Economists refer to the system by which one industry’s by-products become another industry’s feedstock as the ‘circular economy’, and when it comes to waste management, the business and environmental benefits of this system are clear.
Improved effectiveness in the use of materials can lead to lower costs and less waste.
Waste that one company simply cannot reuse could be a vital commodity for another firm. For example, treated liquid waste can be used for organic farming or irrigation; carbon dust, a by-product of aluminium smelting, can be used as an alternative fuel in the cement industry.
Moving towards a circular economy can support profitability, and three companies from Europe, North America, and the Middle East, which operate in the GCC, are calling for greater collaboration in this area.
Emirates Global Aluminium (EGA), which claims to be the largest industrial company in the UAE outside of the oil and gas sector, says it is a supporter of circular economy initiatives for waste management.
“At EGA, our long-term aspiration is that everything we produce can ultimately be a product with an economic use,” said EGA’s Salman Abdulla earlier in 2018.
“We just have to work with other industries to find those uses. [...] This is clearly the right thing to do, for business and the planet.”
Abdulla, EGA’s executive vice president of health, safety, security, and environment; quality; and business transformation, was speaking following the company’s announcement earlier this year that the volume of waste it had recycled in 2017 had increased by nearly a quarter compared to the year before. EGA recycled 96,000 tonnes of waste last year, up from 77,000t in 2016.
The firm’s smelting operations in Abu Dhabi and Dubai produce several by-products, including spent pot lining and carbon dust, which have been used in another construction-related field – the cement sector.
EGA delivered more than twice as much spent pot lining – the used inner lining of massive aluminium smelting pots – to UAE cement plants last year than it did in 2016. The firm also supplied more than twice the amount of carbon dust to the cement industry in 2017 than it did in 2016.
The company plans to continue to explore how its by-products can be used by other companies. It is also building the UAE’s first alumina refinery in Al Taweelah, Abu Dhabi. Built at a cost of $3.3bn (AED12.1bn), the plant will produce alumina for EGA’s smelting operations when it opens in 2019.
One of the by-products of alumina refining is bauxite residue. While experts believe that 150 million tonnes of bauxite residue is produced worldwide, they claim that less than 2% is put to productive use. Another way in which EGA’s waste-management system is moving towards a circular economy model is evidenced by the fact that the company is working on research with the University of Queensland, Australia, to see if bauxite residue can be put to use in agriculture.