Recycling in Kuwait

The recycling market remains more-or-less untapped in Kuwait, creating businesses opportunities for companies specializing in the recycling of household and industrial waste.

It is estimated that Kuwaitis generate more household and industrial waste than almost any other nation in the region. Each resident leaves behind roughly 1.5kg of waste every day—which is two times greater than the global average of 0.7kg. The high volume of waste generation is most likely due to the nation’s economic growth and high consumption rates.

“The Atlas of Waste Management in Kuwait, issued by the Environment Public Authority recently, revealed that Kuwait spends on waste collection and disposal about KWD285 million annually, within a ceiling of 7,500 tons of waste collected daily, and that 50% of the country’s waste is disposed of in landfills, not ergonomically designed,” according to Arab Times.

Although there is a waste management system in place in Kuwait, the rate of recycling is between 1 and 14% depending on the type of waste. The remaining 86-99% of the 2 million tons of solid waste is burned or buried each year. There are some 18 registered landfills around Kuwait City, of which four are still operational. These dump sites are run in a traditional way and without following modern eco-friendly practices. As a result, toxins such as methane are known to leak from landfills—at times even causing “spontaneous fires,” according to BioEnergy Consult.

This is costly and harmful for the environment in several ways. Methane is a well-known greenhouse gas, estimated to be 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide. What is more, hazardous substances released from traditional dump sites can make their way to the country’s ecosystem, throwing it off balance. Nitrous oxide and methane have a tendency to supersaturate rivers, lagoons, and coastal environments and wreak havoc on the marine environment through acidification. Kuwait’s famous coral reefs are particularly vulnerable to acidic environments.

Humans are not immune to the dangers posed by landfills either. Due to rapid urban development over the last couple of decades, many of Kuwait’s dump sites, which were once far from any residential areas, are now dangerously close to the outskirts of Kuwait City. Al-Qurain and Jleeb Al-Shuyoukh sites, for instance, are now regarded as potential health hazards. The threats include groundwater contamination, air pollution, and microbial bio-aerosols.

The good news is that this can be prevented with timely intervention, and some of the damages are still reversible. The majority of dry household waste in Kuwait consists of recyclable organic and mineral materials such as paper, cardboard, plastic, and similar packaging materials. Industrial waste, meanwhile, includes significant volumes of glass and metals. All of these items are potentially recyclable as long as dry and wet waste are kept separate from the origin.

Since the 2010s, many individuals and groups have voiced the necessity of bringing recycling to Kuwait, and some have done something about it. Fatemah Alzelzela, an electrical engineer, founded a non-profit group in 2019, focusing on the recycling of household waste. Eco Star, her company, offers eco-friendly rewards such as trees and plants to those who participate in initiative by sorting and delivering their garbage.

Eco Star has made a name for itself in the media, thus raising awareness among Kuwaitis about the missed opportunity of recycling. “The company has since formed partnerships with schools, teaching children about recycling, threats to the environment and how young people can act for nature,” notes the UN Environment Program (UNEP). Moreover, Eco Star has been keeping track of the waste it collects, thus building a database of the materials that makes up the country’s household waste. Such data can be very helpful in developing a recycling policy for Kuwait in the future.

The private sector has taken an interest in the recycling of industrial waste. Aslaa General Trading & Contracting Company, for instance, has ventured into recycling of scrap metals, according to the company’s CEO who recently sat down with TBY. “We demolish scrap materials and sell them to the recycling shredders and bailers in Kuwait. Once they are shredded and processed, they take care of them in accordance to the International Scrap Recycling Institution’s (ISRI) regulations,” explained Aslaa’s CEO, Sheikh Mubarak Al Sabah.

Shredded metals are often taken to smelting plants for recycling, but the story is rather different in Kuwait. “Generally, Kuwait does not have a strong recycling system, and there are only two steel mints available. There are no copper or aluminum smelters in Kuwait, so everything to do with copper, aluminum, or nonferrous materials is exported,” according to Sheikh Mubarak Al Sabah. The recycling of industrial waste can be more profitable than household waste due to its high recovery rate. Evidently, there is a niche market for the smelting of non-ferrous metals in Kuwait, which should be filled soon by the public or private sector.

The government has takes a more proactive approach by supporting the recycling businesses. Kuwait’s Environment Public Authority has listed the names of dozens of companies which specialize in the recycling of industrial and household materials from polypropylene to fiberboard and from motor oil to batteries. Since there is already a market for each of these recycled products, raising awareness across society will encourage more private companies to venture into the recycling business.