The concept of waste recycling has been getting increasing attention in Saudi Arabia in recent years. The country produces around 15 million tons of municipal solid waste each year with an average daily rate of 1.4 kg per person. This rate is projected to double (30 million tons per year) by 2033 with current annual population growth rate of 3.4%.
The major ingredients of Saudi Arabian municipal solid waste are food waste (40-51%), paper (12-28%), cardboard (7%), plastics (5-17%), glass (3-5%), wood (2-8%), textile (2-6%), metals (2-8%) etc. depending on the urban activities and population density of studied region.
In Saudi Arabia, recycling is in early stages, and recycling of metals and cardboard is the main recycling practice, which covers 10-15% of the total waste and usually carried out by informal sector. The waste pickers or waste scavengers take the recyclables from the waste bins and containers throughout the cities. The waste recycling rate often becomes high (upto 30% of total waste) in some areas of same cities.
The recycling is further carried out at some landfill sites, which covers upto 40% of total waste by the involvement of formal and informal sectors. The recycled products are glass bottles, aluminum cans, steel cans, plastic bottles, paper, cardboard, waste tire, etc. depending on the area, available facilities and involved parties.
Recycling Potential in KSA
It is estimated that 45 thousand TJ of energy can be saved by recycling only glass and metals from municipal solid waste. This estimation is based on the energy conservation concept, which means xyz amount of energy would be used to produce the same amount of recyclable material.
Similarly, a study on waste recycling benefits revealed that only by recycling glass, metals, aluminium and cardboard in Makkah city, climate will be saved from 5.6 thousand tons emission of methane with 140.1 thousand Mt.CO2 eq. of global warming potential (GWP). Furthermore, a net revenue of SAR 113 million will be added to the national economy every year only from Makkah city by only recycling glass, metals, aluminium and cardboard.
The current waste management activities of KSA thus require a sustainable and integrated approach with implementation of waste segregation at source, waste recycling, and valuable material recovery. As a starting point, aluminium and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottle recycling in large urban cities like Jeddah, Dammam, Riyadh, Makkah and Medina will provide a long-term viable option for the country, as they will reduce the need for expensive raw materials and fossil fuels.
Moreover, if the recyclable materials such as paper, cardboard, glass, metals and aluminium are recycled and stopped to going into landfills, it will not only reduce the operational and environmental overburden of waste on land resources, but also generate huge economic revenue.