10 Ways To Recycle and Think Green in Saudi Arabia

How to recycle in Saudi Arabia? This question is often asked by people interested in ways to make life in Saudi more environmentally friendly. Here are 10 easy and simple ways everyone in Saudi Arabia can recycle and conserve the environment.

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

10 ways to recycle in ksa

10 Ways How to recycle in Saudi Arabia.

Sometimes we go about our daily lives without giving things much thought and just continue doing stuff the way we’re used to. However, once we look closer and think about it from another POV, a lot of the things we do are just pure madness! We can do so much better!

It’s time to start thinking and acting to stop the littering madness!

Where plastic bags end up. Thumamah desert outside Riyadh. Photo: Laura Alho

1. Reduce usage of plastic bags

The single most efficient thing everyone in the Kingdom can do is cut down how many plastic bags they take home from the store. A lot of people like to have their groceries and purchases placed separately in a GAZILLION plastic bags instead of placing everything in one or two large bags. But why? When you think about it, isn’t this crazy?

Think-Do you really need all those 20 plastic bags to carry the 21 items you bought? In fact did you know you can fit 21 items into ONE large bag with no trouble at all!

The problem is baggers in Saudi grocery stores will by default place only one or two items per bag. This can easily add up to 40-60 plastic bags per average family per grocery shop visit.

If the family grocery shops once a week, plus all the additional visits to get few things, adding 20 or so more bags to the total of approximately 80 bags a week. That becomes 400 bags a month and 4800 bags a year!

Plastic bags on a fence in Thumamah desert.

Multiply that by how many Saudi and expat families there are who are doing this..MILLIONS of plastic bags wasted! For nothing! And those very same plastic bags end up in the streets, in the desert, on the beaches, in the sea.

The baggers do it simply because they have been taught not to place for example a deodorant, a bread loaf, cheese or a milk bottle in the same bag. In reality these things do not need separate bags. if millions of people in other countries in the world are able to place everything in one same bag, surely this is possible in KSA too. In order to make this happen, we must re-train the baggers or pack the bags ourselves. 

Some grocery stores like Carrefour sell large fabric bags you can reuse for your grocery shopping. Most baggers will not know how to use them and might even place the items first in tons of plastic bags, then place inside the fabric bag. Again, you might need to show them how you want it done.

At home re-use the plastic bags, use them as garbage bags and for storage. For more tips check this list of 99 ways to reuse plastic bags: http://tlc.howstuffworks.com/home/reuses-plastic-bags2.htm

2.  Recycle water bottles

Most people in Saudi drink bottled water. Some prefer to always purchase hoards of small bottles which accumulate into mountains of plastic in no time. WHY? This is really not necessary!

Buy the large recyclable water bottles from companies like Nestle that offer home delivery and save money and the nature and your back! You can place an order online here: http://www.nestle-family.com/pure-life/english/
If you still want to use the smaller water bottles: after use, rinse bottle, refill from large water container, you can safely use a few times before throwing them away.

Change to reusable water bottles made of metal which you can wash, refill from the large water tank and reuse indefinitely.

3. Use water sparingly

Many Saudi families will have more than one car. It’s usually the driver’s duty to wash the cars, and the housemaids are the ones who clean the outside areas from dust. And how do they do it? By spraying hundreds of gallons of running water from the hose all over the yard or the cars! WHY?? This is nuts!

Don’t have your car washed with running water from the hose. Ask the driver or whoever is cleaning the car to use a bucket and cloth instead. Ask the housemaid to SWEEP the yard once in a while instead of pouring hundreds of liters of water around on a daily basis. Don’t run the water the whole time while showering or brushing teeth and avoid taking excessive baths.

4. Reuse or return hangers from laundry places 

Most Saudi families take their thobes, abayas and ghutras to be professionally cleaned and ironed. Every neighborhood has a laundry place or two. When they are picked up, the clothes will each be placed on hangers and inside plastic bags separately. And what do most people do? Throw the hangers away! WHY?? This is really a waste!

Don’t throw these hangers away! If you don’t want to reuse them yourself at home RETURN them to the cleaners! Also, request to have multiple thobes/clothing items placed inside one bag, no need for ten separate plastic wrappings.

How to recycle in Saudi? Take back the laundry hangers!

5. Buy Second hand clothing and furniture 

You can do this in many ways, in Saudi Arabia the large websites for buying used goods are in english expatriates.com and haraj.com (Arabic only). In Riyadh you can visit the Princess Souk ( Haraj bin Gasem) where you will find just about anything you can imagine second hand.

6. How to Recycle in Saudi by Managing your waste

I’ve recently discovered a new recycling place in Riyadh where you can take all your waste for handling. The recycle center located in central Riyadh will take your plastic bottles, paper, metal, glass, clothes, batteries and old appliances. For larger furniture and household appliances call them to schedule a pick up. Location and info on this post: Riyadh Recycling Center. There are many collections points around the larger cities where you can take your waste for recycling.

7. Cut back on use of tissues/ mandeel.

Before I moved to Saudi Arabia, the Tissue Wonderland, I had probably used tissues a handful of times only in my entire life.  It seems tissues are used for pretty much anything and everything in Saudi Arabia, as if it’s an essential item for survival. Tissue boxes can be found in every single room of the house and even in cars.

This pointless tissue-extravagance is just mind-boggling to me raised in Scandinavian culture, where we are used to towels, washable wipes and cleaning rags instead of disposable tissues. Reducing usage of paper (preserving the forests we so love) is a central part of our culture and this can be seen in how toilet papers are made from recycled materials and how they’re packaged in very compact, recycled packaging. You will not find many tissue boxes at Scandinavian stores.

That’s whysSeeing entire isles full of different brands and types of tissue boxes at Saudi grocery stores was a culture shock for me.

I understand that completely cutting out using mandeel in Saudi homes is not going to happen but it’s easy to at least try to reduce how much is being used.

Think- do you REALLY need to use them so much?

Start by using towels instead of tissues to dry hands, place them in convenient areas. 

For cleaning use reusable wipes and rags.

Dry surfaces with washable kitchen cloths.

And for the love of God, don’t get scented tissues, those are the most environmentally destructive ones that you can get!

8. Avoid Styrofoam packaging

The takeaway restaurants in KSA often use Styrofoam packaging which is extremely harmful to the environment and also for your health. In fact, styrofoam ( polystyrene) has been banned in many countries already due to its detrimental effect on the environment and humans. The probelm with polystyrene is that it does not decompose and it breaks into tiny microscopic particles which travel from the landfills with the help of wind into the oceans. Plankton then eats these particles. Small fish eat mass loads of plankton and also the microplastic particles. Bigger fish eat those plastic filled fish. Humans eat the big fish. So next time you’re having a fish dish in that styrofoam packaging, think about it. Read more about just how awful polystyrene is here.

The restaurants in Saudi Arabia use shocking amounts of of polystyrene packaging. One item will be placed in one large container instead of trying to at least save space or opt for environmentally sustainable packing materials. Tell the waiter to pack your food in more smart ways and opt for take out restaurants that use biodegradable packing such as Saldwich.

Also, grocery stores in Saudi often pack fruits, cheese, pastries etc. in styrofoam and plastic. Ask to have them just wrapped in plastic wrap which is really all you need!

9. Buy local produce avoid imported goods.

There is plenty of good quality local produce available, yet many families always go for the imported, American stuff, just because it’s American. People will pay 50 sar for strawberries imported from U.S.A when a local one would cost 5 sar. WHY?? This is truly madness!

Always try to favor locally produced goods, organic produce, whether it be bread, fruits, ice cream or meat you are buying! Imported goods are often overpriced, have gotten damaged or ruined in the shipping process or have bad expiration dates.

10. Don’t throw trash on the streets, beaches, oceans or deserts!!

Well this should be a self clear thing. But some people tend to think that someone will come to the desert (or wherever they’re having the picnic) and pick up their trash. This is not true! Nobody will come. The trash will stay there, animals will come spread it, wind will blow the waste even further around the area.

The attitude “someone else will pick it up for me” needs to change. Everyone needs to pick up after themselves. Indeed, there are yellow-clad street cleaners around every corner in the cities. That doesn’t justify throwing trash out of car windows. That’s just a really trashy thing to do, period.

I know that people can do better. Just think. This culture of trashing beautiful places and littering the streets is actually a relatively new phenomenon which came along with the discovery of oil and Saudi families getting used to having house help.

Think-Would you throw trash on your own mother? Of course not. So why are you throwing trash on your motherland?

How to recycle in Saudi Arabia

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Hello there, I'm Laura, the author of Blue Abaya, the first travel blog in Saudi Arabia established in 2010. I've been traveling around and exploring Saudi Arabia since 2008. Connect with me on social media with the links below!
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  • JeanFebruary 1, 2012 - 1:28 am

    Really atrocious to see a littered desert. Environmental awareness and habits ..must be integrated into the school system and through public campaigns.ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousFebruary 1, 2012 - 2:25 am

    Oh my goodness. The madness indeed! I went mad when my husband and I, and the in-laws spent a beautiful day at the river (in the middle of practically no where) and when we were packing up, they just bagged all of the garbage and left it next to a tree (which, I admit, it appeared to be a collection point). However, there were free range cattle roaming the area and clearly where curious about the garbage. I know that as soon as we left they trotted over to get in those bags (as there was garbage strewn everywhere around the “collection area.”)

    My in-laws tried to reassure me that there was “someone” who’s “job” was to “collect” the bags of garbage… I was not convinced. I think it was the good ole middle eastern tradition of “Just tell her what she needs to hear to make her happy. She will never know the difference.” hahahaha…

    Dumpster-diving in Kurdistan.ReplyCancel

  • AliceFebruary 1, 2012 - 6:35 am

    Great post and amazing tips! I wish they took this article of yours and posted it in some Emirati newspaper! Whatever you wrote applies to the UAE as well. The problem here is that we have much more expats than Emiratis and many expats especially from underdeveloped country may lack personal culture and environment awareness. They just litter because “it’s not their country (so, why should they take care about it)” or “because it’s somebody else’s job to clean their waste” or because they are used to not cleaning after themselves and it does not even come to their mind to gather the rubbish after the picknic and throw it in the waste bin. Many Emiratis are not much better – not gathering rubbish after themselves even if they have a picnic with their maids, they just leave rubbish on the grass :( This careless attitude to environment is appalling. UAE is going to face serious problems soon.

    “Most baggers will not know how to “use” them and might even place the items first in tons of plastic bags, then place inside the fabric bag” This is exactly what happened to me two days ago. I finally bought a Carefour bag only to discover shopping items packed separately in many plastic bags inside of it. I’ll take care to pack my blue Carefour bag myself next time.

    Regarding bottled water, recently I started to buy those big (5L) bottles instead of a box with 1.5L bottles in it. But still a better solution would be to get a water filter installed.

    I always gather the laundry hangers and return them.

    When recharging the phones my husband always does it on-line.

    Buying local produce instead of imported is a great advice. If there’s Almarai milk and Al-Ain, I’ll choose Al-Ain to support an Emirati company :) I try to buy Emirati products, Omani and Saudi when possible…

    There are many street cleaners in the UAE as well.. and thanks to them, the country may look clean. But if one day there will be no money to pay for street cleaners the whole country will look like a rubbish bin if the attitude of people will not change.ReplyCancel

  • AliceFebruary 1, 2012 - 6:54 am

    there’s one thing regarding garbage… I don’t know why, but the maids from the neighboring houses often put the rubbish near the rubbish bin instead of placing it INSIDE the bin. I’ve seen it many times, even if the bin is empty. The thing is, if they leave rubbish near the bin, cats come and scatter it around  making the whole place and the road dirty. Later the wind scatters the litter around and into people’s houses. I even got a pic. http://img213.imageshack.us/img213/6338/rubbishuaestyle.jpgReplyCancel

  • miolannFebruary 1, 2012 - 7:53 am

    Very good post. I wonder why people want to live in a dumping place. Can’t they see how ugly it is? They must have a genuine tunnel vision… Pick a piece of trash a day – campaign would be in place there too. I wish you luck in your enlightening mission :)ReplyCancel

  • Fruitful FusionFebruary 1, 2012 - 9:31 am

    Thanks for an excellent post Laylah!ReplyCancel

  • HudaFebruary 1, 2012 - 1:48 pm

    Do they have any recycling plants in Saudi?ReplyCancel

  • corinajFebruary 1, 2012 - 7:21 pm

    Today I came from Tamini with only 10 bags:) And then I checked for some crafts with plastic bags and I made some nice plastic flowers!ReplyCancel

  • margheallaraleimFebruary 1, 2012 - 8:06 pm

    Re no. 3, not running the tap while brushing teeth: my 2-year old nephew was being taught just that by his Mum and Dad. One evening on TV, there was someone brushing his teeth. “What’s he doing, Jack?” asked my brother, expecting the reply, “Brushing his teeth.” But Jack solemnly said, “WASTING water!” Well done, parents!ReplyCancel

  • LaylahFebruary 2, 2012 - 12:33 am

    Thank you all for the wonderful comments and suggestions! Keep em coming! And remember to circulate this post to people in Saudi to spread awareness!ReplyCancel

  • LaylahFebruary 2, 2012 - 12:46 am

    Alice-thanks for the great comments! You know that exact same thing happens here too, with the maids taking the garbage outside, have no idea why they do it!
    What you are doing is awesome! Keep it up and yay for the Carrefour bag! You go girl, show em how it’s done!ReplyCancel

  • LaylahFebruary 2, 2012 - 12:47 am

    miolann-Seriously sometimes I think people live in bubbles without seeing the outside at all, they just float around in their little bubbles.ReplyCancel

  • LaylahFebruary 2, 2012 - 12:48 am

    Huda-they do have some very basic recycling going on, just recently they started few campaigns here in Riyadh, very small scale though unfortunately.ReplyCancel

  • LaylahFebruary 2, 2012 - 12:49 am

    corinaj-AWESOME! if you fit everything in ten bags, I’m imagining that would’ve been around 100 bags if the bagger would have had his way!ReplyCancel

  • LaylahFebruary 2, 2012 - 12:51 am

    margheallaraleim-thanks for sharing that story, that’s a great example of how we can change the future with teaching the next generation!ReplyCancel

  • DogsOnDrugs.comFebruary 2, 2012 - 4:14 pm

    When I was 16 and worked bagging groceries, I was taught to never bag detergents, soap, deodorant, etc. in the same bag as food. The reason: If something breaks or leaks, it will ruin the food or, worse, someone will eat the food and get sick.

    But yeah, we’d put more than a couple of things in each bag. (Of course, back then it was all paper bags, but still…)ReplyCancel

  • DentographerFebruary 2, 2012 - 11:57 pm

    I Agree,This is madness!!ReplyCancel

  • LaylahFebruary 6, 2012 - 10:06 pm

    Dogsondrugs-I understand the reasoning behind that BUT the stuff is packed so that it won’t leak..If anything leaks it’s gonna be your milk or yogurt rather than the detergents..
    Never in my lifetime did any of those items leak and I almost always use only one or two bags only ;pReplyCancel

  • ChrisMay 27, 2012 - 9:10 am

    One of the best posts I have read about the environment here in Saudi. Definite kudos regarding the air con. It's not as hot here as people say and we can all afford to use the air con a LOT less. I hadn't thought about the dry cleaning one and I will certainly use it in the future. With regards to the plastic bags, you have to consider that not using plastic bags and instead usingReplyCancel

    • LaylahMay 27, 2012 - 10:16 pm

      Chris-why thank I'm happy to hear that! I hope more locals and expats in Saudi take this as a real concern and we can start seeing less trash everywhere and living a more sustainable life..ReplyCancel

  • ChrisMay 27, 2012 - 9:23 am

    One more thing: If you explain your concern/request to the worker, it might sound incredibly strange to them and, it being Saudi Arabia, they might even negotiate with you. But if you end your sentence with, "No problem?" suddenly the narrative switches and they say, "Of course. No problem."ReplyCancel

  • saaqib siddiquiAugust 2, 2012 - 9:11 am

    This needs to be translated into Arabic and published EVERYWHERE!ReplyCancel

  • sabkon wellsAugust 31, 2012 - 11:41 am

    wow. these tips are very helpful. i wish many are inspired to use methods o reduce carbon foot print.ReplyCancel

  • laura BrackleyJune 6, 2013 - 5:05 am

    Hi love the article. i found LuLu’s great when it comes to bag packing never one or two items in a bag :) and they also separate it all the way i like, cleaning things and toiletries all in the same bags away from food (i have had things leak in the past), bottle’s and heavy things in the same bags so they don’t crush veg or eggs and so on (i’d like to point out at this point i’m british so probably very picky lol). My compound has it’s own bag for life you can buy as well :)
    I take plastic bags with me in the car as well for rubbish, handy for bagging it all up to take home or to the nearest bin.

    I also re-use envelopes and paper (both my daughter’s are in nursery and they seem to come home with 2 copies of every nursery rhyme printed out) for writing my shopping list on. :)

  • […] 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. A list of ten tips on how to live a more environmentally friendly life in Saudi-Arabia. […]ReplyCancel

  • Elena Trovatelli WardApril 8, 2014 - 10:27 am

    I “recicle” the Styrofoam trays using them as a dish for my cat’s food, and I use to washe them and reuse them for a few times (until she destroyes them during her destructive games).ReplyCancel

  • Elena T.April 8, 2014 - 1:29 pm

    I “recicle” the Styrofoam trays using them as a dish for my cat’s food, and I use to washe them and reuse them for a few times (until she destroyes them during her destructive games).ReplyCancel

  • Smithe108April 10, 2014 - 3:05 am

    I like the valuable info you provide in your articles. I will bookmark your blog and check again here regularly. I am quite certain I’ll learn a lot of new stuff right here! Best of luck for the next! fkgabdbedeReplyCancel

  • AnonymousJuly 12, 2014 - 7:41 pm

    alsslam alikm

    First , thank you for what you wrote it is really great.
    Secondly , how can I now some information about you because I will use this as a source for my report about recycling in KSA.


  • Dean CoxJuly 8, 2015 - 5:03 pm

    It really is a madness and this madness in not only in KSA, but also all around the world. The good thing is that lately people have exhibit the tendency to care more about nature. Very useful tips, by the way.ReplyCancel

  • AlejandroNovember 10, 2016 - 11:36 am

    i would recommend a blog in Spanish, of a Spanish lady in Jeddah.

    Una Abaya para Amaya


  • MarinaDecember 3, 2017 - 1:01 pm

    Thank you, Laura, for the useful information.
    Do you know how/where can we recycle lamp bulbs and batteries in Riyadh?
    I don’t throw them away with usual garbage, but i’ve already collected so many of them that i really want to get rid of them in environmentally-friendly way, but don’t know how. I would appreciate your advice. Thank you in advance.ReplyCancel

    • LauraFebruary 1, 2018 - 5:40 am

      Yes I am compiling a new post about it soon will publish. I recommend you sign up for the newsletter to keep posted.ReplyCancel

  • Recycling The Saudi Values | Blue AbayaFebruary 1, 2018 - 5:55 am

    […] 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. A list of ten tips on how to live a more environmentally friendly life in Saudi-Arabia. […]ReplyCancel

  • ChristyFebruary 10, 2018 - 11:09 am

    A good source to pull from when speaking to Muslims about the environment is Green Deen: What Islam Teaches About Protecting the Planet by Ibrahim Abdul-MatinReplyCancel

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