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Gulf’s recycling industry grows with mega-projects

A coral reef off Yabou' Island, part of Neom. The project aims to use mostly recycled materials and send zero waste to landfill Neom
A coral reef off Yabou' Island, part of Neom. The project aims to use mostly recycled materials and send zero waste to landfill
  • Construction keen to recycle
  • Neom’s zero-landfill plan
  • Secondary market envisioned

The volume of Gulf construction projects will increase the use of recycled materials, the head of the Bureau of Middle East Recycling has told AGBI

Ibrahim Aboura, who is also managing director of Aboura Metals in Dubai and a committee chairman of the Bureau of International Recycling (BIR), added that it will also raise the profile of the recycling industry.

The sector is benefitting from all the mega and giga-projects across the Gulf, especially Saudi Arabia, he said.

Neom, the urban area being built in Saudi Arabia’s northwestern Tabuk Province, plans to achieve zero waste-to-landfill by 2030. It also aims to use predominantly recycled and recyclable materials. 

The kingdom’s Red Sea tourism development features a large-scale plant to recycle all of its construction waste.

In the UAE, Emirates Global Aluminium is building the country’s largest aluminium recycling plant.

And the 1,000-kilometre Etihad Rail network connecting the GCC countries aims to use recycled plastics and other waste diverted from landfill.

“The region is growing on these huge infrastructure projects and they need recycled content,” Aboura said.

“They could help grow and support a secondary market for the export of recycled metal and other materials within the region.” 

Aboura cited a 2022 report by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) showing that the UAE and Saudi Arabia together accounted for 75 percent of the 103 to 135 million tonnes of waste generated annually in the GCC.

Ibrahim Aboura, managing director of Aboura Metals in Dubai and a committee chairman of the Bureau of International Recycling

GCC waste generation was projected by BCG to increase by up to 420 million tonnes annually by 2040, based on population growth estimates, significantly increasing carbon emissions.

The region will have to invest between $60 billion and $85 billion over the next 20 years to meet waste management and recycling targets to reduce such risks. 

Many GCC governments have set out recycling and waste management strategies as part of their goals to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

Saudi Arabia has pledged to invest 100 billion riyals ($26.6 billion) to divert 90 percent of all its waste streams from landfill by 2040, recycling 40 percent, composting 31 percent and converting 16 percent of waste to energy. 

Dubai plans to recycle 100 percent of its waste by 2030 and cut waste to landfill to zero, from 80-90 percent today. 

Last week, Saudi’s Public Investment Fund acquired a 23 percent stake in the paper recycler Middle East Paper Company, while Dubai introduced a ban on plastic bags, to be followed by a ban on other single-use plastic products by 2026. 

In November, Nadeera Technologies of Abu Dhabi launched Yalla Return, a blockchain-based programme to trace recyclable waste. 

The industry is growing as a result of the region’s increased efforts. Middle East membership of the BIR has doubled since 2020 and now represents more than 10 percent of total BIR membership, the organisation said. 

Susie Burrage, global chair of the Bureau of International Recycling

Susie Burrage, global chair of the BIR, said that the Middle East could play a pivotal role in international recycling trade. 

“The region is a great gateway for the rest of the world,” she said. “India buys a lot of recyclables, so do others with close trading connections. There’s a great opportunity here.” 

Despite this, Burrage said, recycling was not being granted enough attention in global climate action. “Recycling is an essential pillar in the circular economy, but it tends to be a little ignored. 

“Maybe it’s because it goes on in the background and people forget. But the fact is, we need to increase recycling if we are to reduce emissions and meet the [United Nations’] sustainable development goals.” 

Recycling was the priority for 79 percent of Dubai businesses surveyed by AGBI and the British Business Group just before Cop28 last year.

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