Recycling and waste management: they are both key elements in the ultimate goal of a circular economy. But they have to be kept in balance; ensuring products (packaging, e-goods etc) are recyclable is central to the design process, but we also have to weigh this up with the need for resource efficiency.
Technology will play a vital role here. It can, for example, help with streamlining a country’s overall recycling infrastructures as well as changing consumer behaviour and improving the ways in which we use limited resources.
We already know that the UAE has been working hard to promote itself as a green tech hub and cast aside that old image of oil-dependency. As part of its ‘Vision 2021’ plan it has been implementing a range of initiatives including recycling technologies, waste-to-energy, improved waste separation and more besides.
To give you some ideas of the opportunities available to entrepreneurs in the UAE, here are some of the ways green techs are currently being employed:
- Apps for recycling: Changing consumer behaviour when it comes to recycling and waste is a huge challenge. One way to help increase recycling on-the-go or at home is to make it simpler and more accessible through apps using technologies such as blockchain. Some can help locate recycling points or identify whether a pack can be recycling via its serial number; others offer straight incentives. For example, UAE-based startup ZeLoop has partnered with Dettol to improve hygiene goods packaging recycling. ZeLoop is a mobile platform that uses blockchain technology to reward users for collecting and recycling plastic waste, ultimately diverting it from landfills
- AI-enabled waste reduction: Food waste is a huge issue: about one-third of global food produced annually is lost or wasted, meanwhile global hunger is on the rise. In 2013, London-based Winnow Solutions conceived an AI system that uses cameras, complex classification algorithms and deep learning to help chefs in commercial kitchens track the freshness of food and cut waste. Two years ago, in collaboration with the UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, Winnow established a partnership with some of the biggest hotel groups in the country, including EMAAR and Majid Al Futtaim.
- Sensor technology: 39% of food waste happens before food even reaches the supermarket, as there is no easy way to gauge when food is starting to go bad along the supply chain. One way to track this is through the use of sophisticated sensors. For example, chemists at MIT have employed nanotechnology to create a tiny sensor that can detect gas in extremely low concentrations and could be used to monitor food spoilage during transit. The field is wide open in the UAE for startups to come up with their own sensor solutions to help ensure fewer of our precious resources are wasted.
- Waste to energy: Of course, with the best will in the world it would still be impossible to eliminate all food waste. So how about harnessing that waste rather than sending it to landfill to emit harmful CO2 emissions? Technologies such as thermal conversion can be used to convert biomass into other forms of energy. For example in Dubai, a consortium including Dubai Holding, Itochu Corporation, Hitachi Zosen Inova, Besix Group and Tech Group is developing one of the world’s largest energy-from-waste (EfW) facilities. This area offers huge potential for startups.
All over the world, governments, businesses and the public are starting to question consumption habits. The challenge will only grow as populations increase, and let’s face it: global recycling rates are still much lower than they need to be.
The UAE has a mountain to climb here, and its government has recognised that it needs to do more to push the country on to the list of top global recyclers. This makes it the ideal environment for tech startups with a mission to reduce waste.
And that wraps up our fourth email in our four-part series on green tech. To stay up to date on all our content, do check out our blog at www.dtec.ae/blog.