Solid Waste Management in the Middle East – Major Challenges

Middle East is one of the most prolific waste generating regions of the world. Lavish lifestyle, ineffective legislations, infrastructural roadblocks, indifferent public attitude and lack of environmental awareness are the major factors responsible for growing waste management problem in the Middle East. High standards of living are contributing to more generation of waste which when coupled with lack of waste collection and disposal facilities have transformed ‘trash’ into a liability.

Major Hurdles

The general perception towards waste is that of indifference and apathy. Waste is treated as ‘waste’ rather than as a ‘resource’. There is an urgent need to increase public awareness about environmental issues, waste management practices and sustainable living. Public participation in community-level waste management initiatives is lackluster mainly due to low level of environmental awareness and public education. Unfortunately none of the countries in the region have an effective source-segregation mechanism.

Solid waste management in the Middle East is bogged down by deficiencies in waste management legislation and poor planning. Many countries lack legislative framework and regulations to deal with wastes. Insufficient funds, absence of strategic waste management plans, lack of coordination among stakeholders, shortage of skilled manpower and deficiencies in technical and operational decision-making are some of the hurdles experienced in implementing an integrated waste management strategy in the region. In many countries waste management is the sole prerogative of state-owned companies and municipalities which discourage participation of private companies and entrepreneurs.

Though Islam put much stress on waste minimization, Arab countries are among the world’s highest per capita waste generator which is really unfortunate. Due to lack of garbage collection and disposal facilities, dumping of waste in open spaces, deserts and water bodies is a common sight across the region. Another critical issue is lack of awareness and public apathy towards waste reduction, source segregation and waste management.

A sustainable waste management system demands high degree of public participation, effective legislations, sufficient funds and modern waste management practices/technologies. The region can hope to improve waste management scenario by implementing source-segregation, encouraging private sector participation, deploying recycling and waste-to-energy systems, and devising a strong legislative and institutional framework.

Silver Lining

In recent year, several countries, like Qatar and UAE, have established ambitious solid waste management projects but their efficacy is yet to be ascertained. On the whole, Middle East countries are slowly, but steadily, gearing up to meet the challenge posed by waste management by investing heavily in such projects, sourcing new technologies and raising public awareness. However the pace of progress is not matched by the increasing amount of waste generated across the region. Sustainable waste management is a big challenge for policy-makers, urban planners and other stake-holders, and immediate steps are needed to tackle mountains of wastes accumulating in cities throughout the Middle East.

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About Salman Zafar

Salman Zafar is a renowned consultant, advisor, entrepreneur and writer with expertise in waste management, waste-to-energy, renewable energy, environment protection and sustainable development. He is the Founder of EcoMENA, in addition to being the CEO of consultancy firm BioEnergy Consult. Salman has successfully accomplished a wide range of projects in the areas of biomass energy, biogas, waste-to-energy and waste management. He has participated in numerous conferences and workshops as chairman, session chair, keynote speaker and panelist. Salman is a professional writer and is proactively engaged in creating mass awareness on renewable energy, waste management and environmental sustainability. He can be reached at or
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