Meet The Dubai Startups Cutting Waste With Science

With its state-of-the-art infrastructure, environment-friendly laboratories, and a solar-powered community park with green spaces nearing completion, Dubai Science Park is a district focused on healthcare, energy and the environment.

Dubai Science Park

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Dubai Science Park is quickly becoming a catalyst for entrepreneurs that care about climate change and sustainability. From the UAE's first company making t-shirts out of plastic bottles, to a startup turning food waste into fertilizer, big ideas are gaining ground in a vibrant hub for knowledge and innovation.

Established in 2005 to diversify the UAE's economy and accelerate the biotechnology industry, Dubai Science Park is a global business district focused on healthcare, energy and the environment. It is home to more than 400 companies and 4,000 people. Many are pharmaceutical or life science heavyweights listed on stock markets in Asia, Europe, or the US. But with state-of-the-art infrastructure, environment-friendly laboratories, and a solar-powered community park with green spaces nearing completion, many science-minded entrepreneurs are seeing the business hub as an attractive ecosystem for research and development as well.

Ehfaaz is one of them. The high-tech company aspires to "revolutionize the recycling landscape" by using food and fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) waste to produce organic fertilizer and cleaning products. Thanks to a mix of highly skilled labor and state-of-the-art automation, the business can convert more than 1,000 tons of waste into high-value compost every year. This is sold to farms, landscaping companies, and sports centers at a profit, providing an attractive alternative to burying or burning waste.

Ehfaaz's President, Aliyu Mohammed Ali, says the company is excited about giving rubbish "a new life" to support Dubai's target of diverting 75% of municipal solid waste away from landfill. "The UAE is vocal about addressing climate change and achieving the sustainability goals enshrined under the country's vision for the future," he says. "We are encouraged and energized by the commitment of our leaders towards making Dubai and UAE a leading sustainable economy globally."

At its facility in Dubai Science Park, Ehfaaz can turn food waste into compost in 24 hours, extract ethanol from expired beverages, and convert expired FMCG goods into cleaning products. As part of its humanitarian outreach, the startup also works with charitable organizations, FMCG, and third-party logistics companies to donate three 40-foot containers of recycled goods to countries in need around the world every year.

Set on becoming a market leader in organic waste composting and secure product destruction, Ehfaaz wants to expand its line of services to recycle hazardous and pharmaceutical waste. Something that would benefit Dubai Science Park, as the business district is home to major pharma players such as Pfizer and Bayer. It also plans to create more jobs and expand in up to three countries by 2023.

Sustainable energy services provider Handasiyah has ambitions of scale too. After winning deals to supply cooling towers and water filtration systems to sustainability and healthcare projects including the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park and Burjeel Medical City, the startup is hiring highly-skilled specialists as it enters new regional markets.

Mahmoud Widyan, General Manager, says the company has benefited from the UAE's green building and renewable energy movement. "After landing several megaprojects in a short period of time –which helped us to grow and expand our portfolio– we are moving into new markets in the Middle East and will expand operations to neighboring countries."

Handasiyah established its presence in Dubai Science Park around five years ago, and Widyan says the business district is a great environment for scale-ups. "Dubai Science Park is a perfect fit for entrepreneurs and startups. We were registered in April 2015 as a sustainable energy provider. The registration process was quick, and the startup costs were reasonable. Dubai Science Park has been instrumental in helping our company grow quickly on a regional level, providing us with a well-equipped premises and professional services to facilitate our day-to-day operations."

Related: Circular Economy: The Future of Business Post COVID-19

As the Dubai Urban Master Plan 2040 aims to double the city's population in the next two decades, sustainable urban development will depend on startups like Handasiyah providing clean energy solutions to reduce electricity and water consumption. Marwan Abdulaziz Janahi, Managing Director of Dubai Science Park, expects to welcome more startups to the business district as a result of the new strategy. As the Emirate diversifies its economy, increases its population and attract more entrepreneurs, he believes more young people will relocate to Dubai.

Marwan Abdulaziz Janahi, Managing Director, Dubai Science Park. Image courtesy: Dubai Science Park

"Millennials care deeply about climate change and sustainability, which is naturally encouraging a new wave of fast-growing green startups focused on environmental sustainability," Janahi says. "The UAE's decision to grant citizenship to scientists, as well as introduce golden visas for doctors, engineers and people with degrees in artificial intelligence and big data, will also help us attract some of the world's brightest minds who use science to promote climate action."

When it comes to cleaning up the planet, plastic is a good place to start. As well as damaging natural ecosystems and harming animals, worldwide plastic waste pollution is a global issue that also impacts the UAE. While global recycling rates remain low, DGrade is addressing this issue by collecting and recycling plastic into high quality clothing. Using its trademarked Greenspun technology, the startup washes, shreds, and melts down plastic bottles into a fiber that is spun into apparel, diverting plastic away from landfill.

When compared to traditional polyester manufacturing –the fiber of choice for many brands– DGrade claims its production produces half the carbon emissions and reduces water consumption by up to a fifth. It is also around 50% more energy-efficient and does not require any oil, which polyester derives from.

Kris and Emma Barber, DGrade's founder and Managing Director respectively, started the business in 2010. After joining with partners to expand the business, they set up their head office last year in Dubai Science Park. They work with businesses such as Yas Marina Circuit and Mai Dubai as well as events like the Mubadala World Tennis Championships and more than 200 schools through their Simply Bottles Recycling Initiative to collect plastic waste. This is recycled into more than 200 different fabrics that DGrade uses to produce uniforms. The business also manufactures t-shirts, trousers, reusable and washable facemasks, jackets and bags from plastic waste.

The DGrade Team.

Emma Barber says the company is finally proving that you can have a profitable circular economy business model. "DGrade is a great example of how the circular economy works," she notes. "We simply can't keep going on with the linear economy; the planet can't sustain it. We will run out of resources, so we have to start turning the economy circular by reusing resources and repurposing products."

With growing demand from regulators, business leaders and the wider public for tougher action on waste pollution, DGrade is planning to scale up as a global brand. This could see the environmental startup roll out its trademarked technology to emerging markets or manufacture enough recycled material to become a key supplier for fashion retailers.

After establishing a local presence and scaling up, international expansion is on the horizon for three of Dubai Science Park's startups. It couldn't come at a better time. With the United Nations calling for a decade of accelerated action to deliver its 17 Sustainable Development Goals, science and technology have never been so important. There are big issues facing the world today that great minds are trying to address. By providing an enabling environment with sector-specific infrastructure and digital services to improve ease of doing, Dubai Science Park is a supportive ecosystem for startups using science to cut waste and promote sustainability.

"While our community is a hub for some of the world's biggest healthcare and pharmaceutical companies, we are also working hard to grow our community of small and medium-sized enterprises," concludes Janahi. "We have exciting plans to make Dubai Science Park more attractive to entrepreneurs who want to quickly scale up to create solutions for a greener and cleaner world."

Related: Why SMEs In The Middle East Should Take A Proactive Approach To Energy Management

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