Can we make money out of waste?
Saudi Arabia has been witnessing rapid industrialization, high population growth rate and fast urbanization, resulting in increased levels of pollution and waste. Solid waste management is becoming a big challenge for the government and local bodies with each passing day, but the Kingdom is looking for solutions, which will alleviate the issue and create jobs and opportunities.
Saudi Arabia as the largest waste generator in the region (15 million metric tons a year, doubling by 2033). Much of its solid waste is organic matter, followed by paper and plastics. Solid waste management is becoming a big challenge in the largest cities — Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam. Jeddah alone produces 4.5 million tons of solid waste a year.
It is worth mentioning that municipal solid waste (MSW) in the country is collected from individual or community containers and sent to landfills after partial segregation and recycling. The major portion of collected waste ends up in landfills untreated.
Backed by ambitious targets for diverting waste away from these sites, the Saudi government is willing to do more about waste management in both the private and public sectors. This has led to a flurry of recent announcements regarding new legislation and initiatives to tackle the problem through a variety of means.
While some of these measures involve greater education and support for recycling at home, many of them are in direct support of “cleantech” investments, and the exploration of innovative new green waste management solutions.
Recycling, reuse and energy recovery are still at an early stage. Waste sorting and recycling are driven by an active informal sector. Recycling activities are mostly manual and labor intensive. Composting is also gaining increased interest in Saudi Arabia due to the high organic content of MSW (around 40 percent).
Responding to this growing issue, in 2017 the Public Investment Fund established the Saudi Investment Recycling Co. (SIRC) to develop, own, operate and invest in various activities across all waste management in the Kingdom, including cutting-edge treatment and recycling facilities, and “waste to energy” solutions that will support the National Renewable Energy Program. In addition, SIRC will act as the national champion in the waste management sector by creating a range of opportunities for private sector participation, investing in companies and identifying opportunities to invest in and localize proven and scalable technologies.
Upgrading the sector will yield significant environmental, social and economic benefits for the Kingdom, as SIRC aims to contribute over SR37 billion ($10 billion) to gross domestic product, attracting up to SR6 billion in inward investments and creating around 23,000 new jobs by 2030.
Basil M.K. Al-Ghalayini is the Chairman and CEO of BMG Financial Group.