Dubai Municipal Solid Waste Management


Municipals are bestowed with the power to deal with solid waste management. Although a minimal amount of waste is burnt, the municipality is increasingly engaging in waste recycling (Roscoe, 2015). Owing to the economic and environmental challenges that Dubai’s municipal solid waste management is facing, the respective refuse management department has come up with a Dubai Integrated Waste Management Master Plan. This framework, which was compiled in 2012, aims at reducing the quantities of waste materials that are taken to landfills. In 20 years to come, this amount is expected to be eliminated or substantially reduced through innovative approaches such as the Waste to Energy Project, which Dubai is implementing (Shanavas, 2017).

According to Roscoe (2017), Dubai Municipality plans to construct the Warsan District, the largest plant that will be used for converting tons of solid waste into electrical energy in the Middle East. This project is expected to cost AED 2 billion. This move is geared towards meeting the national agenda, which is targeting to reduce solid waste landfill by 75% by 2021 (Shanavas, 2017). Therefore, this paper argues that Dubai Municipality Waste to Energy Project (WTE) approach is the feasible solution to the emirate’s prevailing municipal solid waste challenges, although it will have to deal with few challenges such as the associated high operations costs.

Literature Review

According to Anestina, Adetola, and Odafe (2014), the volume of solid waste generated in a municipality is proportional to the population size and the type of economic activities carried out. The United Arab Emirates is made up of seven emirates, including Dubai. As Reisz (2016) reveals, in the Middle East, Dubai is considered a global city and a tourist center due to its rich culture and leisure facilities such as coastlines, deserts, sunny conditions, and generosity. Its characteristic of diversity and extensive industrialization has made it achieve tremendous growth over the decades. In 2016, Dubai had a population of more than 2.5 million people (Dubai Online, 2017).

Therefore, the city is expected to grow due to urban migration in the future, a situation that implies a substantial increment in its solid wastes (Serkal, 2014). Hence, approaches to solid waste management such as Dubai’s waste-to-energy project will play a central role in balancing the amount of waste produced by the growing population and the level converted into useful products such as electricity. As Graves (2016) reveals, “the first phase of the project will receive 2,000 metric tons of municipal solid waste per day to produce 60 megawatts of power” (para. 1). Hence, examining the feasibility of this approach to solid waste management is critical since the project may be adopted as a solution in other countries if it is found to address the solid garbage issue in Dubai Municipality.

Dubai’s Statistics

Based on the 2017 demographics, Dubai has a population of approximately 2.9 million people (Dubai Online, 2017), making it the most occupied region in the United Arab Emirates. Graph 1 below shows that Dubai’s population has been growing gradually since 2007. In addition, life expectancy here stands at 76 years for men, while women are expected to live for three more years ahead of their male counterparts.

Dubai’s Growing Population.
Graph 1: Dubai’s Growing Population. Source: (Dubai Online, 2017).

According to a report by Fernandes (2015), the amount of solid waste generated in the UAE has been increasing and that it is expected to reach roughly 8.5 million tons in 2017 from 6.6 tons recorded in 2015. In general, UAE produces between 1.76 to 2.3 kilograms of solid waste per day. However, the level of solid waste generation in Dubai has been going down relative to the 2009 figures. Fernandes (2015) confirms that the amount of solid wastes in “Dubai has reduced from 21.8 million tons collected in 2009 to 9.6 million tons in 2012” (para. 3), thanks to waste management practices such as the establishment of the waste-to-energy plant.

Waste Characteristics

Wastes in Dubai can be divided into five classes, namely, “green/horticultural waste, general waste, liquid waste, construction and demolition waste, and hazardous wastes” (Saifaie, 2013, p. 4). This class of general wastes takes the biggest chunk of the refuse generated. This category constitutes municipal solid waste. Figure 1 below shows the amount of refuse produced in this emirate from 2011.

Characterization of Wastes in Dubai.
Figure 1: Characterization of Wastes in Dubai. Source: (Saifaie, 2013).

According to Saifaie (2013), the amount of refuse produced under the MSW category has been increasing gradually. The 2003 period recorded approximately 1.5 million tons, a figure that was more than double compared to around half a million tons produced in 1997. Based on the refuse composition examination done in 2012, the organic waste category formed almost 40% of the MSW (Saifaie, 2013).

Current Waste Management Practices in Dubai

Currently, the Dubai Municipality is seeking to integrate innovative ways of solid waste management to cut the amount of waste delivered to landfills. Landfills have been a traditional form of waste management that is viewed as unsustainable, owing to the environmental threats posed by the approach. Mainly, landfills in Dubai cater to the disposal of non-hazardous solid waste in the mentioned emirate. Up to date, landfills account for a considerable part of the waste management approach that is viewed unsustainable by the municipality, owing to the release of greenhouse gases such as methane. Important to note, methane is a contributor to global warming. Thus, the Dubai Municipality identifies landfills as inhibitors to the realization of a sustainable Dubai environment. As such, the Dubai Integrated Waste Management Master Plan of 2012 unveiled by the Dubai Municipality Waste Management Department is geared towards facilitating the elimination of landfills with innovative waste management approaches such as the conversion of wastes to energy by 2032. For this reason, Dubai is currently shifting away from the old waste management practices such as landfill disposals to the embracement of recycling, as well as the incineration.

The need to cope with the waste management challenge in Dubai prompts the municipality to identify recycling as an important strategy for managing waste, thereby fostering the sustainability of the environment, as well as the energy needs of the emirate. Currently, the Dubai Municipality has partnered with an array of companies that specialize in the recycling of waste as a measure of alleviating the issue. In particular, the city has contracted M/S Tadweer Waste Treatment LLC to conduct the recycling of at least 4000 tons of solid waste on a daily basis. Besides, M/S Emirates Recycling LLC, in partnership with the municipality, focuses on the recycling of at least 9.5 million tons of construction and demolition (C&D) waste annually. In a bid to foster the WTE realization, the Dubai Municipality has engaged in a partnership with the M/S Cyclo to spearhead the recycling of about 30000 tons of oil wastes annually (Graves, 2016). The current waste recycling approaches embraced by the municipality denote its concern towards the realization of a green environment in an emirate that faces a solid waste management challenge.

Besides recycling, incineration is a notable waste management practice in Dubai today. According to According to Acharya (2012), incineration entails the combustion of organic waste to transform it into gases and residue. Recently, the Dubai Municipality established a medical waste incineration plant to facilitate the processing of an average of 20 tons of waste from medical facilities in the city on a daily basis. The approach is seen as an environmentally friendly one since it cuts the emission of hazardous gases such as nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide. The introduction of modern incarceration plants in Dubai has seen a significant decline in landfills, thus denoting improvements in solid waste management (Acharya, 2012). The modern incarceration plants also foster the WTE initiatives embraced in Dubai since the energy released during incineration can be applied in the heating of domestic water. Therefore, incarceration, as a current waste management practice in Dubai, facilitates the sustainability of both solid waste management and energy to a considerable extent in the Middle Eastern city.

Nonetheless, the incarceration method contributes to the emission of gases that can damage the environment (Maulood & Aziz, 2016). Besides, the development of incineration plants in Dubai is capital-intensive. As a result, it can pose financial strains to the Dubai Government. In this view, the Dubai Municipality sees the essence of transforming solid waste to energy sources as a way of addressing the issue from a more sustainable approach. Important, the energy demands in Dubai continue to increase, thereby calling for the adoption of sustainable energy production and consumption practices such as the waste-to-energy approaches.

Benchmarking and Best Practices

The Dubai Municipality has underlined that it needs to put in place measures that facilitate the realization of zero waste in the emirate. The benchmark is very ambitious since Dubai takes the leading seat towards the realization of clean, green, and sustainable cities in the United Arab Emirates. The metropolis embraces the slogan “Our Place, Our Planet, Our Responsibility” to underline the need for the embracement of best practices that can spearhead the effective management of waste, especially through the WTE approach (Waste and Recycling Middle East, 2014). As such, authorities in Dubai partner with the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) to spearhead the creation of awareness about the importance of fostering environmental sustainability through the effective management of solid waste.

Through the “Clean up the World” campaign, Dubai Municipality seeks to emphasize the need for raising awareness regarding the importance of recycling as a best practice towards enhancing the efficiency of solid waste management. In this light, a recycling campaign conducted at Mirdif in Dubai saw different people understand the importance of segregating waste such as cans and plastic at the source (Waste and Recycling Middle East, 2014). Underlining the need for recycling is seen as one of the strategic practices that can foster the efficiency of waste management initiatives such as the WTE introduced in Dubai.

Besides, the benchmarking of waste management targets in Dubai has prompted the town to offer free green waste removal service that is geared towards supporting residents in the move to realize zero waste in the near future (Waste and Recycling Middle East, 2014). The initiative is a best practice that can support the WTE projects in Dubai by fostering the transfer of wastes from residential areas to the plants. The energy created from organic wastes can be supplied back to residential areas, thus fulfilling the increasing electricity consumption demands in Dubai.

Furthermore, the UAE administration seeks to make Dubai the most sustainable and smart city by 2021 through the installation of the leading WTE plant in the Middle Eastern city. The creation of this major WTE plant in the Middle East will also facilitate the reduction of environmentally unfriendly landfills by a considerable 75% by 2021 (Graves, 2016). The operations of the WTE plant scheduled to kick off in 2020 is projected to facilitate the generation of 60 megawatts of energy from 2,000 metric tons of solid waste processes on a daily basis. By so doing, the WTE initiative will contribute to the generation of at least 7% of Dubai energy from green sources (Graves, 2016). Thus, the incorporation of WTE technologies is identified as crucial towards easing waste management pressure currently experienced by the Dubai Municipality.

Waste to Energy Technologies

Important to note, waste-to-energy (WTE) technologies facilitate the processing of non-renewable wastes to reduce the threat that such materials pose to the environment, a move that fosters the sustainability of energy. Over the years, various WTE technologies have emerged to streamline the effectiveness of waste management and energy sustainability. According to Jamil, Ahmad, and Jeon (2016), traditional waste management strategies such as the combustion of municipal solid waste (MSW) through incineration expose the environment to an array of threats, owing to the release of greenhouse gases. However, WTE technologies reduce the detrimental consequences of managing waste besides fostering the realization of energy efficiency in a given city (Jamil et al., 2016).

The various WTE technologies existing today include thermal, mechanical, thermo-chemical, and biochemical approaches. The figure below shows the various WTE technologies applicable in fostering the management of waste, as well as energy efficiency based on Dubai’s needs.

WTE Technologies.
Figure 2: WTE Technologies. Source: (Antony, 2017).

The various WTE technologies shown facilitate the conversion of different types of wastes, including MSW, medical, process, and agricultural wastes, to produce thermal energy. Notably, over the years, Dubai has been engaging in the direct incineration of MSW as a way of managing wastes. The thermal WTE technology facilitates the direct combustion of wastes to produce different forms of energy (Antony, 2017). Nonetheless, the technology is not appropriate for the case of Dubai since the municipality incinerates MSW low in calories required to generate electricity or steam. In this light, incineration should be opted if the value of calorific input is at least 7MJ/Kg (Antony, 2017).

Furthermore, the simplicity of waste collection techniques and the availability of water encourage the integration of biochemical methods in the production of thermal power. In this view, since Dubai Municipality has incorporated effective waste collection mechanisms besides having water supply abundance, the biochemical WTE technologies can foster the generation of electricity to an efficiency of between 15% and 27% (Antony, 2017). Therefore, the biochemical methods may apply effectively in solving the waste management issue that is affecting Dubai Municipality.

Additionally, Antony (2017) asserts that the mechanical and thermal methods of WTE facilitate the generation of refuse-derived fuel (RDF). As such, the technology encourages the collection and combustion of refuse in the WTE plants to generate energy that can facilitate the heating of water among other electricity needs in the residential areas within Dubai. Besides, the thermo-chemical methods involve gasification that facilitates the production of syngas, which has a 30% efficiency of producing electricity (Antony, 2017). Moreover, the biochemical methods incorporate anaerobic digestion (AD) to facilitate the production of biogas from agricultural wastes. Nonetheless, since Dubai waste is not mostly agricultural, the AD approach is not very suitable.


This study will incorporate the assessment of secondary data from various sources that address the issues of waste management through the proposed WTE approach. As such, the materials reviewed will provide the relevant data and information about remedying the waste management problem in Dubai, including verifying whether establishing a WTE plant in Dubai will be a feasible strategy. The secondary sources will include the UAE and Dubai government publications on the WTE initiatives, as well as journal articles and magazines addressing the phenomenon. The insights from the sources will be used to analyze the appropriateness of WTE in addressing Dubai’s waste management woes.

Data Analysis

The analysis of data from the various sources identified in the literature review will assist in creating a better understanding of the extent to which the WTE initiatives in Dubai facilitate the alleviation of the waste management problem experienced by the municipality and the entire UAE’s residents (Graves, 2016). The effective management of waste in a way that boosts energy efficiency will go a long way in ensuring that Dubai maintains its position as the economic hub of the Middle East region. In this respect, the use of a SWOT analysis is relevant since it will identify the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats presented by the WTE project in the Middle East city.

The integration of WTE in the waste management approaches of Dubai will facilitate the consumption of energy from alternative sources other than the traditional fossil fuels. In other words, as earlier mentioned, the WTE will assist in the reduction of greenhouse emissions from the generation and consumption of fossil fuels. Besides, the WTE will ensure that Dubai municipality abandons the traditional waste management systems of using landfills that contribute to the release of hazardous gases such as methane. Therefore, the WTE system is identified as integral in bolstering the sustainability of the environment by boosting effective waste management and energy efficiency in the economic hub of the Middle East. Moreover, the modern medical waste incinerator plant established in Dubai supports the efforts of the WTE initiatives in the city.

The WTE project also has weaknesses that should be addressed to cater for the effective management of waste in Dubai. Notably, the cost-intensive project will cost the UAE a significant $44 million to construct the plant. Besides the construction cost, the daily expenditure required to run the WTE plant may pose significant financial burdens on the residents of Dubai. According to Ajaybhai and Pandey (2014), WTE plants installed in various countries have been shut down, owing to the burden posed by large operating costs. The current situation waste management practices of using landfills also depict a weakness since they (landfills) contribute to environmental degradation. Moreover, the WTE plants cannot facilitate the processing of unrecyclable materials such as construction waste. In this respect, the system only allows the management of wastes such as paper, plastics, and glass. The limitation implies that the reduction of landfills to a remarkable 75% by 2021 is still not certain even after launching the operations of the WTE plant in the first quarter of 2020 (Ajaybhai & Pandey, 2014).

The WTE initiative presents an opportunity for Dubai to reduce the disposal of wastes in landfills, hence reducing the damage done to the environment. Besides, the plant will foster the energy efficiency of the emirate given that the systems can account for the generation of up to 7% of the renewable energy sources produced in the UAE. Therefore, the initiative offers Dubai an opportunity to realize a greater efficiency and sustainability of its energy sectors.

Moreover, the current waste management approaches have not underlined the need for reducing the production of waste among residents and industrial players in Dubai. The notion that the excessive production of waste will no longer pose a problem to the municipality since the WTE project is put in place may influence Dubai’s residents and industrial players to engage in the reckless production of wastes. The scenario may further undermine the capability of the municipality to manage waste effectively amid the integration of the WTE plant in Dubai.


The Dubai is currently experiencing a MSW challenge that should be addressed thoroughly. Current MSW management tools and approaches include the use of landfills, recycling, and incinerators. Nonetheless, landfills pose a considerable threat to the environment by emitting hazardous gases such as methane and carbon dioxide. Additionally, incinerators currently put in place have not met the modern standards that minimize the emission of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide during the combustion of MSW. The integration of the WTE initiative is seen as a strategic move towards alleviating Dubai Municipality from the waste management challenge.

Particularly, the project seeks to reduce waste disposal at landfills by a significant 75% by 2021 (Shanavas, 2017). The approach also seeks to foster the efficiency of Dubai’s energy consumption by providing 60 megawatts from the plant. The SWOT analysis reveals that the WTE plant is strong towards curbing environmental pollution from landfills and fossil fuels. Nonetheless, the WTE is weak in terms of its cost-intensiveness and its capacity to capture unrecyclable materials. Thus, landfills will still be present. The WTE project offers Dubai an opportunity to get rid of landfills by 75%. The WTE poses the threat of encouraging Dubai to produce more wastes to a level that may not be sustainable by the proposed system.

Conclusion and Recommendations

The WTE project is integral towards alleviating Dubai from the MSW challenge it faces today. The project is important since it fosters the sustainability of the environment and energy efficiency in Dubai. Therefore, the target of reducing landfills by a considerably 75% by 2021 and the plan to foster the production of renewable energy sources may be realized through the WTE initiative in Dubai. However, the need for ensuring the sustainability of the WTE in Dubai prompts the consideration of several recommendations. For instance, Dubai Municipality needs to welcome the participation of key stakeholders such as members of the public, as well as the private sector. The approach may be used to raise awareness regarding the usefulness of effective management of waste. As a result, the municipality will gain a collaborative approach towards making the WTE initiative sustainable. The municipality needs to initiate research undertakings geared towards identifying more sustainable approaches to dealing with the MSW challenge. For instance, research undertakings that focus on identifying ways of reducing the operational costs of WTE plants may assist in improving the efficiency of the WTE plant in Dubai.


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