Waste Management Perspectives for Saudi Arabia

Solid waste management is a big challenge for the government and local authorities in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The country generates more than 15 million tons of municipal waste each year with vast majority diverted to landfills and dumpsites. Recycling, reuse and energy recovery is still at an early stage, although they are getting increased attention. Recycling rate ranges from 10-15%, mainly due to the existence of the informal sector which extracts recyclables from municipal waste stream.

Waste management issues in the Kingdom can be resolved by creating a healthy general environment specifically targeting the waste sector which may consist of legislation, technology and socio-economic development.  The general environment in Saudi waste sector is ineffective and a major stumbling block for private investors and entrepreneurs. The onus should be on national environmental agency and local municipalities to build the desired environment to increase recycling rates and facilitate sustainable waste disposal.

Environment agency and municipalities should have close cooperation and seek assistance from other agencies as and when needed. Limitations of landfill usage should be created that prevent any wastes that could be recycled and take advantage of it. Although it is written clearly in the environment agency directive, the need of essential collaboration with cities’ authorities to apply it is important.

To begin with, the government should have a clear vision and a forward-looking strategy to be used as guidance for any waste management initiative. A good example is that of Greater Manchester Waste Disposal Authority in United Kingdom which put forward a Zero Waste strategy and then signed a 25-year agreement with a private company to create state-of-the-art recycling and waste management facilities across Greater Manchester across nine cities.

The second step would be to implement strict legislation and tough laws that are in line with the vision and aims of the waste management strategy for domestic as well as commercial sectors. Another critical step is to increase public awareness in order to encourage society’s collaboration towards environment protection and resource conservation. There is a dire need for concerted environmental awareness campaigns involving municipalities, educational institutions, corporate, Islamic scholars, electronic media and social networking sites.

Another key aspect would be to introduce source-segregation in Saudi Arabia so that household waste is collected in two different streams – recyclables and organic. Recyclables can be sent directly to material recovery facilities while organic wastes can be subjected to composting or anaerobic digestion, whatever feasible.

The steps outlined above should help to create a foundation for healthy economic environment in Saudi Arabia, thereby attracting big investment in waste management sector. A methodical introduction of modern waste management techniques like material recovery facilities, waste-to-energy systems and recycling infrastructure can significantly improve waste management scenario and can also generate good business opportunities.

To sum up, a good deal of effort is required to improve waste management scenario in Saudi Arabia. Strong legislations, financial support, public awareness, modern technologies and stakeholders’ participation should be the key in transforming Saudi Arabia into a ‘green’ nation. A strong political commitment and unflinching public support is mandatory for implementing a sustainable waste management strategy in the country. 

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About Mohammed Alnuwairan

Mohammed Alnuwairan is a PhD Candidate from Manchester Business School, Manchester (UK) and a faculty member at King Faisal University (Saudi Arabia). His main research interests are operation management, reverse logistics management, re-manufacturing and waste disposal. He has a Master's Degree in Manufacturing Management from Windsor University in Canada; and a Bachelor’s Degree in Business from King Faisal University KFU in Saudi Arabia KSA.

5 Responses to Waste Management Perspectives for Saudi Arabia

  1. Joanne hipplewith says:

    I enjoyed this article which has given me some valuable insight into how waste is managed in Saudi Arabia. Waste management and recycling does require commitment at a political level and it does need to be incorporated into all commercial strategies.

  2. Mohamed Sarifdeen Rakeeb says:

    In any waste management sector, political committeemen is essential.
    Governments should draw legislation and strategies in collaboration with public, private environment and local NGO sectors pertaining to waste management.
    Then it can be brought to the implementing stage obtaining general public support by proper awareness indicating the importance of protecting the environment for the future generation.

  3. Alina Williams says:

    Great post! I like the suggestions.

  4. Darren says:

    I love the citing of Greater Manchester’s zero waste policy as an example, however diverting collections to a MRF where they are deposited in a yard before being re-loaded into a HGV for delivery to the landfill is hardly diverting waste from landfill as what happens in Manchester. Unfortunately its impossible to divert waste from landfill fully, unless of course you do it on paper

    • Salman Zafar says:

      Dear Darren

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. 

      A lot of ground work needs to be done before Saudi Arabia (and other Middle East nations) can hope to implement a sustainable waste management strategy. Zero waste is currently a distant dream for the region.

      Best wishes

      Salman Zafar


      Founder, EcoMENA

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