Recycling The Saudi Values

Recycling, preserving the environment, conservation and green thinking are all mostly alien terms in Saudi-Arabia.

Wasting, exploiting the environment, littering and materialism are the way of life in the Kingdom.

“The GCC has the world’s highest levels of domestic waste, after the USA, generating more than 22 million tonnes of household waste in 2009. More than half of the waste, 58 per cent was generated in Saudi Arabia. Apart from domestic waste, additional refuse comes from littering parks, gardens and from the waste dumped in the seas and on beaches.” ( sadly this recycle site no longer exists)

stop trashing ksa

This is really a huge disgrace for the Kingdom as a Muslim nation. Islam teaches people to preserve nature, not to use anything excessively and to conserve the environment. Humans were entrusted by God with the responsibility of taking care of the earth. Here are some quotes from the Quran and Hadith: 

“Now, behold! Your Lord said to the angels: I am placing upon the earth a human successor to steward it” (Al Baqarah 2:30)
Rampant corruption and disorder have appeared in the land and in the sea because of what people keep doing. He will let them taste some of their doings, so that they might return to the Right Path.”(30:41)
“The Prophet Mohammed told his companion, Saad, that he was using an excessive amount of water to make ablution, (wudu) saying do not waste (water). Saad then asked if there could ever be wastage if water was used for the purpose of wudu. The Prophet’s reply was, Yes. Even if you are by a flowing river.”


Have people totally forgotten about this responsibility? Are they just ignorant of these teachings? Are people too proud to clean up after themselves or to recycle? What causes this atrocious negligence and irresponsible behavior?

How can people do this to their own country? Do they not love it? When I see places like this I think, they must really hate their country, why else would they throw trash on it?
To be fair it’s not just the Saudis who pollute this lovely country; many expats participate in it too. Mostly from third world countries, where the concept of recycling and reducing waste are foreign. Unfortunately the culture of littering is a problem all over the ME and both expats and locals from the region are engaging in the littering and remorseless wasting of resources.

There have been numerous grass roots efforts to change public opinion about recycling. Most campaigns are met with resistance and even ridicule. People simply do not take it seriously.

This past week was “Saudi Green Revolution Week” a campaign to promote environmental awareness in the Kingdom launched by Naqa’a Environmental Enterprise
Naqa’a was founded by a group of bold women from Jeddah who stepped forward to introduce revolutionary environmental practices across organizations in the Kingdom.

“The Saudi Green Revolution Week is a social initiative by Naqa’a Environmental Enterprise. It is a revolutionary movement of young people united to elevate the public’s awareness about the much neglected issues of the environment in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi Green Revolution Week is a campaign of awakenings, new beginnings and hope for a healthier and cleaner Saudi Arabia. The campaign maybe for a week, but the Green Revolution is an ongoing movement towards an eco-friendly society; and ultimately a Greener planet.”

Jeddah is one of the most polluted cities in the world. Its beaches and parks are ruined with rotting litter. There are ongoing campaigns and efforts by locals to clean up the beaches and the Corniche, but it looks like a never-ending battle against the masses of trash. After the clean-up, more trash appears.

Typical attitudes: “The guy in the yellow overall will pick it up anyway, so why bother“. “I’m not a cleaner or a maid, I don’t pick up trash”. “Recycling is for freaks and weirdos, not cool people like me” or “I just don’t give a damn”.

What can be done to change the attitudes and spread awareness in Saudi? How to introduce these green values on the youth without them making a mockery of it?
Perhaps one way of waking people up is by making them realize that the plastic bag they have just tossed on the beach/street/park/desert will some day come back to them. What goes around, comes around. The plastic will dissolve into the ground water or animals will eat it. The chemicals will go up the food chain, until it reaches the human again…Their stomach..their bloodstream.
We should be kind to mother nature and treat her well, as we would our own mothers.


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  • JennyJanuary 26, 2012 - 3:49 am

    Texas in the U.S. had a terrible problem with littering in the 1980s; they were spending over $25 million per year on clean up with the costs rising significantly each year. They hired a famous researcher to help solve the problem and he concluded that emotional appeals to self interest and preservation weren’t going to make any difference. This expert came up with a brilliant solution: that the way to get the slobs who littered to change their behavior was to convince them that people like them didn’t litter. It was an appeal to their sense of identity. The state launched a now famous advertising campaign “Don’t mess with Texas”, and it was an instant success. During the first 5 years of the campaign littering decreased 72 percent. (I first read about this in a great non fiction book called “Made to Stick” by Chip and Dan Heath- the Don’t Mess with Texas portion starts on page 195- very interesting reading).ReplyCancel

  • HeliJanuary 26, 2012 - 9:05 am

    OMG! What a mess! I hope people over there start thinking and acting different.

    In Norway, there isn’t really a problem with littering, but what confuses me, is the way people consume and waste different things, eg. water, food, plastic bags (practically no-one uses clothbags when foodshopping). As far as I can see, it’s much worse than in Finland.

    It seems that sometimes people are so used to having plenty of everything and money to buy more, that they don’t feel necessary to be more reasonable when consuming. Or even thinking that being reasonable would be a sign of being poor! That is, keeping up a totally unnecessary facade.ReplyCancel

  • NamnaiJanuary 26, 2012 - 10:44 am

    I’m from a third world country and I was born and raised in Saudi Arabia. I just wanted to clarify that your statement

    “uneducated poor people who have no concept of what it is to recycle or to conserve are often the ones engaging in the littering and remorseless wasting of resources.”

    is a bit of a hasty generalization. Think about it. Third world, uneducated and poor usually means these people have few resources available to them and so are the ones more likely to reduce, recycle and reuse. They will try to make the most of their purchases. The educated believe that the uneducated need to be informed about recycling. Guess what, they’re the ones who have been doing it all along. Not because of social reasons like the educated, but because they have less and have to deal with the effects of excess garbage, poor farmers are a good example.

    It’s not the poor, uneducated that create the most litter but rather the more affluent and privileged that are more likely to have little remorse for wasting resources, regardless of where they come from. I’ll even go so far as to admit that despite reducing, reusing and recycling, I probably create more trash than my less fortunate countrymen. I say this because I am able to afford the consumption of larger amounts of resources.ReplyCancel

    • Leila KhojaApril 13, 2015 - 8:05 pm

      I was going to make the same point until I read your post. India recycles and reuses much more than most Western countries or those in the GCC. The older generation in KSA would never throw away things just for the sake of it or because they couldn’t be bothered to repair it. The article makes big statements and huge generalisations. It is not helpful in informing the dabate or in moving forward.There is an enormous problem in waste management in the GCC and it does need solving.ReplyCancel

      • LaylaApril 18, 2015 - 10:20 pm

        Thanks for your comment Leila! Interesting point about India being so advanced when it comes to recycling. I would have to still say that at least most of the european countries probably have the highest rates of recycles and reusing in the world. GCC is probably one of the worst when it comes to over-consuming and combined with almost non existent reusing or recycling of materials.ReplyCancel

  • LaylahJanuary 26, 2012 - 1:50 pm

    Jenny-thank you very much for this information! I watched the videos you sent me and they were great and some would definitely appeal to Saudi public as well!
    They got amazing results with the campaign!ReplyCancel

  • LaylahJanuary 26, 2012 - 1:52 pm

    Heli-the Scandinavian countries are still the world’s top recycling nations.But everyone can always do better and more!ReplyCancel

  • LaylahJanuary 26, 2012 - 1:59 pm

    Namnai-perhaps you misunderstood what I meant. I did not by any means say it’s ONLY the poor uneducated folk that litter, on the contrary I stated the contribute to the problem as well.
    I was talking about littering and wasting resources in Saudi. In other words, the third world workers here and how they also litter and waste resources (although its not theirs but the employers).

    In a way they are less to blame like you said, because they do not know of any better. But the educated people that litter are the ones who consciously are doing harm. I don’t think many from third world countries ever thought much of nature conservation!
    It is our job to teach them the importance of recycling and green values don’t you think!ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousJanuary 26, 2012 - 3:50 pm

    Many third world countries are much cleaner than Saudi Arabia………..ReplyCancel

  • Abdullah from S ArabiaJanuary 26, 2012 - 11:05 pm

    I congratulate you for your constructive brain. I hope this article could be translated to arabic and I will try to do it if you don’t mind.ReplyCancel

  • Cheeky ChicJanuary 27, 2012 - 9:15 am

    Very nice article.Unless people start thinking than even one werson can make a difference this situation would never get better.You are right about uneducated but even educated ones are taking it for granted.It is about time government realise that recycling is mandatory.
    Glad to have found you..Loved your blog title..
    Following you now

  • LaylahJanuary 27, 2012 - 10:38 pm

    Abdullah-Thank you! Would be awesome if you can translate it to Arabic to spread the word :)
    Can you send it to me when you have finished? Thanks so much!!ReplyCancel

  • LaylahJanuary 27, 2012 - 10:39 pm

    Cheeky Chic-thank you for the comment and for following :)
    Change begins from one person..ReplyCancel

  • AliceFebruary 1, 2012 - 7:43 am

    I had no idea Saudi was that polluted :( It’s scary.

    Great articles and thanks for rising the awareness. But much more initiative needs to be taken by the government, it should be made a priority, talking about it should be everywhere. Jenny gave a great idea. Maybe if some khaleeji pop and fashion idols talked about protecting the environment and their own share in it, maybe then it would appeal to fashion-conscious, consumption-oriented minds. Being Green should be promoted and made cool and fashionable, something for the VIP lolReplyCancel

  • Faisal HajiFebruary 1, 2012 - 5:50 pm

    I loved the post, I would also like to say that it is not enough to provide awareness to the people who contribute in messing up the beautiful golden dunes, its a responsibility for the “green” people to start talking about this issue. I remember when I was in Germany and upon leaving a public park, this women approached a couple with a plastic bag in her hand. She gave them the bag and told them that they forgot their trash behind. This moment inspired me forever.

    I encounter the same situation back home in Dubai, and I did the same. Surely, it wasn’t easily accepted by the other end, but it did get my message across.ReplyCancel

  • LaylahFebruary 2, 2012 - 12:19 am

    Faisal-thank you and welcome to my blog :)
    That was a very powerful way to intervene by the woman, I will have to try that sometime! But do you think it will work on Saudis ;) they might just take the plastic bag and toss it on the ground “for someone else to pick up”…ReplyCancel

  • parvatiJune 17, 2012 - 6:45 am

    Thank you for your post! I just came to live here a month ago..already went throught a shocking experience. At my the beach (even in Sunset beach!)..:((( rubish everywhere. How sad is this?

    I always was a person who wanted to protect the world, taking care of the environment, using environment friendly products, and reusable bags. Now I am truly disappointed. There is not any selective rubish container here!!!ReplyCancel

  • Terri PlezMarch 4, 2014 - 6:15 pm

    Layla, this is a topic that has disturbed me from the time I arrived a year ago. I couldn’t bear to discard plastic and paper and glass with all the other trash so I put it into separate bags hoping that somehow it might get recycled by the garbage collectors. I even started composting kitchen scraps. When I first arrived I had a dream (don’t laugh) of starting a recycling and composting program in the DQ. I woke from the dream because I don’t have the contacts of the confidence to get started. I’ve had a look at your list of ways to stop the madness and found that I do several already and those I hadn’t thought of I will start doing. I really appreciate your post.ReplyCancel

    • LaylaMarch 5, 2014 - 3:59 pm

      Thank you so much Terri! Are there any points I should add to the list? I’m planning on writing a new list of ways to recycle in KSA, so if there’s any I missed, please do let me know!ReplyCancel

  • Osama JaradatApril 13, 2015 - 3:11 pm
  • […] Saudi-Arabia has some beautiful and unique nature and by even the smallest changes we can make a difference in preserving the environment. It might feel like just a drop in the ocean, but when hundreds or even thousands of people make that one small change it becomes a wave of change. I’ve listed some ways to recycle in Saudi Arabia that are relevant to people living in the Kingdom and the GCC. This is a topic I’m passionate about and first wrote about in 2012: Recycling the Saudi Values […]ReplyCancel

  • KatyFebruary 2, 2018 - 2:59 pm

    My school is starting to compost and we would love for you to collect it! We are located in Saudi Arabia, Riyadh.

    I would appreciate a response, thank you.ReplyCancel

  • chrisApril 30, 2018 - 7:59 pm

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