Fri­day goes inside Blue, the com­pany that re­cy­cles the fat, oil and grease that comes out of Dubai’s eater­ies… and there’s a lot of it.

Ahead of Earth Day to­mor­row, Anand Raj OK vis­its a Dubai fa­cil­ity to find out how it is turn­ing the waste churned out by the city’s restau­rants into some­thing you can clean with

Friday - - Contents -

RRafael San­jurjo Lopez’s anal­ogy could not drive the point home bet­ter. ‘Think of the city as your body,’ sug­gests the re­gional gen­eral man­ager of Blue, the waste man­age­ment arm of the Al Serkal Group. ‘Now think of the city’s sewage sys­tem as the ar­ter­ies in your body and the waste prod­ucts that flow through the drain as the bad choles­terol in your blood. ‘What hap­pens if choles­terol ac­cu­mu­lates in the ar­ter­ies and blocks it? A heart at­tack, right?’ He pauses for ef­fect. ‘That’s what we are work­ing hard to pre­vent.’

Rafael’s anal­ogy works on an­other level – the waste prod­ucts that he is talking about are fats, oils and grease, or FOG, in in­dus­try speak.

We are not talking about a few mil­ligrams. We are talking around 50,000 gal­lons of this muck – which would fill 1,200 bath­tubs – gen­er­ated by the city’s food out­lets daily, which, if not in­ter­cepted at the point of ori­gin, would flow into the city’s sew­ers. The re­sult: pipes clogged with this stinky waste – a ma­jor eco­log­i­cal and civic issue.

The idea for a waste treat­ment plant for FOGs was the brain­child of Nasser Bin Ab­dul Latif Al Serkal, the chair­man of the Al Serkal Group, 25 years ago, on a trip to the US. He saw how grease traps were pre­vent­ing FOGs from en­ter­ing city sew­ers and upon his re­turn to the UAE, de­cided to start a clean­ing com­pany, which led to the de­vel­op­ment of the re­cy­cling plant.

At the time, the plan in­volved rais­ing aware­ness among restau­rant own­ers about the prob­lem, then en­forc­ing an in­ter­cep­tor – called a grease trap, a plumbing de­vice that in­ter­cepts FOGs be­fore they en­ter the waste wa­ter dis­posal sys­tem and di­verts them to a tank. An autho­rised clean­ing com­pany then siphons this waste and transports it to a re­cy­cling or treat­ment plant.

Ini­tially, Al Serkal’s plan was to col­lect the FOG and trans­port it to a sewage treat­ment plant to be treated and dis­posed of.

‘But he [Nasser] soon re­alised that there should be a bet­ter way of dis­pos­ing of the waste and won­dered how it could be re­cy­cled,’ says Rafael. Many de­lib­er­a­tions later, in 2009, the Al Serkal group joined hands with Dubai Mu­nic­i­pal­ity and set up En­vi­rol – which to­day is the only waste FOG treat­ment plant in not just the UAE, but the en­tire Mid­dle East.

Seated in the plant’s of­fice in Al Awir, the odour of FOGs waft­ing in fre­quently from the treat­ment area is over­pow­er­ing, nau­se­at­ing even. ‘Get­ting the plant op­er­a­tional and start­ing treat­ment of waste was not easy be­cause we had to start from scratch,’ says Rafael. ‘Dubai Mu­nic­i­pal­ity pro­vided the land – 1,000 m2 – for the of­fice and plant, put in place reg­u­la­tions regarding waste traps, main­te­nance and trans­port of waste, be­gan en­forc­ing those rules… while we got mov­ing on mak­ing the plant and ar­rang­ing for a proper col­lec­tion sys­tem.’

The En­vi­rol team held sem­i­nars and pre­sen­ta­tions rais­ing aware­ness about the prob­lem of waste FOGs and ed­u­cated the big play­ers in the mar­ket on how the waste is treated and re­cy­cled. The next year, 2010, the plant was op­er­a­tional. So, what ex­actly hap­pens here? ‘Let’s start from the source,’ sug­gests Rafael. ‘Imag­ine you’ve had din­ner at a restau­rant. There could be some food scraps, such as pieces of bread, meat fats, sauces, cur­ries, oils, but­ter, mar­garine…

‘When the used dishes are washed all this waste would go di­rectly into the sewage sys­tem via the drain­pipe.’ A small amount of such waste flow­ing into the sewage might not cause a huge prob­lem. ‘But in a city such as Dubai, which boasts around 10,000 restau­rants, com­mer­cial kitchens, labour ac­com­mo­da­tion kitchens, hospi­tal kitchens…,’ Rafael throws his arms into the air. ‘Imag­ine the amount gen­er­ated.’

Be­fore I can even haz­ard a guess, he of­fers fig­ures. ‘We col­lect around 50,000 gal­lons. Ev­ery day.’

He pushes an En­vi­rol re­port to­wards me that says that FOGs cause around 70 per cent of all drain line prob­lems and odour is­sues in a city. ‘Any­one who has had a kitchen plumbing prob­lem knows pipes can get clogged eas­ily when waste like this is trapped in them. And once clogged, waste wa­ter backs up into sinks and toilets and poses ma­jor pub­lic health and eco­log­i­cal is­sues.

‘In the case of a city, such prob­lems cost the govern­ment millions of dol­lars a year, not to men­tion po­ten­tial health haz­ards,’ he says.

To pre­vent this, restau­rants and other food out­lets, heed­ing the ad­vice from Dubai Mu­nic­i­pal­ity, col­lect the FOG in grease traps.

Autho­rised grease trap clean­ing com­pa­nies bring the FOGs to the plant to be treated and re­cy­cled. Dubai Mu­nic­i­pal­ity has li­censed 28 ac­cred­ited waste com­pa­nies to trans­port oils and grease from restau­rants and hotels to the re­cy­cling plant.

Gen­er­ated by the city’s food out­lets, this MUCK, if not in­ter­cepted at the point of ori­gin, would flow into the city’s sew­ers. The re­sult: pipes CLOGGED with stinky waste – a ma­jor ECO­LOG­I­CAL and civic issue

The FOG is then sub­jected to a com­plex treat­ment process that in­volves me­chan­i­cal and phys­i­cal sep­a­ra­tion of the waste, fil­ter­ing and treat­ing it bi­o­log­i­cally be­fore de­hy­drat­ing and de­cant­ing the waste to pro­duce wa­ter, re­fined oil and fer­tiliser.

‘About 70 per cent of the re­cy­cled prod­uct is wa­ter, around 20 per cent ma­nure and 10 per cent oil,’ says Rafael. ‘The wa­ter is used for ir­ri­ga­tion, the oil for mak­ing soap and de­ter­gents and the solid ma­nure, which is com­pletely or­ganic, can be used as fer­tiliser.’

Some of the ma­nure is then con­verted into com­post.

Get­ting the plant on stream and en­sur­ing the process pro­ceeded smoothly was no easy task.

One of the first steps was analysing the kind of waste gen­er­ated and to cre­ate a plant suit­able to tackle the refuse.

‘Set­ting up a plant like this in, for in­stance, Spain, Sin­ga­pore or Hong Kong, is rel­a­tively eas­ier be­cause the kind of

FOGs gen­er­ated from restau­rants there would be pretty much sim­i­lar… there is a cer­tain uni­for­mity of waste gen­er­ated.’

But the con­di­tions in Dubai are dif­fer­ent, he says. ‘Re­mem­ber there are some 200 na­tion­al­i­ties here and hun­dreds of restau­rants ca­ter­ing to var­i­ous na­tion­al­i­ties be­cause the kinds of foods eaten are so very dif­fer­ent.’

We step out­side the of­fice to have a look at the plant and the pro­cesses in­volved in treat­ing the FOG.

‘That 1,000 gal­lon tanker you see there,’ says Rafael, point­ing to a truck back­ing up to empty part of the day’s FOG into the re­ceiv­ing area of the fa­cil­ity, ‘could have picked up FOG from about 100 restau­rants. And very likely be­cause of the kinds of food they are serv­ing – In­dian, Pak­istani, Mexican, African, Ar­gen­tinian…. Some would use olive oil, an­other palm olein, yet an­other co­conut oil or soya. The sauces would be of dif­fer­ent con­sis­ten­cies and the in­gre­di­ents di­verse.’

All these were fac­tors to be taken into ac­count when En­vi­rol set about cre­at­ing the plant; it had to be one that could treat just about any kind of FOG.

‘The waste com­ing out of the grease traps is quite like slush, like paste. On a win­ter’s night, if you leave a mug of that stuff out in the open, it could so­lid­ify into a chunk in just a few hours,’ he says. See­ing me cover my nose to keep out the odour, he says, ‘we’ve been tack­ling the mal­odour issue. It’s al­ready down around 80 per cent from what it was ini­tially.’

Dubai Mu­nic­i­pal­ity col­lects a fee of Dh1.5 per gal­lon of FOG as a dump­ing fee.

‘We can cover our ex­penses with that. But there are a lot of in­vest­ments, for in­stance, odour re­duc­tion. We are also work­ing on

‘Re­mem­ber there are 200 na­tion­al­i­ties here and HUN­DREDS of restau­rants, ev­ery one gen­er­at­ing a DIF­FER­ENT kind of waste. Some would use olive oil, an­other PALM OLEIN, an­other co­conut oil’

en­ergy ef­fi­ciency, maybe the in­stal­la­tion of so­lar pan­els. We want to be aligned with the govern­ment and work to­wards achiev­ing their en­vi­ron­ment goals.’

Has­san Makki, di­rec­tor of Dubai Mu­nic­i­pal­ity’s sew­er­age net­work depart­ment, says the mu­nic­i­pal­ity has a sus­tain­able plan for the col­lec­tion, trans­fer and re­cy­cling of waste oils like FOG.

‘Oils and fats that en­ter the sew­er­age sys­tems can block drainage pipes, which can cause en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems, elim­i­nat­ing mu­nic­i­pal ef­forts in the field of pre­serv­ing the pub­lic health of the emi­rate,’ he said. ‘It is the fa­cil­i­ties’ re­spon­si­bil­ity to in­stall grease traps.’

‘Sev­eral res­o­lu­tions have been passed to en­sure the com­mit­ment of restau­rants and hotels to the laws con­cern­ing san­i­ta­tion sys­tems, he added.

En­vi­rol has so far treated more than 54 mil­lion gal­lons of grease trap waste. ‘Think about it,’ says Rafael. ‘If this was not treated and re­cy­cled, 54 mil­lion gal­lons of waste FOG would have ended up in the city’s sewage sys­tem or in land­fills.’

They are hop­ing to tap into res­i­den­tial com­mu­ni­ties and tow­ers in the fu­ture.

‘Con­sider a tower of 50 floors with each floor hav­ing say, 20 apart­ments. Imag­ine the to­tal amount of FOGs that the tower could be gen­er­at­ing in a week. It could eas­ily match that of a large restau­rant. And with it all flow­ing into the sewage sys­tem it could be adding stress to the sewage treat­ment plant,’ says Rafael.

En­vi­rol is also in talks with author­i­ties in Abu Dhabi on set­ting up a sim­i­lar plant there. Keep­ing in mind Dubai’s rapid growth, last month it be­gan work on ex­pand­ing the plant’s re­cy­cling ca­pa­bil­ity. With the new ex­pan­sion and up­grade of equip­ment En­vi­rol will be able to handle 100,000 gal­lons of FOG.

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