The global economy is growing rapidly, and resource consumption has more than tripled since 1970. This pace threatens the renewal capacity of our planet and the availability of resources for future generations. The limits of rapid economic growth imposed by finite resources and the impact of this growth on the environment are increasingly recognized globally as well as regionally in countries of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC).
For the GCC, a Circular Economy holds the potential to increase resource efficiency and reduce costs, as well as support economic diversification away from consuming the planet's finite resources while minimizing the impact on the environment. In short, creating a more sustainable future. This new paradigm involves the advancement of the global and as well the GCC’s recycling processes, production of bio-based products, and support of new ventures and growth opportunities. Several GCC countries have started to embrace the circular economy paradigm. They have developed policies and introduced ambitious targets aimed at increasing landfill diversion to 80-100% and increasing circularity via recycling up to approximately 35% of all waste streams.
Such targets are challenging given the current development of GCC’s waste management industry. GCC governments are planning to significantly shorten the path to achieve ambitious goals that took other developed countries several decades. However, challenges related to waste collection and sorting currently limit the recyclability of waste streams, resulting in unattractive economics. Limited consideration of key steps in “closing the loop”, such as thinking about recyclability from a product design or end-user perspective, constitute further barriers to full circularity.
A focused strategy leveraging international best practices of collection and treatment across waste streams is needed to accelerate circularity in the GCC region. Multiple stakeholders will be required to join forces. GCC countries must also address structural challenges, including a substantial backlog of uncollected waste and illegal waste dumping. A recent joint study by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and Boston Consulting Group (BCG) finds that reaching a collection rate of ~90% and a recycling rate of ~75% across waste streams is possible by leveraging global best practices. However, it will require substantial capital expenditure: approximately USD 130 billion in the GCC region alone by 2040. Clear regulation supported by coherent financial incentives can help make landfilling a less attractive option, supported by joint action between public and private sector entities.
The study estimates that adopting a circular economy will increase GCC countries' Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by USD 95-105 billion, generate 205-306 thousand jobs, significantly improve people’s quality of life, and create attractive growth opportunities for the private sector.
Waste management companies governments, and other key industries in the GCC (including real estate development, steel, energy, petrochemicals, tourism, and agriculture) have profound roles to play in ensuring future generations benefit from the natural resources and ecosystem services we take for granted. At both government and company levels, the GCC can contribute to a global economy that will use the earth’s materials responsibly and preserve its resources for future generations.