of fossil fuels. Commercial and residential buildings in the Middle East consume more energy than those in other parts of the world, mainly on account of extremely hot weather, rampant use of glass exteriors and heavy reliance on air-conditioning. The Middle East building industry, in recent years, is actively trying to make widespread use of eco-friendly architecture, traditional building methods and sustainable construction practices.

Some of the other drivers for the progress of green buildings sector in the Middle East are carbon-neutral buildings, self-sustaining urban planning and cultural sensitivity incorporating traditional Islamic architecture. Many countries in the region are increasingly promoting energy efficiency as a means to achieve energy security which has catalyzed the local green buildings industry. As far as social reasons are concerned, improved health and greater productivity are the top reasons for companies going green in their construction.

Trends in the Middle East

In recent years, green building design has emerged as a top priority in the Middle East. The number of LEED-registered buildings has increased rapidly across the region, from 623 in 2010 to more than 1400 in 2015. United Arab Emirates is leading the pack with almost two-third share, followed by Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Some of the prominent green buildings are Masdar Institute of Science and Technology (Masdar City), Climate Change Initiative Building (Dubai), Qatar National Convention Centre (Doha), King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (Jeddah) and World Trade Center (Bahrain). Siemen’s headquarters in Masdar City has the distinction of being the first LEED Platinum-rated office building in the entire Middle East. Msheireb Downtown Doha is regarded as the world’s first sustainable community, with more than 100 buildings targeting LEED Gold and Platinum rating.

Infact, the UAE has the fourth-largest stock of LEED-certified buildings outside the US at 3.1 million sq. meters. UAE also has the distinction of having the fourth-largest number of LEED-accredited construction professionals worldwide. Sunanda Swain, a leading Dubai-based green buildings expert says that, “Presently, the UAE has total cumulative gross square meters (GSM) of LEED- certified and registered spaces of 53.44 million and the total number of LEED-certified and registered projects are 910 (in comparison to 710 by June 2014)”. She adds, “In Abu Dhabi, over 700,000 square meters of real estate are certified by the Urban Planning Council under Estidama sustainability standards.”

Regional countries, such as Qatar and UAE, have come up with their own building sustainability standards and building laws to incorporate socio-economic, environmental and cultural aspects in modern architecture. Infact, Qatar's Global Sustainability Assessment System (GSAS) is billed as the world's most comprehensive green building rating system while Abu Dhabi's Pearl Rating System (Estidama) and Dubai’s Green Building Regulations has swiftly carved a niche of its own in global green buildings sector. Green Building Councils in United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt etc. are proactively working to popularize the concept of green buildings in their respective countries.

Conclusion

Green buildings can not only contribute towards environment protection in the Middle East but also bring lots of advantages to building occupants and users. Lower development costs, reduced operating costs, healthier indoor environment quality and less maintenance costs are hallmarks of major benefits associated with green buildings. To sum up, Green building technologies can serve as catalysts for smart urbanization in the Middle East, besides ensuring energy security, climate change mitigation, and opening new economic and job opportunities. 

Plastic Waste Management in UAE

Plastics are an inseparable part of modern society. However, their safe disposal is a big and highly challenging issue. A typical UAE resident uses 450 plastic water bottles on an average in a single year1. With the equivalent of 43 gallons on an average per person in 2011, the United Arab Emirates had the fourth-highest level of bottled water consumption in the world.

A whopping 11 billion plastic bags are used annually, according to statistics from UAE’s Ministry of Environment and Water. This goes on to add up to an annual overall waste of 912.5 kilogram per capita2, 3, and 4. These statistics reflect on the extent of use of plastic bags and bottles in UAE and the consequent generation of plastic waste.

Plastics are used globally in industries like packaging, construction and medical equipment among others. This is because plastics are durable, water-proof, lightweight and versatile. However, some countries use them more than others due to certain socio-economic factors. UAE has witnessed rapid growth in the last decade or so. This has been in terms of population as well as GDP per capita, both of which have more than doubled in this period5. The above two factors result in higher consumer spending. Moreover, the latter translates to greater importance, given to ‘convenience and hygienic shopping’ resulting in higher demand for plastics in packaging and shopping.

All this consequently leads to increased waste generation. From the supply side also, plastic manufacture (for all purposes including packaging) is a booming industry in UAE and rest of Gulf, one factor for it being abundance of petrochemicals, the raw material for plastics, in this region6.

Had it not been for the damage caused by plastic waste to environment and human health, trend of increasing use of plastics would have been acceptable. However, since waste is being generated at a dangerous rate and its management has become a critical challenge, a reality-check is called for. Plastics can take as much as thousands of years to degrade. Till then, they take precious space in landfills, are eaten up by unsuspecting animals & birds leading to their death or end up in sea, accumulated in certain areas called ‘gyres’.

While in landfills, plastics emit harmful greenhouse gases, which lead to ‘global warming’. This is apart from plastic waste being an eye-sore and civic menace. When in open areas, animals ingest plastic bags, mistaking them for food. Estimates suggest that 50 percent of the camels that die every year in the UAE die from ingesting them which can lead to massive calcified balls of plastic in the stomachs that eventually kill the animals.

The ultimate destination of this waste is ocean. Plastics and Styrofoam (used in disposable cups and plates) comprise 90% of the floating debris in oceans. Marine animals and birds are killed by entanglement or ingestion7, 8, 9 and 10. Further, plastic manufacture is an input-intensive process, using significant amounts of oil, water and power.

Realizing the flip-side of high use of plastics, UAE has initiated definitive corrective measures. The Ministry of Environment and Water has reported that it will ban circulation and marketing of non-biodegradable plastic products in UAE from early next year11. In that direction, Dubai Municipality have launched a “Say No to Plastic Bags” campaign starting May 2013 targeting a 20 per cent reduction in the estimated 2.9 billion plastic bags used annually in the emirate, by the end of this year. This is to be done by means of creating consumer-awareness and offering reusable and recyclable alternatives like jute and paper bags in major supermarkets12.

In Sharjah, a private company, in partnership with Sharjah Municipality, is working towards a 100% landfill diversion target set for the Emirate of Sharjah by the end of the first quarter of 201513. This is being done through development of waste management infrastructure on one hand and community education of the importance of environment principle of 3Rs – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. The Government of Abu Dhabi has established ‘The Center for Waste Management’ (CWM) to control and coordinate all activities related to sustainable waste management. Several non-government organisations as well as community groups are also working towards the goal of better plastic waste management in UAE.

References

(1) Todorova, V. (2011, July 31). Retrieved May 4, 2013, from The National:http://www.thenational.ae/news/uae-news/environment/sharjah-landfills-bulge-with-plastic-water-bottles

(2) Rodwan, J. (2011). Bottled Water 2011. Retrieved May 6, 2013, from International Bottled Water Association: http://www.bottledwater.org/economics/industry-statistics

(3)  The National. (2013, January 21). The National. Retrieved May 4, 2013, from http://www.thenational.ae/news/uae-news/environment/uae-uses-fewer-plastic-bags-but-shoppers-still-go-through-11bn-a-year#ixzz2RxyWrwe7

(4) Bee'ah. (2010). Sustainability Report 2010. Retrieved May 4, 2013, from Bee'ah-UAE: http://www.beeah-uae.com/sites/default/files/Beeah_Sustainability%20Report%202010%20(LR).pdf

(5) National Bureau of Statistics UAE. (n.d.). UAE in figures – 2001 and 2009. Retrieved May 8, 2013, from http://www.uaestatistics.gov.ae/PublicationEN/tabid/187/Default.aspx?MenuId=2

(6) Yousef, D. (2011, December 18). Petrol to plastics: Bagging the future. Retrieved May 8, 2013, from GulfNews: http://gulfnews.com/business/general/petrol-to-plastics-bagging-the-future-1.952591

(7) Time. (2013). The Global Warming Survival Guide. Retrieved from Time Magazine: http://www.time.com/time/specials/2007/environment/article/0,28804,1602354_1603074_1603179,00.html

(8) MoEW. (2013). Retrieved May 8, 2013, from UAE Ministry of Environment & Water: http://www.moew.gov.ae/portal/en/search.aspx

(9) California Coastal Commission. (2012, June 20). Public Education Program. Retrieved May 8, 2013, from http://www.coastal.ca.gov/publiced/marinedebris.html

(10) Science for Environment Policy. (2011, November). Plastic Waste: Ecological and Human Health Impacts. Retrieved May 8, 2013, from http://ec.europa.eu/environment/integration/research/newsalert/pdf/IR1.pdf

(11) Salma, S. (2013, March 3). UAE bans non-biodegradable plastic products. Retrieved May 9, 2013, from GulfNews: http://gulfnews.com/news/gulf/uae/environment/uae-bans-non-biodegradable-plastic-products-1.1153432

(12) Baldwin, D. (2013, April 23). Dubai Municipality launches campaign to slash 500m plastic bags. Retrieved May 8, 2013, from GulfNews: http://gulfnews.com/news/gulf/uae/environment/dubai-municipality-launches-campaign-to-slash-500m-plastic-bags-1.1174280

(13) Bee'ah. (2013). Retrieved from http://www.beeah-uae.com/about-us

 

 

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Freshwater Management Outlook for UAE

Per capita water consumption of freshwater in the United Arab Emirates is the highest in the world. Over the last several decades, the demand on municipal water supply has increased significantly in the UAE. This is mainly due to increase in population growth, economic development and changes in lifestyle of the people. Though water is used by many sectors such as manufacturing industries, agriculture and domestic purposes, residential  and commercial uses of water during the operational phase of the building is one of the biggest contributing factors that puts a strain on freshwater supply in the country.

Desalination and Sustainability

Due to lack of existing freshwater sources in the UAE, limited annual rainfall, high water evaporation rate, the only source of potable water in the region is the desalinated of sea water. The desalinated water contains huge amount of embedded energy due to the process involved in producing it. Apart from energy use, there are many other environmental and socio-economic issues associated with desalinated water. To name a few, there are multiple issues associated with the disposal of brine, salt intrusion, and the high costs of its production.  Forecasts show that the demand for desalinated water is expected to double by 2030. Not only the potable water production creates the problem, but also the resulting wastewater generated by the users poses many sustainability challenges such as putting strain on treatment facilities, land and surface water contamination due to overflow of untreated water, disposal of treatment sludge and expensive to production method. Hence, the management of fresh water is considered as one of the most important challenges for the United Arab Emirates.

To deal with freshwater management challenges in UAE, it is important to bring a balance between water supply and demand side. This can be done by employing strategies to increase water efficiency and conservation. These strategies include reduce the use of potable water where possible, find alternative source of water for various water usage and increase the water efficiency of fixtures and equipments.  Efficient strategies along with water monitoring that tracks water consumption and identifies problems can significantly reduce both indoor and outdoor water consumption. 

Ways to Implement Water Efficiency Strategies

The best way to implement water efficiency in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah etc is to develop a comprehensive water strategy at the early stage of project design for both indoor and outdoor water use reduction. The indoor comprehensive water strategy must include the baseline building interior water consumption information based on number of occupants in the building and the flow fixtures and other strategies used. It is required to do calculations for the both baseline water use and projected indoor potable water use based on the fixture and flow rates. The water use reduction targets can be achieved by using water efficient fixtures and appliances and by using recycled water where possible.

To achieve the targets of exterior water use efficiency and reduction, the project team has to develop water reduction strategies for outdoors at the early stage of the design. The strategies should include provision of metering facilities on all exterior water use and provision of easily accessible and clearly labelled water meters that are capable of monitoring water consumption for water uses in heat rejection, external hose bibs, irrigation system, swimming pools, water features etc.

Similarly, at the early stage of design, develop a Landscaping and Irrigation Operation and Maintenance plan. This should contain information on plant species, irrigation strategies to be used and strategies to use recycled water. The low water-use landscaping strategies include carrying out the baseline and design case calculation of building water use, developing a site plan showing the landscape areas, areas of hardscape and softscape along with their irrigation requirements. Strategies to minimise landscaping water demands should be done through appropriate plant selection, irrigations system and recycled water use. Similarly, develop strategies to reduce potable water use for heat rejection and exterior water features.

Conclusion

Use of large volume of water for building operation not only puts strain on municipal water supply and causes negative impacts on the environment but also increases the maintenance and life cycle costs of the building operations. It also increases the consumer’s costs for additional municipal water supply and treatment facilities. Hence, various water efficiency measures can reduce water use in average buildings by 20% or more. Many of the water conservation strategies have no additional cost implication or provide rapid payback while other strategies such as wastewater treatment systems and graywater plumbing system often require substantial investment. The main strategies that should be considered for water use reduction in United Arab Emirates are installation of efficient plumbing fixtures, use of non-potable water, installation of submeters, use of native adaptive plant species, xeriscaping, mulching and efficient irrigation systems.

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