Hygiene is a critical and sensitive affair for any water processing unit. So is sustainability. At the same time, some unique challenges crop up in cleaning inside such plants. What we have seen in Mai Dubai - the fastest growing bottled water company in the region - is a commitment to overcome these challenges and stick to sustainable practices.
Mai Dubai is a certified Grade A for food safety by the Dubai Municipality. So hygiene is an important part of how the company operates - from how they design their products to how they deliver them. Sustainability is yet another broad and important aspect of the company, ingrained in its core values. In fact, Mai Dubai talks about sustainability being proactively responsible to society and the environment in its mission statement. Sustainable practices reflect everywhere in the company - from the design of their products to recycling to the cleanup actions they do, to using solar energy.
To take a deeper look at the hygiene and sustainability practices followed at Mai Dubai, we speak to Alexander van ‘t Riet, the CEO of Mai Dubai LLC. Alexander has over 25 years of experience in operations, sales, marketing, strategic consulting, and general management. His international business experience spans B2B and B2C sectors across Asian, European, and American markets.
Ensuring hygiene in Mai Dubai plants/factories
From the hygiene perspective, like any other food company, Mai Dubai has standard measures in place. Every operator has hair nets, maintains hand hygiene, and adheres to proper hygiene practices. Mai Dubai has the highest standard of quality. When you take a look at the product itself, Mai Dubai produces its own bottles. So the blowing and filling of the bottles happen in a machine that is over-pressurized. In fact, this machine is standing in an over-pressurized clean room. To even enter that clean room, one has to put on special boots. The hygiene standards are very high and never compromised.
Secondly, Mai Dubai tries to minimize human interventions. Its sites are one of the most modern in terms of automation. From the moment raw material comes into a Mai Dubai factory, everything is automated. It goes through the entire process of production, filling, and packing and into the warehouse untouched. Eventually, a robot takes it to the distribution center.
Being fully automated, Mai Dubai also boasts of having the longest monorail in the region - 1.2 km long. Talking about hygiene, this automation helps because the lesser the human intervention, the cleaner is the process.
Technologies used to ensure cleanliness while packaging
There are two parts to the Mai Dubai business - there are the regular bottles, as we know them, and there is the 5-gallon packaging. Both of these go through different systems. The regular bottles are clean because Mai Dubai produces them at their own facility. So before packaging, the plastic is stored in hygiene bags. It is then warmed as part of the cleaning process. The bottle is then blown and filled.
The 5-gallon packaging returns from the market and goes through a multi-stage cleaning process. There are eight visual inspections on the bottle. On top of that, there is pressure testing, a mechanical sniffer that actually sniffs if the bottle is fine. It then goes into an outside washer, a high-pressure steam washer, and then proceeds into a 23 stage industrial washer before going into the next clean room where it is filled.
Technologies used to clean the solar panels
Mai Dubai has installed an 18.1 MW capacity rooftop solar system that uses about 52,056 solar panels. One of the key things about solar panels to make sure they operate is to keep them clean. The desert brings a major challenge to this cleanliness - the dust. So Mai Dubai cleans its solar panels on a continuous basis. By the end of 52,056 solar panels, it is already time to clean the first one yet again.
There are two ways of cleaning these solar panels - dry cleaning and wet cleaning. The former is done using simple brushes. It happens on a cycle of about three to four weeks and is a robotic process. Once in a while, the solar panels are cleaned with water. This is a manual effort. Cleaning with water is made sustainable by sourcing the wastewater from Mai Dubai’s own water treatment plants.
Training and PPE to the cleaning staff
The cleaning staff usually comes from an outsourced company, but Mai Dubai also has a very good program for its own team, keeping their own area neat because that actually sets the higher standard. If people feel responsible for their own area, they will keep it clean. In this way, Mai Dubai encourages a hygiene mindset in its people.
There is regular training on hygiene and food handling. On top of that, Mai Dubai does a lot of in-house training cleanliness, good behavior, et al. The company has a significant HSSE department that is responsible for providing training and a toolbox on how to operate safely and hygienically.
Different kinds of PPE are provided for staff who work at different levels of the plants. For example, the microbiological lab analysis done for each batch requires a different PPE than what is required for sweeping the floors. All of this is provided to the staff by Mai Dubai.
CIP cleaning at Mai Dubai
Mai Dubai has one of the most modern and advanced water treatment plants in the world. CIP is designed for that. The cleaning in place means that there is automatic scheduling and that happens on an ongoing basis. It is fully automated. Every single part of the water treatment plant is steam cleaned and at this pre-described cycle. In fact, Mai Dubai cleans more often than what is prescribed by law. The production lines are cleaned every two to three days. That is quite an operation. It takes about 2 hours to complete. It is quite a commitment and quite an investment to get that right.
Cleanliness drive in partnership with Dubai Municipality
Mai Dubai has a great relationship with the Dubai Municipality. During the month of sustainability, we thought of what else we can do as part of our commitment to sustainability. We have out 16-liter bottles that we take back from the markets and I am very happy to say that at this point in time, close to 30% of our customers take the larger 16-liter bottle, return it to us and we recycle it. But there is a lot of news nowadays about plastic and how bad it is for the environment. And I need to put a plug here. Actually, PET is one of the best ways to get water in a hygienic, economical, and safe way to people. There is no better alternative product. If there was, we’d switch to it. Having said that, people are not very responsible. They leave trash behind and we also want to bring more consciousness about this. So we are working with schools and hospitals on this. Also, there was this cleanliness drive at Jebel Ali where our employees volunteered to help clean up the beaches and I think they collected almost 57 bags of waste and bottles that also went into recycling, which is an important part of what we do.
Sustainability measures at Mai Dubai - present and future
We design products with sustainability in mind. So if we take the PET bottle you buy today and compare it with one 10 years ago, it’s much less plastic for the same volume. In addition to that, the machines are getting better. Then another sustainable practice we have implemented is going all for solar. We believe in recycling and are currently investing in equipment that takes water recycling to the next level. By doing so, we conserve water.
There are many more sustainable practices that we implement in our day-to-day work. For instance, we reduce the amount of paperwork, we are moving into mobile solutions and that might sound like a small item but considering the number of customers we have and the number of bottles we deliver, that’s something significant.