Rania Sebastian, managing director, RA Scrap Trading, UAE spoke with Shilpika Bajpai about her professional journey, near and long-term plans, and a sustainable future for UAE, in our series on Women Leaders in the Recycling Industry.
UAE is one of the major recycling regions in Asia generating and exporting recycling material to the world. The recycling industry here is mostly driven by the country’s rapid construction growth. The region has the advantage of accessible shipping ports to secure a stable and fast supply source of their stocks. It has also evolved from a pure supplier and exporter to a consumption market and is importing recycled materials for processing. The region is proving conducive to the growth of recyclers of ferrous and non-ferrous metals. Rania Sebastian, managing director (MD), RA Scrap Trading, UAE, spoke with Shilpika Bajpai about the opportunities and challenges her company faces as a metal recycler in the UAE.
RA Scrap Trading is a small to medium enterprise in the UAE that buys and sells recycled metals such as aluminium, copper, steel, lead, nickel, zinc, brass, and other non-ferrous metals. The company also provides e-waste recycling services for the safe disposal of electronic devices and other metal products.
A circular economy goal for RA Scrap Trading and UAE
As the MD of RA Recycling, Sebastian expects the company to become a leading provider of sustainable waste management while helping businesses and communities achieve a circular economy and reduce their environmental impact. She wants the UAE recycling industry to serve as a global leader in sustainable waste management by leveraging new technology.
“We aim to achieve a recycling rate of 75pc by 2030 aligned with the UAE government’s vision and I can vouch that improving recycling rates can drastically reduce carbon emissions and conserve natural resources. The goal is to transform the perception of waste from being a problem to an asset,” said Sebastian.
Converting environmental goals to business
RA’s trading volumes are at 1,000-20,000mt per year, whereas recycling volumes range from 1,000-35,000mt of metals annually. The recycling business includes ferrous and non-ferrous metals focusing mainly on UAE businesses at present. Still, the company aims to expand in the medium to long term and import more metals for recycling and reuse. The company also plans to grow its business in the UAE and internationally while investing in technology such as automation to improve overall efficiency, according to Sebastian.
“We began as a metal trading company. However, as we grew and got bigger, we noticed that there was a lot of waste that was released from manufacturing and processing units. Our vision expanded and we wanted to imbibe a new culture, which not only included trading but also helped society by reusing resources,” Sebastian said.
She also highlighted the profitability factor in recycling, “Our business was established in 2020 and has only given us profits in all these years. We consistently achieved increased revenue. Over the past three years we’ve grown by 10-15pc every year.”
Policy support for the recycling sector
Speaking about the policy changes, Sebastian highlighted that some legislation could help the Middle East region substantially in boosting the medium to long-term recycling rates,
“The most significant among them are extended producer responsibilities and deposit returns schemes, and also mandatory recycling targets. The creation of more recycling facilities in the region will especially help this industry to grow,” she added.
She emphasised that these kinds of policies can significantly improve recycling rates and overall waste management which will make a big difference in achieving sustainable waste management in the UAE.
Cost and investment challenges
“Challenges are evident in the form of operational costs while doing business in the UAE, where high expenditure is incurred due to labour, utilities, and land leases, especially in major cities such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi,” shared Sebastian. “Additionally, there are substantial technological investments and the unpredictability of market fluctuations, posing significant hurdles for most manufacturers.”
The fluctuating value of recycling materials further complicates revenue forecasting and investment planning, not to forget the UAE companies grappling with the formidable challenge of global competition.
She added that access to capital for small and medium-size enterprises can be limited in the UAE making it challenging to fund the expansion of new technology. MSMEs need to have strategic planning when it comes to risk mitigation to maximise the benefits while taking small or medium-sized loans in the region. Another great challenge is the need for innovation that can cost manufacturers a lot.
“Thus, it is important to invest in the right technology instead of the most expensive ones as one is never sure of the desired outcome or results” Sebastian emphasised.
Technology support for improved efficiency and productivity
Speaking of technology, the UAE has been investing significantly in recent years. The country is using state-of-the-art machinery and AI automation for the sorting and processing of metals. However, it is still on a smaller scale level. In terms of the adoption of technology, it is limited compared to other countries. She believes incorporating technological innovation can really help public-private partnerships, which are still in this initial stage in the UAE. The UAE is therefore an emerging player with strong potential technological innovations in metal recycling, according to Sebastian.
“AI-driven sorting system for recycling uses computer vision, and machine learning algorithms to identify and this makes identification and sorting way more accurate than the traditional methods. If the UAE starts using this in all areas of the industry, it will not only increase efficiency but also give valuable output” Sebastian said.
Sebastian also suggests an innovative tool – a portable spectrometer, that can help identify impurities instantly. She believes this device already exists in other industries, but for recycling it needs to be more precise. She is willing to invest in building some smart designs for public use which will consist of sensors to identify and separate metals soon.
“The credible evidence shows that by adopting technology like AI-driven sorting systems, real-time tracking, and block chain for the supply chain, transparency can significantly improve efficiency and reduce cost. Countries that have embraced this technology in their recycling industry such as Germany, and Sweden have already achieved impressive, recycling rates, and reduced contamination.” she reiterated.
Breaking the glass ceiling in the recycling industry
Sebastian believed in doing something unique in terms of what she brings to the table and what changes she can contribute to society’s growth.
“I have always believed in creating a positive impact on the world and what better than this industry which drives a bigger change through sustainable development and recycling, looking at the growing need for it globally?” Sebastian said.
It’s all about educating oneself and staying abreast with all that is happening around you as well as globally. It doesn’t matter whether you are a man or a woman, Sebastian firmly believes knowledge is power.
“If you have it and are willing to go that extra mile to learn and excel, you’ll make a great team player or a leader, regardless of the external environment”, she insisted.
A message for new entrants
“Networking, learning market trends, attending seminars, and conferences, and meeting mentors and prospective collaborators during events, are some of the primary areas that people in this industry should focus on. And let’s not forget the power of strong professional relationships,” Sebastian said. She remembered meeting some of the world’s leaders and innovators who have helped her see things from a fresh perspective.
“As a woman, it’s very challenging at the beginning but being thorough with the basics of this industry and slowly diving deep into the market dynamics and other factors will help you in the long run”, she advised.
She also recommended that women educate themselves about the industry. “Attending industry events and seminars, whether online or offline is a great place to meet mentors and potential collaborators,” she noted. “Don’t shy away from leadership roles, and taking responsibility as these provide innovation and upskilling for you!”