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Celebrating 5 Years of TOMRA Sorting in Dubai and Proven Regional Expertise, written by Tasos Bereketidis, Dubai, United Arab Emirates 

19 September 2017

Since establishing its legal entity in Dubai in December 2011, TOMRA Sorting has worked very closely with local governments and municipalities throughout the Middle East to develop sustainable solutions for municipal solid waste (MSW). As the Middle East shifts toward integrated waste management using European recycling standards as its benchmark, the region relies heavily on expert knowledge and leading innovative solutions. To date, TOMRA Sorting has installed numerous sensor-based sorting systems in the Middle East, while also supporting governments and waste management firms to design plants in Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates.

The more challenges, the more opportunities

At the beginning of our journey to establish TOMRA Sorting in the Middle East, landfills were essentially uncontrolled dumpsites. While environmental legislation, similar to the European Waste Framework Directive, will be established in the region in due time, there urgently needs to be an incentive (e.g. penalty fees) to deal with waste responsibly.

That said there are a lot of customers in the Middle East who are trying to make things better. It’s actually driven more by businesses than legislation at the moment. It takes time, but I think the more challenges you have, the more opportunities you have. Our team has a weighty task of addressing legislative and cultural barriers, including the uncontrolled dumping of waste. We have to tackle the problem at the root cause and that is precisely the reason we are here – to lend our expertise and revolutionize the waste industry.

Today, Dubai creates an average of 6,000 tons of MSW every single day. The dramatic growth and economic development in Dubai and other cities in the Middle East has led to a volatile upsurge in the amount of household waste. To manage waste and reduce the amount going to landfill, it is critical to raise awareness and educate both businesses and consumers about waste management, recycling and technologies. Moreover, there is an incredible opportunity for municipal solid waste sorting plants to benefit from valuable resources, which can be easily recovered with automated sorting technology. Municipalities in the region can also take advantage of long-term prospects such as waste energy projects.

Patience and revolution

 In general, the decision making process in the region is lengthy and requires flexibility, as agreements are not as firm when compared to European markets. From the five years of proven experience in Dubai, the TOMRA Sorting team is confident in its tailored approach to serve the local needs of the country and MSW plants. Currently, standard solutions are simply not viable in the Middle East: becoming established in the market begins with collaboration amongst the various stakeholders such as waste management firms, municipalities and engineering companies.

Especially considering the complexities of plastics recycling, adapting TOMRA equipment to meet the various needs of customers is paramount. Some customers need to take PVC out of PET, while others need contaminated material removed from a specific polymer. So our first step is to invite the customers for a demonstration at our global test centers, which helps build trust for a lasting client relationship.

With a blank canvas and passion for waste revolution, we aspire to make a positive impact on the region and the environment. European countries have been incentivized to recycle for a number of years, thus creating a recycling mentality. In the Middle East, conversations about waste recovery are still at an early stage of development. Discussions with visitors at trade shows are more of a brainstorming versus technology-specific questions, which creates a unique opportunity to further evolve our technology.

All good things come in threes

The TOMRA Sorting team in Dubai remains optimistic and convinced that the Middle East can catch up to European standards for plastic waste, both on a business and consumer level, in just a few years. With a three-pronged approach of education, research and development and customization, we are leading recycling and waste management efforts in the region. After all, we are experts in sensor-based technology and specialization makes a significant difference. We always try to give the message that there is hope for recycling. It's a journey, not a simple approach, and there are barriers. But we are here to help and to do things in the best possible way for the region and our environment.