Driving Circular Plastics Initiatives in the Middle East

Governmental organizations and investment arms with governmental ties are leading initiatives to end landfill use in the Middle East as the circular economy concept assumes prominence and dominates the discussion on sustainability in the chemicals industry.

As per to the Gulf Petrochemicals & Chemicals Association, just 5% to 7% of plastics are now recycled in the region, with the great majority—roughly 90%—being disposed of in landfills and the small amount that is exported. According to Plastics Europe, the European Union, along with Norway, Switzerland, and the UK, recycled about 35% of post-consumer plastic trash in 2020, while another 42% went to energy recovery, and only 23% was landfilled.

To enable plastics recycling in the area, crucial soft and physical infrastructure must be developed. Dr. Abdulwahab Al-Sadoun, secretary-general of the GPCA, stated that rules, including technical standards, that aid in the creation of a market for recyclates, must come after policies that encourage the growth of the recycling industry.

Finding high-quality feedstock is a key barrier to developing a big plastics recycling business in the Gulf region and achieving circularity, similar to other regions of the world with less advanced garbage collection systems. Sorting plastic garbage at the source is essential for giving recycling operations high-quality feedstocks.

With this in mind, regional activities for the collection and sorting of plastics are being driven by government policy and funding from the private sector, with a number of firms along the value chain currently engaged in running material recovery facilities and recycling plants.

New MRFs are being built in Riyadh thanks to the Saudi Investment Recycling Company. It opened a new recycling facility for building and demolition waste north of the city in 2020 and has since declared its intention to form public-private partnerships with recycling and trash management firms for additional initiatives, including waste-to-energy.

The Middle East’s distinct position as a large and competitive producer in the global polymer market may also provide additional context in the region’s quest of sustainability, in addition to the significant public-private joint investments taking place in the Gulf.

The 12,000 mt/year recycled polyethylene terephthalate (R-PET) factory being jointly developed by environmental management firm BEEAH, Veolia’s Middle East affiliate RePeeT, and food and beverage conglomerate Agthia Group is a promising initiative depending on mechanical recycling technology. The project will be the first food-grade plastic recycling facility in the UAE even though its capacity may not be particularly noteworthy.

Circularity objectives established by Saudi Arabia’s government policy as part of its Vision 2030 have fueled the nation’s attempts to recycle plastic. The country’s recycling initiatives can be framed by the Vision 2030 goals, which call for diverting 100% of municipal solid waste, 60% of construction waste, and 85% of industrial waste from landfills.

In the Middle East, chemical recycling is still in its infancy. Nevertheless, as initiatives in the area continue to be launched, some promising signs might be seen.

To build an 80,000 mt/year chemical recycling facility in Dubai, Quantafuel, BASF, and the government investment arm DUBAL Holding have joined forces. According to Quantafuel’s most recent filing, the project would cost between $200 million and $250 million.

The development of a petrochemical complex that would process feedstocks sourced from plastic waste to produce recycled plastics was the subject of a final investment decision with TotalEnergies, according to an announcement made by Aramco, the parent company of SABIC, at the end of 2022. The facility will include two polyethylene units and be connected into the current SATORP refinery in Jubail.

With national waste reduction goals already established and the circularity of resources, including plastic recycling, moving forward at a rapid pace, more practical waste collection and recycling measures with public and private investment involvements may help the region move closer to sustainability in the years to come.

The success of these measures in the coming decades will be determined by how well they balance the region’s sustainability goals with its fast urbanization, consumption, and economic expansion.


Poon, Iris., Ehtaiba, Abdulaziz. 2023. Reuters: A push for plastics circularity in the Middle East.  Retrieved from https://www.spglobal.com/commodityinsights/en/market-insights/blogs/petrochemicals/080423-recycled-plastics-circular-economy-middle-east

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