Ramping up

The Middle East region continues to develop its collection and recycling infrastructures, leading to upside potential for its secondary commodities.

April 28, 2014
Brian Taylor

In many parts of the world, a well-established collection infrastructure has yielded impressive recycling rates and general agreement that harvesting additional tons of scrap metal or paper is an uphill battle.

Recyclers from such markets, including Western Europe and North America, may be surprised when they talk to recycling industry colleagues from the Middle East region, where the recycling infrastructure for many secondary commodities is still developing and evolving.

In March 2014, the Recycling Today Media Group and Dubai-based Media Fusion co-hosted two conferences and a workshop 2-5 March 2 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Presenters at the three events—the Middle East Metals Recycling Conference, the End-of-Life Vehicle Workshop and the Paper & Plastics Recycling Conference Middle East—often portrayed a market where opportunities still exist to collect and recycle additional tonnes of material.

Emerging elvs

The nations comprising the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in the Middle East include several with living standards that have risen sharply in the past 30 years, resulting in a far greater number of cars and trucks on the road.

At the End-of-Life Vehicle (ELV) Workshop, attendees heard from presenters who are helping to handle the growing number of salvaged and scrapped vehicles.

Speaker Subhash Joshi of Frost & Sullivan, Dubai, said the number of vehicles on the road in the GCC has grown from 7.8 million in 2007 to 12.9 million in 2013 and is expected to leap to 19.4 million in 2020.

By 2020, Frost & Sullivan estimates that 1.7 end-of-life vehicles (ELVs) will be generated annually in the GCC, with an estimated 77% of those emanating from Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

While this will present an opportunity for recyclers and those in the auto salvage business, Joshi also said there is a lucrative export trade of old vehicles to Nigeria. He added, though, that should antivehicle export regulations be introduced, it would “create a business model for recyclers.”

Two representatives from the Dubai Municipality government gave an overview of that emirate’s program to take possession of abandoned vehicles and to offer unclaimed cars to recyclers through a bidding system.

Once in the possession of an auto salvage shop owner or recycler, ELVs require careful attention to fluids, batteries and other potential hazards, Andreas Rieser of Austria-based SEDA told attendees.

Rieser showed attendees video clips of unsafe and environmentally unsound ELV recycling practices from around the world. The clips included spilled fluids, ELVs bursting into flames and small explosions caused by ill-advised puncturing techniques.

“An ELV has up to 22 litres of fluids,” Rieser said. While these fluids can be hazardous and flammable, in most cases they also are recyclable if collected properly and directed towards re-refiners.

Rieser said that if the Middle East was generating 11,000 ELVs each month, that would be enough to yield 6,600 tonnes of metal, 114,000 litres of reusable gasoline and 78,000 litres of waste oil that can be re-refined. The highly recyclable metal items associated with these vehicles include catalytic converters, copper wire and cable and aluminium wheels.

Mike Taylor, who is based in the United Kingdom with JMC Recycling and Vortex Depollution and Recycling Equipment, said some vehicle makers are increasingly designing for easier recycling and also getting more involved in the auto recycling process. He said the General Motors Range Rover division in the U.K. has a “sustainability team that signs off on the recyclability of each component.”

Nonetheless, said Taylor, in all parts of the world a number of factors are affecting the way vehicles are salvaged and recycled, including market conditions, the value of materials and compliance costs. It amounts to a calculation of “capital investment for available technology and processes versus recovery revenue,” said Taylor.

Salam Al Sharif and UAE-based Sharif International Metals have been operating auto shredders in Saudi Arabia and the UAE for several years. Sharif told attendees that previously, when ELVs were baled instead of shredded, “There was a lot of ambiguous contamination in those old bales.”

Sharif said that after autos are dismantled and scoured for usable parts, they are shredded, with the shredded ferrous and nonferrous recovered.

In terms of buying a shredder, Sharif said it is “a difficult decision” with factors including the size and weight of the machine and its rotor, the horsepower of the motor, the total cost, ongoing operating costs and the manufacturer’s service program.

When researching a shredder, “Only plant visits and conversations with users of the equipment can really indicate what is taking place,” Sharif told ELV Workshop attendees.

Keegan Vas of Metso Recycling is among the manufacturers competing for the attention of recyclers like Sharif. Vas said the average ELV consists of 70% iron and steel, 8% nonferrous metal, 9% plastics and 3% glass.

Metso has recently reached terms with a scrap recycler in Saudi Arabia to install a 2,000-horsepower shredding plant in the city of Jeddah, Vas told attendees.


Plugging in

At the 2014 Middle East Metals Recycling Conference, Kenneth Neil of the Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), office of global recycler Sims Recycling Solutions told attendees “collection is the easy part” of electronics recycling. The challenges include protecting confidential data found on these devices and keeping up with the changing stream of consumer and business products.

Neil said Sims first considers repair, reconditioning and component reuse options before it shreds obsolete items to recover the resources. “We’re trying to use as much of the material in its manufactured form as possible before we go to the recycling system.”

He said decisions concerning repair versus recycling can be based on a variety of factors, including data security, brand reputation concerns, storage costs and local laws. In the latter category, he noted that electronic scrap generated within the UAE is not supposed to go to India and is not even supposed to be transported between emirates.

Working with the government of Dubai to help draft recycling-friendly legislation has been a good experience for his company, one recycler told attendees of a session at the 2014 Paper & Plastics Recycling Conference Middle East.

Stuart Fleming, founding partner and CEO of Dubai-based Enviroserve, said he helped draft a mobile phone recycling law that has been adopted in Dubai. Fleming also told attendees that Enviroserve had just finalized a contract to work with Apple on its recycling efforts in the UAE.

He said Enviroserve’s history of recycling efforts in the region has produced both opportunities and curious practices, such as the printer company that ships out its models to distributors with six different power cords, not knowing ahead of time which will be compatible with regional power outlets. In this case, he added, “no one at the company [was empowered] with making a decision on how to reuse them.”

Enviroserve’s electronics recycling business in the UAE also has led it into the hard drive and document destruction business, with the company now operating a mobile shredding truck.

One of Enviroserve’s latest initiatives, being conducted in cooperation with the Dubai Municipality government, is “The Green Truck,” a collection truck for household recyclables, such as paper, plastic bottles and aluminum beverage cans (as well as obsolete electronics).

Fleming said the truck is seeking customers in targeted residential areas. “We’ve got 150 households signed up, and we get a couple of calls per day.” He called it part of an effort “to create a recycling system at homes and offices. I’m excited. I’m investing in it.”


Waste not, want not

As in many parts of Europe and the U.S., there is a lot of “negative hype” about plastic shopping bags in the Middle East, says Bilal Effendi of UAE-based plastics compounder and scrap plastics reprocessor Paklite.

Speaking to attendees at the Paper & Plastics Recycling Conference Middle East, Effendi said the negative environmental portrayals are being addressed by a Middle East plastics recycling sector that he described as “just developing.”

Regarding plastic bags as an environmental nuisance, Effendi commented, “The material is not the culprit—the negligence in disposal is.”

Effendi noted that while the paper shopping bag was introduced in the 1860s, the plastic shopping bag did not come along until 100 years later. Thus, he said, it should not be surprising that plastic recycling “is still in its infancy.”

Although it’s still learning to walk, Effendi said the plastics recycling sector in the Middle East is poised to grow. “There is still a lot to be done in reclamation and end use [but] today real strides are being made.”

Craig Halgreen of Abu Dhabi-based polymers maker Borouge said the company is among those exploring “sustainable plastic waste management solutions in the UAE.”

Borouge makes polymers for many applications, including water pipes, auto parts and packaging. Halgreen said the recycling of packaging (which accounts for one-third of plastics use worldwide) is especially critical since is it disposed of quickly and its use is “growing phenomenally as we have urbanization” around the world.

“When you think of litter, you think of plastic bags,” said Halgreen. He noted that in Abu Dhabi—which has as many as 18,000 illegal landfills—discarded plastic that does not become litter is much more likely to be landfilled than recycled.

Halgreen praised the recent efforts of companies like Bee’ah in Sharjah, UAE, for recycling larger amounts of plastic. He added that Borouge was sponsoring litter cleanup campaigns that were yielding about one-third recyclable plastic.

Thomas Probst of German Recycling federation BVSE provided a description of the more evolved plastic recycling sector in that nation. The nation has some 100 plastic scrap reprocessors employing some 5,600 people, he told conference attendees. He said some plastic scrap is turned back into pellets or flakes and then into similar products (such as PET bottles to new PET bottles); another stream of plastic scrap is converted into composite products, such as plastic lumber or pallets; and a third collected stream is converted to fuel.

Probst says Germany currently recycles plastic at about a 43% rate and that every tonne collected and recycled is good for the environment. One tonne of recycled PET “spares you 3 tonnes of CO2,” he remarked.

Beyond OCC

At a recovered fibre mill buyers’ roundtable session, Panelist Najib Fakih of Saudi Arabia-based WASCO, a subsidiary of Saudi paper and board maker MEPCO, said WASCO operates 20 collection centers in Saudi Arabia in part to supply furnish to MEPCO containerboard mills.

Within the Middle East, Fakih said collection networks have largely focused on old corrugated containers (OCC). He said quality is always a concern for mill buyers, with material procured from overseas running the risk of containing excess moisture and nonfibre materials.

As session chair Bill Moore of Moore & Associates, Atlanta, introduced panelists at the “Mill Buyers’ Roundtable” at the 2014 Paper & Plastics Recycling Conference Middle East, he summarized why the paper mill recovered fibre purchasing position can be a difficult one. Moore said the position requires “a broad mix of skills,” adding, there is “nowhere to learn but on the job.”

Panelist Kalyana Sundaram Subramaniam of Tamil Nadu Newsprint and Paper Ltd. of India agreed, saying, “The most difficult job I have ever encountered is waste paper procurement.” Subramaniam also noted that the term “waste paper,” still commonly used in India and the Middle East, is problematic. “We need to admit that,” he said of the confusion caused in the minds of regulators and the public when a product with value is referred to as “waste.”

Panelist Ahmed Mansoor of Pakistan-based Century Paper & Board Mills Ltd. said his company consumes about 140,000 tonnes of recovered paper annually. He said he avoids purchasing material that was sorted in single-stream systems. “Things get mixed up and have to be sorted out,” he said.


The author is the editor of Recycling Today Global Edition and can be contacted at btaylor@gie.net.