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Solid Waste Management in the Dubai Municipality Research Paper

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Updated: Aug 6th, 2020


Dubai is one the Emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Being located in an emerging economy, Dubai has experienced a significantly high economic growth within the past two decades. The growth has partly been facilitated by Dubai’s emergence as the business hub of the Middle East. Government policies have also converted Dubai into a diversified economy with numerous industries and a large urban population. The expansion of the city has not been without challenges, one of the most pronounced being industrial solid waste management. Industrial solid waste is usually the byproduct of economic activities. In cities where these activities occur on a large-scale basis, industrial waste poses a real menace.

Dubai is a fast growing city with a robust industrial sector. As a result, many industrial wastes are churned out, mostly in solid form. Solid waste is also produced in small scale from households and institutions such as health facilities. Collectively, the industrial and household solid wastes are referred to as Municipal Solid Waste (MSW). In addition, plans are underway to install a major recycling plant to convert waste materials into energy (Waste-to-Energy). The aim of this paper is to examine the extent of managing the effects of solid waste within the Dubai Municipality. Further, the paper will examine the tools and approaches that have been incorporated to address the menace of MSW. After analyzing the available tools and management approaches, the research will propose recommendations, which policymakers and city planners may adopt to increase the efficiency in managing solid waste in Dubai.


I have chosen to delve into the subject of solid waste management within Dubai due to a number of factors. First, Dubai is a fast expanding city located in an emerging economy. The number of industries has increased rapidly in the last decade. Besides, the city’s population is also rising. This situation has resulted in a huge amount of solid waste being released every day. As a result, modern mechanisms for managing the waste must be adopted. Solid waste disposal poses a serious hazard, which is costly for all cities in the world.

As a rapidly industrializing city, the amount of solid waste being produced in Dubai has continued to rise, nearly overwhelming the available management approaches. According to Saifaie (2013), Dubai’s MSW component rose from 550,350 tons in 1997 to stand at 2,689,808 tons in 2010. The volume of solid waste churned out continues to increase every year. Clearly, this upward trend of solid waste production calls for the municipality to increase its waste management capacity. Improving waste management approaches is significant since it will ensure Dubai Municipality avoids becoming overwhelmed by the high volume of waste being churned out.

Literature Review

Various researchers have explored the issue of MSW within Dubai. Even though the investigation is not exhaustive, the available body of research offers an important insight regarding the direction of Dubai’s policies in terms of its solid waste management (Al-Qaydi 2006). Jamil, Ahmad, and Jeon (2016) observe that Dubai plans to install the largest Waste-to-Energy (WTE) plant in the Gulf Region at a cost USD21 billion. This plant is aimed at converting Dubai’s solid waste to energy, which will also double up as an effort to reduce landfill waste by up to 75 percent. Dubai and the UAE at large rank among the highest per-capita producers of MSW in the world. Currently, most of this waste is eliminated through landfills, a method that diminishes the usefulness of valuable land. According to Alderman (2010), landfills pose a major economic impact when compared to WTE and recycling of waste.

Al-Hajj and Hamani (2011) observe that Dubai is one of the most prolific generators of solid waste in the world. About 7,000 tons of solid wastes are produced each day, despite mechanisms being put in place to ensure that the target of ‘Zero Waste by 2030’ is achieved (Acharya 2012). Part of this mission calls for specific measures to be put in place to eliminate the need to over-rely on landfills as the primary way of disposing of solid waste in the city. Rakhshan, Friess, and Tajerzadeh (2013) reveal how solid waste disposed in landfills affects the environment, especially where it is of hazardous nature. Hazardous solid waste may further pose health risks to the public (Rakhshan, Friess & Tajerzadeh 2013). Industries release chemicals that are generally harmful to human life and the environment. The number of industries within the Dubai Municipality continues to increase. More industries and a growing population mean that the waste produced within the municipality will continue to increase (Acharya 2012).

A sustainable waste management system will ensure that the high volume of waste churned out is contained and disposed effectively. Khatib (2011) argues that to achieve sustainable waste management, people must be actively involved in ensuring that they dispose waste properly. For instance, people can facilitate proper disposal by separating wastes in terms of their nature and level of harm. In addition, top professionals should be engaged by waste management companies to ensure proper MSW disposal. Acharya (2012) suggests recycling of solid waste as part of sustainable waste management in Dubai because it ensures minimum impact on the environment.

This method is useful in Dubai as a city without vast land resources to support numerous landfills. In addition, a growing city population has resulted in resource straining, hence the decline of natural resources (Anand 2010). Therefore, recycling waste is important in ensuring that the limited resources are managed properly. Another advantage of recycling is that it has less impact on the environment compared to producing new products from raw materials (Acharya 2012). Al Marashi and Bhinder (2008) propose the three Rs approach (Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle) for managing Dubai’s solid waste.

Incineration is a common method used for handling solid waste in Dubai. It involves the conversion of organic waste into residue and gasses through combustion. According to Acharya (2012), incineration is a more effective MSW management approach compared to landfills. Landfills form the highest producer of methane gas in Dubai. The gas contributes greatly to global warming. Conversely, modern incineration techniques result in minimal emission of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide. Khatib (2011) observes that due to land scarcity, landfills are becoming less popular as Dubai Municipality moves toward incineration.

Hazardous wastes from industries and healthcare facilities necessitate safer waste disposal mechanisms relative to landfills (Al-Qaydi 2006). Further, the heat generated during incineration can be used to warm domestic water, thus promoting sustainable waste management. However, incineration produces organic materials such as dioxins, PAHS, and furans, which result in dire environmental consequences (Al-Dahiri, Maraqa & Kanbour 2008). The high installation cost of incineration plants also serves as a limiting factor against adopting incineration as a method of waste management. Acharya (2012) observes that high operational costs have resulted in incineration plants being shut down in cities such as Bueno Aires and Mexico City. There is also the need to ensure that incinerators are not located where the wind could transport emissions to human settlements.


Dubai Municipality adopts the regulatory and economic approaches to managing MSW within the city. The regulatory approach is mainly concerned with ensuring that the least waste is produced in the first place. The municipality understands that the best way to minimize waste in the city is through reducing its production (Acharya 2012). Various laws have been put in place to dictate the production of waste with the aim of achieving the ‘Zero Waste by 2030.’ For instance, the federal Law 24 1999 emphasizes the need to take care of the environment, including water, land, and natural habitats among others.

Waste producers are required to adhere to these legislations, failure to which hefty fines can be charged. Recent legislation proposals that target waste reduction seek to operate by increasing the cost of dumping waste by companies. By increasing the fees for dumping waste, companies will be forced to adopt practices that reduce waste production with their production chain. Companies can reduce waste production by using fewer materials in their operations. Alternatively, they can opt for materials that do not result in unnecessarily high amounts of waste. Current efforts within Dubai Municipality target to reduce dumping in landfills.

Dubai Municipality is also moving toward economic management of MSW. The city hopes to make important use of the waste such as the production of the much-needed energy. Dubai’s energy consumption has more than doubled in the last decade, a situation that has made it difficult for the city to sustain its energy needs (Acharya 2012). Conversion of waste produced within the municipality to energy is hoped to increase energy production for Dubai. A Waste-To-Energy plant is to be installed in the city by 2020 with the capacity of producing 60 megawatts for every 2000 tons of waste.

Dubai Municipality has adopted various tools and mechanisms to manage MSW. Different efficiency levels are achieved depending on the type of mechanism used. For instance, incinerators are believed to be more efficient in managing solid waste compared to landfills. Particularly, where hazardous waste is involved, landfills are not efficient disposal tools because of their high impact on the environment. Nevertheless, incinerators also pose a challenge in the form of gaseous emissions and organics, which are produced during the process. Dubai Municipality is planning to adopt a waste management approach that embraces efficiency and sustainability. This goal will be achieved by installing the WTE plant to convert solid waste into useful energy. This section offers a detailed description of each mechanism adopted by Dubai Municipality in handling solid waste.


The landfill is the oldest form of waste management. It is still used in many developing economies. In Dubai, landfills are used to dispose wastes that are not considered hazardous because it poses an insignificant impact on the environment and human life. Landfills are designated holes where waste is dumped and buried. Sometimes, cement may be used to bind the waste materials, hence preventing relocation to another place (Maulood & Aziz 2016). In Dubai, concerted efforts have been made to move away from the landfill method because it is believed to be a less effective way of disposing waste. Importantly, Dubai is a small emirate with limited land to construct more landfills. Already, one of Dubai’s landfills is full. Another one is expected to reach its full capacity within eight years (Acharya 2012). The result is that landfill is becoming a less effective means of waste disposal. Policymakers in the municipality understand that the city can no longer rely on landfills to accommodate the ever-burgeoning amount of solid waste. As a result, recent efforts have been made to replace landfill with recycling.

Recycling of Solid Waste

Recycling has numerous advantages over other methods of waste management. The obvious advantage is that it enables otherwise unwanted materials to be converted into useful substances. This approach reduces the need to create new products from scratch. As Khatib (2011) observes, less energy is used when recycling waste materials, as opposed to creating products from raw materials. The method promotes the proper use of resources, thus encouraging sustainability. Dubai has recently launched efforts to establish a WTE plant by 2020. This plant is expected to generate 60 megawatts of power from every 2000 tons of MSW (Anand 2010). This move is in line with the emirate’s ‘Zero Waste by 2030’ campaign aimed at ensuring all waste produced is totally disposed. Importantly, the WTE plant will eliminate the need for using landfills, which are seen to be affecting the usefulness of Dubai’s land. Commonly recycled substances include paper, plastic, metallic cans, and glass.

Currently, recycling in Dubai is carried out on a case-to-case basis. This lack of coordination is caused by the absence of a uniform legislation regarding recycling. Clearly, there is a need to enact laws that promote the recycling of solid waste. Saifaie (2013) suggests a compulsory framework that will require the major producers of solid waste, namely, industries, to engage in waste recycling. In April 2016, the waste management department of Dubai Municipality proposed charges to be imposed on companies that dump waste in landfills. If approved, this legislation is expected to discourage companies from dumping and instead adopt recycling. A separate initiative dubbed ‘Dubai Environmental Culture’ was launched in 2015 to encourage residents to adopt recycling at the individual level.


Incineration is an old method of MSW management. The high-temperature process converts solid organic waste into inorganic substances through combustion. In Dubai, incineration is used to treat colossal amounts of solid waste (Alderman 2010). Currently, the city operates one of the best incinerators in the world. As a result, the Dubai Municipality treats nearly 20 tons of solid waste (mostly healthcare waste) through incineration every day. Incineration is suitable for waste that cannot be recycled or conveniently dumped in a landfill.


SWOT Analysis

Dubai has become the business hub of the Middle East region with numerous industries and burgeoning population. Despite its huge population and numerous industries, Dubai’s size is a mere 3885km2. The small size may serve to compound the effect that solid waste has on the city’s growth. Dubai Municipality is struggling with the issue of MSW. This trend is common in most developing economies where a mismatch is witnessed between the rate at which industries are expanding and waste management efforts. For instance, in Dubai, the old method of landfills is still the most used in managing solid waste. Currently, Dubai municipality operates landfills in five different locations, namely, Al- Ghusais, Al-Warqqa, Al-Awir, Hatta, and, Jebel landfills. These landfills are expected to reach capacity within the next decade. This situation will pose a major challenge concerning how to dispose solid waste in the future.

The various tools and mechanisms for managing MSW may be further analyzed based on the SWOT approach. To begin with, several strengths can be identified with respect to each approach. The WTE plant will provide renewable energy for Dubai city, hence reducing the consumption other energy forms that result in air pollution. In addition, the WTE plant is expected to have minimal emissions as a departure from the current waste management tools that have often caused a lot of emission or pollution of the land around them (in the case of landfills). The recently installed medical waste incinerator also provides key benefits for the city. With a capacity of 20 tons per day, this incinerator has minimized the medical waste that often accumulated in the municipality’s landfills.

Various weaknesses can be identified regarding the methods discussed above. With respect to the WTE and the medical waste incinerator, the issue of huge costs poses a major drawback. High costs of managing these plants may result in financial challenges. The WTE plant will require $44 million to install alone, not to mention the cost of operating it on a day-to-day basis (Jamil et al. 2016). The incinerator is also costly to manage. According to Jamil et al. (2016), many modern incinerators have been closed due to the inability to meet their operational costs. Landfills pose the key threat of contaminating the surrounding land. Additionally, Dubai is small, meaning that the landfills already occupy too much land that could be directed to more important uses such as modern farming. Another weakness with respect to the WTE recycling plant is that its usefulness is limited to recyclable materials (glass, paper, metal, and plastic). Hence, unrecyclable materials such as residue from construction will continue being dumped in the landfills.

Opportunities for the management approaches include the ability to increase the amount of waste disposed. For instance, the recently installed incinerator treats about 20 tons of solid medical waste per day. The increasing the capacity of waste treated daily will significantly reduce the need to rely primarily on landfills. The proposed WTE plant will reduce the usefulness of landfills in Dubai by up to 75 percent. Finally, threats against the current waste management tools and approaches include the culture of producing excessive waste. As Hajj and Hamani (2011) observe, Dubai’s inhabitants have a culture of producing excessive waste. Despite the concerted efforts to reduce the amount of waste produced per person each day, the amount remains high (2.4 kg per person). Companies also produce large amounts of waste. If this culture of excessive waste production is not curbed, it may overwhelm the current waste management processes in the city.

Results and Conclusion

Dubai employs three major approaches to solid waste management. The approaches include landfills, recycling, and incineration. The landfill method is the oldest form of waste management in Dubai. Currently, Dubai Municipality operates five landfills. However, Al-Ghusa is nearly full. Issues such as the eminent filling up of the landfills coupled with the risks that dumping poses to the environment are prompting policymakers in the municipality to move toward recycling. Recycling as an MSW management approach is favored because it brings about several advantages. Recycling prevents the landfills from becoming filled up too soon. In addition, recycling renders useful products that would have otherwise been unwanted. Importantly, the cost of recycling waste into new products is much lower compared to converting these substances from raw materials. Therefore, recycling waste promotes sustainable use of natural resources.

Incineration is used to dispose MSW that cannot be recycled. The method is an efficient mechanism for disposing of hazardous waste that would otherwise be harmful to the environment if dumped in a landfill. Modern incinerators are highly efficient but costly to install. For this reason, it is important for the municipality to perform a cost-benefit analysis to determine the type of incinerators to install. The advantage of modern incinerators is that they result in minimal emissions. In addition, modern incinerators allow the heat produced during incineration to be used in the production of thermal power. Therefore, recycling and modern incineration are critical in ensuring the ‘Zero Waste by 2030’ campaign comes to fruition. Dubai’s current WTE plan is geared toward converting all waste into useful energy.


This section offers a discussion on ways of improving solid waste management within the Dubai Municipality. Special emphasis is placed on sustainability. Currently, plans are underway to ensure efficient conversion of Dubai’s waste into energy (WTE). To achieve this goal, the municipality will need to involve stakeholders from the private sector, as well as members of the public. Currently, in Dubai, it is estimated that every person produces about 2.4 kilograms of solid waste (Khatib 2011). Therefore, achieving meaningful progress in waste management will require the involvement of the public through sensitization. For instance, educating the public on the need to separate waste at the household can boost recycling efforts. This plan will prevent recyclable materials from ending up in the landfills.

The municipality should enact stringent laws that will deter companies from dumping solid waste in landfills. The laws may establish high charges per every ton of solid waste that a company dumps in the landfills. This move will ensure that companies adopt recycling efforts to avoid being fined. Additionally, a legislation framework that requires compulsory recycling by companies should be put in place. This strategy will serve to increase the volume of waste that is recycled, hence reducing the need to dump in landfills. Under this legislation, heavy fines should be imposed on companies that deliberately prefer dumping to recycling. Partial emptying of the landfills can be achieved through converting the existing landfills into recycling plants. This way, recyclable materials that have been dumped in the landfill can be sorted and recycled. In addition to emptying the landfills, this exercise will lead to the production of useful materials, as well as thermal power.

Finally, further research should be carried out regarding the best approaches to managing MSW within the available financial framework. Importantly, a thorough cost-benefit analysis should be carried out to ensure that the methods adopted are not only effective but also affordable. In addition, the effectiveness of the already-implemented measures should be investigated to identify gaps and hence the possible areas of improvement.

Reference List

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Alderman, L 2010, ‘Dubai faces environmental problems after growth’, The New York Times, 27 October, p. 4.

Al-Hajj, A & Hamani, K 2011, ‘Material waste in the UAE construction industry: Main causes and minimization practices’, Architectural Engineering and Design Management, vol. 7, no. 4, pp.221-235.

Al-Qaydi, S 2006, Industrial solid waste disposal in Dubai, UAE: A study in Economic geography, Elsevier, Amsterdam.

Anand, S 2010, Solid waste management, Mittal Publications, New Delhi.

Jamil, M, Ahmad, F & Jeon, Y 2016, ‘Renewable energy technologies adopted by the UAE: Prospects and challenges–A comprehensive overview’, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, vol. 55, no. 1, pp.1181-1194.

Khatib, I 2011, Municipal solid waste management in developing countries: Future challenges and possible opportunities, INTECH Open Access Publisher, Rijeka.

Maulood, Y & Aziz, S 2016, ‘Soil and municipal solid waste leachate characterization at Erbil anaerobic landfill site’, ZANCO Journal of Pure and Applied Sciences, vol. 28, no. 3, pp.104-133.

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Saifaie, A 2013, ‘Waste Management in Dubai’, Envirocitiese Magazine, vol. 4, no. 1, pp.4-7.

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