Empower a circular economy transition through public-private collaboration

Maryam Al Mansoori
Maryam Al Mansoori
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Decarbonizing is critical to cutting global greenhouse gas emissions significantly and achieving a net zero future anticipated by countries in the Gulf. From green national budgets, to making cities and transportation sustainable, to waste management and plastic alternatives, governments are driving change at every level to accomplish these ambitious goals.

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At the same time, the amount of plastic waste generated in the region is growing – resulting in a total 1.33 million MT of mismanaged plastic waste entering the ocean from coastal Gulf waters in 2020. Each of us has a stake in this tipping point given the current discussions surrounding plastics, the environmental crisis our planet is facing.

“Plastic isn’t the problem. It’s what we do with it,” says Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment. We must envision a future that embodies the principle of the circular economy, in which proactive steps are taken to address the plastic waste crisis effectively and sustainably.

With COP28 set to take place in the UAE later this year, the need for sustainable economic growth has never been clearer, and in this effort, both the public and private sectors are well equipped to play a big role. Now, to spur more growth and accelerate the development of sustainable infrastructure, the revolutionary success of public-private partnerships in other sectors must be replicate the plastic recycling space.

Plastic represents about 18 percent of total solid waste generated in the GCC and only around 9 percent of plastic waste is recycled versus 13 million tons of plastic waste produced each year. The UAE, Oman, and Kuwait have the highest recycling rates in the GCC, currently at 11 percent. Public-private partnerships can help discover new and innovative ways to leverage multi-stakeholder relationships and scale impact, in addition to coordinating existing initiatives. Recent estimates show a circular economy would increase GCC countries’ Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by USD 95-105 billion, generating 205-306 thousand jobs.

The UAE's vision and strategy to achieve Net Zero and 100 percent waste diversion by 2050 are made possible by the recycling ecosystem, which is primarily emerging from the informal sector into a fundamental industry. With all the initiatives undertaken by the public and private sectors to support a bottom-up approach to waste sorting and segregation and encourage the populace to recycle, it’s a growing movement.

Waste management improvements for collection and processing are still needed for the region to achieve domestic circularity and tap into the full market potential. Governmental policies are a crucial component in enabling this industry to grow economically and boost a nation's GDP. There must be government incentives and subsidies for those who participate in collecting, sorting, and processing scrap, whether it is made of metal, paper, or plastic. For instance, Bahrain’s government is implementing regulations such as the ban on plastic scrap importation and investing in a central MRF facility.

Saudi Arabia being the largest GCC nation and having most of its total waste production concentrated in just three major cities, the Kingdom offers a significant opportunity for recovering plastic scrap. The government's aggressive strategies to improve its environmental performance, including exerting ambitious goals to reach Net Zero by 2060 and implementing new policies and regulations that are currently accelerating the plastic recycling industry, are contributing to the maturation of the recycling industry.

The connection doesn't end there, though. Diverse manufacturing sectors that use these materials to close the loop and produce useful, yet sustainable products are necessary for recyclables to continue to exist. The FIFA World Cup 2022 and the high industrialization activities associated with the Qatar National Vision 2030 have put a strain on Qatar's current management infrastructure, particularly given the nation's high waste generation per capita. In order to achieve its National Vision 2030 in terms of waste diversion, Qatar is stepping up its efforts, while the ecosystem is becoming more business driven.

The recycling sector is a tool that promotes and facilitates domestic circularity of valuable waste, also known as feedstock for various industries. Capitalising on this opportunity, Oman’s recycling industry is highly dominated by the informal sector and SMEs operating in the collection, segregation, and recycling of plastic. In addition to providing for a healthier environment, waste management also opens a wide range of business opportunities. Kuwait has the potential to unlocking a significant market value in the recycled plastics landscape, as it is currently dominated by the informal sector and privately owned SMEs.

The UAE is an emerging success story thanks to its commitment to innovation and building a better future. The focus on sustainable development and conservation efforts in the country's policies and plans can be traced back to the fact that our leaders have always been concerned about the environment and taking care of it. Embracing a broad, system-wide approach to combating plastic waste and pollution, we hope to inspire greater collaboration and commitment from others on the regional stage.

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Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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