Economic Development

Boosting Circularity Across Saudi Arabia

March 24, 2021

Middle East

Boosting Circularity Across Saudi Arabia

March 24, 2021

Middle East
Melanie Noronha

Principal, Policy & insights

Melanie is a principal at Economist Impact. She has over ten years of experience delivering consulting and thought leadership projects to public, private and not-for-profit organisations. Based in Dubai, she leads the Middle East and Africa team on research across a range of sectors including food sustainability, recycling, renewable energy, fintech, trade and supply chains. She is a specialist in advanced recycling technologies and international trade. She is a seasoned moderator, having chaired numerous panel discussions and presented Economist Impact's research at global in-person and virtual conferences.

Before joining The Economist Group, she was a senior analyst at MEED Insight, a research and consulting firm serving Middle East and North Africa. At MEED, she developed expertise in bespoke market studies and financial modelling across a range of sectors spanning construction, finance, power and water, oil and gas, and renewable energy. She held previous posts at the Office of the Chief Economist at the Dubai International Financial Centre and at the San Francisco Center for Economic Development. Melanie has an MSc in International Strategy and Economics from the University of St Andrews and a bachelor’s degree in business administration.


Saudi Arabia has experienced rapid economic growth, population growth and development over the past 50 years Yet as with many rapidly growing countries, these dramatic changes have been environmentally detrimental.


  • Saudi Arabia has experienced rapid economic growth, development and urbanisation in the nine decades since oil was discovered. In recent years there has been a growing realisation that this dominant linear economic model – where ever-increasing amounts of raw materials are extracted, processed, and turned into products which are then discarded at the end of their life – is unsustainable. 
  • Rather, Saudi Arabia should shift to a “circular economy” model – an economic model designed around eliminating waste as well as maximising the sustainable use and value of resources. To do so, companies and government bodies must design waste out of products and services and reduce, re-use, recycle or recover resources to the greatest extent possible. Consumers must consume less, but also consume differently – prioritising long-lasting products and leasing over owning
  • The circular economy is no longer a nice-to-have. Environmentally, the Kingdom has some of the world’s most polluted cities; it is more at risk from climate change (and a bigger contributor to it) than the majority of countries; and it has significantly degraded its limited freshwater and arable land through intensive agriculture, urbanisation and a reliance on landfills. Economically, the country needs to diversify away from oil and develop innovative, job-intensive, sectors – of which the circular economy promises many. 
  • Saudi Arabia does not yet have any formal legislation or national strategy for the circular economy. However, a number of environmental and sustainability policies have been adopted in recent years which may support a shift towards circularity – in particular, Vision 2030 and the National Environment Strategy.  
  • To accelerate this shift, Saudi Arabia will need to prioritise some initial focus areas. In this report, we examine municipal waste, food waste and municipal recycling – three interlinked areas where quick gains are possible and where Saudi Arabia currently lags (on a per capita basis, it is the biggest waster of food in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), and recycles less than 10% of “recyclable materials”).
  • To demonstrate the potential, we examine case studies from Chile, Denmark and China. Each offers compelling stories of progress, from new circular economy strategies, targets and progress metrics to dedicated research and innovation centres, and flourishing examples of “industrial symbiosis” – where one company’s waste products are transformed into inputs for another. 
  • We conclude our report with potential policies and actions that the Kingdom could employ to address barriers to circularity. Our recommendations include: providing national circular economy leadership through strategy and funding; creating incentives for circularity among firms and consumers; monitoring circular behaviour and tracking progress; building in-country capacity for innovation and localised solutions; developing public environmental awareness and ecological literacy; and leading regional circular economy collaboration.

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