Recycling in the UAE

Making Progress in Dubai’s Recycling Desert


Downtown Dubai, reycling program, waste

Downtown Dubai. Photo: Flickr/Jay Tamboli

Dubai does not exactly score high on the sustainability index. Ecology took a back seat while what was once a dusty trading port achieved spectacular growth the past 20 years. Dubai’s transformation, however, has not translated into more sustainable practices like recycling because locals and expats have focused on work, the 2008 real estate collapse and now an economic recovery.

But that growth and rampant development comes at a cost. Drive on Sheikh Zayed highway, the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) longest road, into Sharjah, the neighboring emirate, and you can smell the results. The massive amounts of waste that is landfilled not only blankets the road with a rank odor, but is emitting greenhouse gases including potent methane into the atmosphere.

Dubai, however, has recently ramped up recycling efforts. Those origins lie in the Middle Eastern supermarket chain, Spinneys, which installed recycling bins in front of its stores several years ago. Other supermarket chains followed suit, allowing for the disposable of recyclables including paper, glass and plastic. Electronic machines in which consumers can deposit bottles and cans and in turn collect points for “rewards” are also becoming commonplace.

But such recycling plans still require that residents separate their trash at home and then haul it to the nearest supermarket. For expats who often work long hours and are already harried by navigating through Dubai’s maddening highways, going out of their way to drop off recyclables is hardly convenient. 

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