Solid Waste Management Challenges in GCC

The challenges posed by solid waste to governments and communities are many and varied. In the GCC region, where most countries have considerably high per capita waste generation values, the scale of the waste management challenge faced by civic authorities is even bigger. Fast-paced industrial growth, recent construction boom, increasing population, rapid urbanisation, and vastly improved lifestyle coupled with unsustainable consumption patterns have all contributed to the growing waste crisis in the GCC.

Among the GCC nations, United Arab Emirates has the highest municipal solid waste generation per capita of 2.2 kg (which is among the highest worldwide) followed closely by Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Bahrain. The total urban waste generation in the GCC has been estimated to be around 150 million tons per annum, with MSW being the second largest stream after construction wastes.

Key Challenges

A look at the composition of municipal solid waste in GCC nations suggests that it is largely decomposable and recyclable. However, at present waste disposal into landfills/dumpsites remains the widely practiced method. In countries such as Kuwait and Bahrain where limited land is available, this doesn’t seem to be most prudent option. At present, waste management sector is facing multiple challenges in the form of:

  1. Lack of clear reliable framework by which the solid waste sector is administered from the collection, transformation to disposing or treatment phases
  2. Absence  of effective and comprehensive legislative frameworks governing the solid waste sector and the inadequate enforcement mechanisms, which are no less important than the legislation themselves
  3. Management activities of MSW are considered public services
    which are directly controlled by governmental institutions. Such management arrangement is considered weak as it lacks market mechanisms, and in this case economical incentives cannot be used to improve and develop the MSW management services
  4. Inadequate human and organizational capacities and capabilities
  5. Scarcity of accurate and reliable background data and information on the status of solid waste such as rate of generation of different solid waste constituencies, assessment of natural resources and land-use,   and transportation needs, scenarios of treatment, growth scenarios of solid waste which are linked to several driving forces. Needless to say, data and information are the crucial elements for developing MSW management system including the adequate monitoring of the sector.
  6. Inadequate waste strategies/management infrastructure:  In most GCC countries existing waste handling capacities are insufficient. Presently recyclable recovery rate is low. Further, in the absence of local recycling facilities, there is no alternative except to dump the otherwise recyclable material at landfills.
  7. Waste recycling is expensive: Though recent years have seen an increase in the number of waste recycling facilities the economics of recycling is still not very favourable. In many cases recycling waste is expensive compared to buying the product which can be attributed to lack of recycling facilities.
  8. Under developed market for recycled products: Insufficient demand for recycled products in the local market is another reason, which has hampered the growth of the waste recycling industry.
  9. Public attitude: Economies in the GCC countries are oil dependent due to high reserves of fossil fuels. For several decades alternatives such as solar and wind were not considered and oil was the easier option.  Recently and due to drop in oil prices more consideration is given to renewable sources. Similarly waste was mainly landfilled as it was the easier choice, yet due to known complication with such treatment, more suitable measures were considered. Therefore there is the need for an effective comprehensive “education and awareness” program in regards of these two issues

The Way Forward

GCC urgently requires an ambitious sustainable development agenda with waste management (minimisation, reuse and recycling) among its main priorities. Waste has a range of environmental impacts, on air, water, and land and also is a major economic drain, especially on city budgets. It is estimated that 50% of a city’s budget is spent on waste management.

The inefficient use of scarce resources reflected in materials discarded and abandoned as waste represents a huge economic and environmental cost borne by society as a whole.

GCC urgently requires more recycling facilities, like this MRF in Sharjah

Management of solid waste is a serious challenge faced by most modern societies. But waste is not only a challenge: it is also a largely untapped opportunity. Proper waste management presents an opportunity not only to avoid the detrimental impacts associated with waste, but also to recover resources, realise environmental, economic and social benefits and take a step on the road to a sustainable future.

The benefits arise when waste is treated as a resource, a resource that can be recovered and put to productive and profitable use. Products can be reused and the materials that make them up can be recovered and converted to other uses or recycled.

About Izdihar Mani

Dr. Izdihar Mani is a qualified chemical engineer with MPhil and PhD in Chemical Engineering. He has more than 40 years of academic as well as industrial experience in Chemical Engineering, Environment and Recycling. Izdihar is based in the UK and runs his own consultancy in the areas of renewable energy, recycling and energy-from-waste.
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14 Responses to Solid Waste Management Challenges in GCC

  1. Ramani Ramasubramanian says:

    Waste to Energy is one option, generation of electricity from MSW will give additional power to the world and technologies are available with us.

  2. Dr. Izdihar Mani says:

    Absolutely, and Energy From Waste is one of the fastest growing MSW treatment technologies.

  3. Patrick Kelly says:

    Typical response to MSW is just bury it to be cheap, however the cost of doing so forgets the basic value of commodities from all sectors in its base form and its potential reuse as well as reduction of original energy to produce the product. As one develops a recycling mentality, I suggest the United States model for the 3-R's and putting pressure to local cities and provinces who may control waste collection and landfills to begin process of making special bins to collect specific plastics only, or metals, or glass, or paper products. Yes, this is multiple bins, but children typically love the chore and also the benefit is a more solid waste stream. If one collects in a central mixed bin, then one has a major separation facility to process all types of recycled materials with major failures in the design and separation process. Combusting the waste is very dangerous, in that its emissions are not so good and they contain many toxins, metals and substances not good to breath or mix into the soils for the occasional rain to bring to some central collection site, namely the local bay, estuary or ground water. I would suggest you look at specific waste streams not done already and target them in special cities for sustainability purposes and develop these strategies with them in very specific programs that they desire to do and are invited to do with all technical assistance and a little extra capital if possible from private and government partnerships. Then work around the new additions as best possible and develop an improved waste collection system tailored to the local desired and capability to manage the waste stream and expand the program as you desire to other target materials. This may include exporting specific types of wastes to better prepared facilities to process and manage the waste stream too. This is not something easily done however. As much as 90 percent of materials tossed is likely recyclable if separated properly. Also, some items may recycled more in a community basis at central collection bins easily collected with today with solar power and wifi technology to let the waste management group the bin is filling up or almost full. Look out though, some people think the boxes are library book collection boxes and this happened across US college campuses where they installed solar power trash and special recycling bins. Many US cities in Texas in particular adopted my green philosophies pitched from my EPA ivory tower from building codes, to recycling and MSW, to water management and many different types of combined heat and power and green power strategies. Texas jumped from the third from the bottom in energy efficiency and worried about the environment to in the top five states in energy and environmental awareness. My other states are doing there part to catch up to Texas. We may hit 100+ today around Austin. Patrick Kelly

  4. Izdihar Mani says:

    Appreciate your comments. I do believe it is a two way process, the government departments and local authorities has to develop a “solid” scheme to educate the public on issues of recycling and also to provide the means, as you mentioned, such as separate bins. And on the other hand, the public has to take responsibility of supporting the government in this task by splitting the waste into separate bins

  5. Fritz K. Pressel says:

    comments / recommendations: 1) amount of waste is related to consumption; 2) waste treatment is necessary to secure public health; 3) recommended solution is incineration with energy recovery (main purpose should be the destruction of organic matters; minimisation of emission potential); 4) recommeded solution for financation is System as installed in Germany – waste is no product therefore there is no market – the recycling market is as far as MSW is concerned no market as it doesn`t work without Sponsoring. The necessity of finaciation is a fact.

  6. Izdihar Mani says:

    I agree such projects do require high investment

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  8. mohorikat says:

    Dear Dr. Izdihar, Thanks for this informative reading.
    Currently we are working on new integrated system that promise to be the solution for this matter. Which I would like to get in touch with you to discuss in more details.

    This is my email :, will be happy to hear from you.

  9. Sabine says:

    Agreed, excellent article, but combustion cannot be the answer to the problem. With a combustion we speak of the utmost "Destruction" of waste whereas with our system (anaerobic digestion) we speek of the utmost "Reycling" of waste. The answer is to collect, recycle/compost, pyrolize and market municipality waste for use as consumer goods. Recycled product will meet three critical needs:

    1. It will give municipalities a feasible and cost effective alternative to landfilling the waste

    2. It will help meet the growing demand for organic soil enhancers and fertilizers required by regions with vast desert areas

    3. It will also help to meet the growing demand for energy and electricity as the generated power can be re-injected into the municipal power grid. 

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