Recycling and Waste-to-Energy Prospects in Saudi Arabia

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia produces around 15 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) each year with average daily rate of 1.4 kg per person. With the current growing population (3.4% yearly rate), urbanization (1.5% yearly rate) and economic development (3.5% yearly GDP rate), the generation rate of MSW will become double (30 million tons per year) by 2033. The major ingredients of Saudi Arabian MSW 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 population density and urban activities of that area.

In Saudi Arabia, MSW is collected and sent to landfills or dumpsites after partial segregation and recycling. The major portion of collected waste is ends up in landfills untreated. The landfill requirement is very high, about 28 million m3 per year. The problems of leachate, waste sludge, and methane and odor emissions are occurring in the landfills and its surrounding areas due to mostly non-sanitary or un-engineered landfills. However, in many cities the plans of new sanitary landfills are in place, or even they are being built by municipalities with capturing facilities of methane and leachate.

Recycling Prospects in Saudi Arabia

The recycling of metals and cardboard is the main waste recycling practice in Saudi Arabia, which covers 10-15% of the total waste. This recycling practice is mostly 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) by waste scavengers 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 stakeholders. It is estimated that 45 thousand TJ of energy can be saved by recycling only glass and metals from MSW stream. 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.

Waste-to-Energy Potential in Saudi Arabia

The possibilities of converting municipal wastes to renewable energy are plentiful. The choice of conversion technology depends on the type and quantity of waste (waste characterization), capital and operational cost, labor skill requirements, end-uses of products, geographical location and infrastructure. Several waste to energy technologies such as pyrolysis, anaerobic digestion (AD), trans-esterification, fermentation, gasification, incineration, etc. have been developed. Waste-to-energy provides the cost-effective and eco-friendly solutions to both energy demand and MSW disposal problems in Saudi Arabia.

As per conservative estimates, electricity potential of 3 TWh per year can be generated, if all of the KSA food waste is utilized in biogas plants. Similarly, 1 and 1.6 TWh per year electricity can be generated if all the plastics and other mixed waste (i.e. paper, cardboard, wood, textile, leather, etc.) of KSA are processed in the pyrolysis, and refuse derived fuel (RDF) technologies respectively.


Waste management issues in Saudi Arabia are not only related to water, but also to land, air and the marine resources. The sustainable integrated solid waste management is still at the infancy level. There have been many studies in identifying the waste related environmental issues in KSA. The current SWM activities of KSA require a sustainable and integrated approach with implementation of waste segregation at source, waste recycling, WTE and value-added product (VAP) recovery. By 2032, Saudi government is aiming to generate about half of its energy requirements (about 72 GW) from renewable sources such as solar, nuclear, wind, geothermal and waste-to-energy systems.

About Abdul-Sattar Nizami

Dr. Abdul-Sattar Nizami is an Assistant Professor and Principal Investigator at the Centre of Excellence in Environmental Studies (CEES) of King Abdulaziz University, Jeddah. He has a PhD in green grass: developing grass for sustainable gaseous biofuel from University College Cork (UCC), Ireland. He has Postdoctoral Fellowship from the University of Toronto, Canada. Dr. Nizami has published more than 50 papers in the area of waste-to-energy, biofuels and bioproducts. His solid waste research group is working on various waste to energy and value added products systems such as anaerobic digestion (AD), pyrolysis, transesterification, refuse derived fuel (RDF), algae fuel and composting. He is the reviewer, guest editor and invited speaker for high impact journals, national and international conferences and scientific forums. Dr. Nizami can be reached on
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11 Responses to Recycling and Waste-to-Energy Prospects in Saudi Arabia

  1. Pingback: Municipal Waste Management in Saudi Arabia | Cleantech Solutions

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  4. anxo says:

    This paper is good example of what could be done if goverments empower their municipalities and power generation companies to get together and start building plants that use waste to generate energy, I am in the area of building and operate power plants and we got the capital and know how experience to build these plants based on a government guarantee of the PPA, basically can finance the whole project and operate the same for minimum 20 years and then give it for free to the government.

    There ain’t better deal than that however, there are many countries and goverments that prefer to bury the waste underground of even worse dump it and make mountains of hazardous waste in open lands that can contribute to longterm hazard.

  5. Faisal 3A AIS-R says:

    as i look in the desert I see animals like camels eating trash this makes me think about their health and care and the most important thing about the animals is there care
    I believe this is a problem because animals are eating it and they could die we can help by taking it out.
    If there was no garbage in Riyadh animals like camels snakes imagine how Riyadh will look like without trash.

    and there were a lot of animals but they all died like cheetahs animals are non renewable resources so if there was no trash a lot of animals would still be alive so if we save the rest of the animals In Riyadh.

    So we can look how it use to be i think it’s important to take care of the garbage your throwing because everyday you throw 15 million tons and there is a population of 29 million .
    Did you know the Saudi government gave 30 billion Dollars to make a recycling company a few years later they gave 54 billion dollars to clean the ocean and desert so they can

    The most important thing is where is it going? It go to the desert and there was a lot of animals in Riyadh but they all died like cheetahs
    . Once when i was having a walk I noticed there was a lot of garbage
    that’s why everyone should know what there doing to the environment and

  6. Nick Sherrington says:

    Excellent article Dr Nizami. I cannot help but think the combination of sewage, food scrap waste, and recycled paper sludge could be combined with water harvesting earthworks to create and build soil, and help with vegetative re-establishment. I do not understand why more desert/desertified climates do not do this. I guess funding and getting public participation to actually separate the waste are two big reasons. Energy from waste though is still an example goal. Good luck with your work sir.

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