Roadmap for Sustainable Waste Management in Saudi Arabia

Industry experts from the waste management sector in Saudi Arabia explored the roadmap for sustainable waste management in the nation. Swaliha Shanavas writes.

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In-Depth Features
April 22 2022
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waste management

Saudi Arabia has recently been witnessing rapid industrialisation, substantial increase in population and urbanisation, all of which is putting pressure on the government and local authorities to manage solid waste in a proper manner. With a population of more than 35 million generating on average 1.5 kg per person of waste per day, that’s a significant amount of waste produced annually and there is a need to focus on solving these issues. And this session, moderated by Anas Idriss, Disruptive Innovation Director, Experts Vision Consulting, explored key topics related to this.

Waste management landscape in Saudi Arabia and the key themes that shape the industry

mohammad al darwishMohammed AlDarwish, GM Digital Solutions, National Centre for Waste Management (MWAN): MWAN is the regulatory body in Saudi Arabia. The government is at present focusing on the topics related to waste management as this is a key issue. Everyone understands there is a serious problem in way we are dealing with waste at the moment. According to the latest statistics, about 53 million tons of waste is produced annually within KSA with most of the waste ending up in landfills. These are not engineered landfills and as you can imagine this is creating a big problem from the economic, social and environmental perspective. MWAN is now focusing on the diversion of waste from the landfill and encouraging people to reduce, recycle, and reuse. Out of the 95 percent of waste going to landfill, our goal is to divert 82 percent away from landfill to begin with.

sami safranEng. Sami Safran, Group President MEPCO: The Middle East Paper Company is a dedicated paper recycling company. WASCO is the sister company that is a waste management company that controls almost half million ton of recyclables in KSA and nearby regions. The Saudi vision is to divert all the waste away from landfills by 2035. When we started out in the industry and focused on paper recycling, one of the major challenges was to obtain the material for that. So we invested in backward integration including material recovery facilities at the site. We faced a lot of challenges due to the lack of clarity of direction which puts our business at risk.

Today, things are different and from a consumer point of view I can see a clear vision and clear targets coming, and I have seen the appetite to move ahead with their ambitious plans is very high among the entrepreneurs.

Since the formation of the division a few years back, I have seen transformation happening on the ground. Even with regard to paper recycling, we see regulations being introduced, MWAN is now starting to build the waste data, information that is not available in the Kingdom at present.

What is Averda’s strategy and how is it contributing to the Saudi vision?

m al sheriefMohammed Elsherief, Director of Business Development, Averda: We have been present in Saudi Arabia for more than a decade. Last year Averda announced our new three-year strategy and have given a commitment that we will divert 80 per cent of the waste in all the countries that we operate in, which includes Saudi Arabia. We are trying to build necessary facilities and help our customers take action to achieve sustainability. We have investment plans in the pipeline for KSA, starting with investments in food waste diversion, plastic recycling, etc. These are some of the key exciting projects that we will be able to announce soon. This will help tackle the issue of food waste and packaging waste in Saudi.

With major projects in KSA, what are the major challenges in developing this sector also considering the ambitions for sustainability and circular economy?

julesJules El Adem, Project Manager Tandeef, Beeah Group: We are trying to bring in all the best practices that we have applied recently in other countries, and since we started the Madinah project, we have been facing a lot of challenges. With regard to the practices, there are issues at different levels. For instance, in terms of regulation and management, there is a little or no enforcement regarding the responsibilities of institutions in terms of waste handling and delivering it for treatment, etc. Another level of challenge is related to the collection and recycling. At present the problem is that the waste is not segregated, with most of it being disposed of at dump sites. There is also the issue of scavenging as the recyclable material is collected from the landfill by the informal sector. Then there is the economic sustainability challenge as there is no incentive for waste producers to handle the waste in a different way; there is no penalty or fee of any kind for not handling the waste properly. There are a lot of developments taking place on the industrial and residential side, but there is low level of awareness on managing waste.

The waste management targets now are definitely high and they are very ambitious, and I think with all these efforts and all the private partners invited into the market to contribute and with financing, we can progress at a rapid pace.

anas idrisAnas Idriss: I believe data is a crucial element that would help the Saudi government to tackle these challenges, and help and support all stakeholders to develop and move toward a circular and sustainable model.

As a major stakeholder in this industry, are you required to report waste data to the government authorities, and if yes, what kind of data do you report on?

Eng. Sami: Since MWAN has started to actively implement their regulations, all those who are dealing with waste management from generation, transportation, utilisation and storage have to notify MWAN and get approval for the operations. Today, MWAN is introducing a lot of initiatives. I believe the Centre is gradually building a data bank and is engaging a consulting firm to conduct a survey for waste categorization and quantification.

The picture at the moment is not perfect, but in the last five years I have seen a major change that really serves my business in a great way, including digitalization of the data. I have conducted a market survey for example regarding the recycling materials related to paper and today the data streams available are allowing me to access more information and data. I believe by implementing the ambitious plans of Saudi, and segregating waste at source and diverting them to clean MRFs will increase the availability of recovered paper and incentivize the economy to grow further.

There are KPIs set by the municipalities and now they are now reporting a recovery rate from the generated waste. And that’s one of the incentives and although the regulations are yet to come, all municipalities are encouraging an investment into material recovery facilities. I know there is a state-of-the-art facility in Madinah. The good news is that while the waste management strategies in Saudi are being developed and executed, they would help serve the existing operations and enable them to expand.

How are the municipal waste contracts managed in KSA?

Mohammed Elsherief: We do operate across KSA and most of the contracts are more of quantity plus performance based contracts. The new regulation being introduced will put a lot of pressure on source segregation, diversion from landfill, it looks like additional KPIs will be introduced in the waste collection contracts to ensure a lot of investment will be made and there will be more performance based contracts.

One of the interesting projects that we are working on is the Red Sea Development project, where we have engineered and built an integrated waste management facility, which we are currently operating that takes care of construction and demolition waste, food waste and mixed recyclables. We are now building the new phase of the facilities that will treat all the waste that will be generated once the Red Sea project becomes operational.

Are you incentivized by the current regulations or client requirements that support waste reduction or minimization?

Jules El Adem: Unfortunately on the current running projects this is not a contractual requirement, which is why there is no close monitoring or KPIs linked to it or objectives placed for waste reduction or segregation. So far we are operating a single stream where waste is being collected from multiple points disposed of in a single landfill or dumping facility.

With many sectors including construction and hospitality developing at a rapid pace in KSA, how do contractors meet this big demand for waste management?

Mohammed Elsherief: There is a lot of development happening in the country with many new projects being implemented. With the introduction of MWAN and executive regulations to be released soon, everyone is preparing themselves for the changes that will take place. There is a lack of infrastructure, which is now being developed. We are trying to focus on source segregation. For instance, in the hospitality sector, we are trying to get them to segregate the wet waste and recyclables so both types of waste can be handled easily.

What are the steps that could help in the development of the sector in KSA?

Eng. Sami: As another panelist mentioned, EPR would be an important step. If you look at the waste management sector in Saudi Arabia, today the government is spending an average of 200 Riyal per ton of waste from the collection process to transporting it to the landfill. We know that there is a cost attached to treatment of any type of waste. Certain waste materials generated like paper and metals have value and can be recycled and funded. But for certain other materials funding may not be available and implementing EPR could possibly help. I think EPR is one of the pillars that will contribute to the development of the sector in a sustainable manner.

The role of digitisation in advancing waste management and the status of the online automated waste management and tracking system

Mohammad AlDarwish: Digitization will enable everyone to capitalize on the data and be a well-informed society. Eventually we will be a data driven organisation, and part of that will be acquiring the data related to regulation, licensing and the transaction on the ground in order to build our direction.

MWAN is right now focusing on regulation and on creating a master plan for the sector, following which it will be translated into a digital transformation plan. With a unified platform, it is a digital workplace to apply the regulation to monitor this sector, to acquire data from the field in cooperation with other government and private stakeholders within the sector, and maintain it in a unified manner so everybody can utilize it to do the planning or encourage investments. MWAN will adopt a lot of the disruptive technologies including IoT within its planned platform to improve overall performance. We are in the final stages of designing a digital platform that will include all different aspects and pillars that are part of government mandate.

The panelists agreed that strong legislation, public awareness, financial support, disruptive innovative digital technologies and stakeholder participation are key to transforming the sector in terms of sustainable waste management and circular economy model.