Monday, 25 October 2010

Riyadh Rubbish

For a large metropolis with so many people (nearly 5 million apparently) I’m quite impressed, and surprised, with how Riyadh deals with its rubbish.  The central city streets are relatively litter free. Sure there are times and locations where there’s a bit of a mess, but generally the more well traveled places are a lot cleaner than main streets back home even with our ‘Keep NZ green’ and ‘Let’s Keep it Clean’ slogans encouraging the populace to “Bin It”.

What's interesting, to me anyway, is how the city is kept clean when there is such a difference in attitudes (mine and theirs) to littering.  I’ve seen people drop their unwanted packaging on the path without a care in the world. ‘Rip open cellophane, Shake hand rapidly to dislodge from fingers, Drop it, Suck down drink, Throw carton on to footpath (some step on it I’m presuming to make sure it stays on the ground), Keep going’.

I have difficulty comprehending the thought processes of a person who does that. (The urge to say ‘pick that up and put it in the bin’ is strong).  At least back home perpetrators of litter crime glance around to see if anyone is looking before they do what they know to be wrong. And they do know, otherwise they wouldn’t have checked first.

I have noted, with disappointment, that there are very few rubbish bins on the city streets in Riyadh.  Analysis of this quandary (for me it is a quandary) has resulted in the following conclusions:  Rubbish bins on street verges are not required because -
  • Very few people walk in Riyadh.
  • If the majority of your population is in the malls you don’t really need rubbish bins outside, do you?
That doesn’t  mean there aren’t rubbish bins anywhere in Riyadh, it’s just that they can be awfully hard to find.   In the side streets, behind the main commerce strip for example, there are huge skip bins where people, usually the men, take their household rubbish. I’ve seen men dragging the garbage bags early in the morning with that slow’ I’ve just been told to take out the trash’ head down, trudge.  Looks like husbands the world over get that job.

Driving outside of Riyadh can be disheartening for an environmentalist.  Rubbish is often spread along the edge of the road, piling up against the fences that border the main highways.  Obviously biffing unwanted packaging out the window without a second thought is common practice, too.

I’m not a fan of rubbish being thrown anywhere, except in a proper receptacle.  One night, back home, Hubby had a few too many beers and he threw his empty bottle out the car window. I was sooo pissed he did that. How dare he be so…..(lots of swear words).. ..pathetic! Car screeched to a halt, U-turned, and he was sent out to retrieve his trash.

During our early morning walks around the back streets of Riyadh’s inner city we’ve come across a few small, tucked away parks that would be fabulous if they weren't strewn with litter.  And if you go to the popular late night picnic spots you’ll find people have walked off and left their rubbish lying around.

Being a fan of wide open spaces myself, it’s great to see families enjoying themselves outdoors. It’s just a shame they leave their left overs behind them.  Sure, there are some picnickers who have packed their rubbish into nice tidy piles.  Frankly, if you’re gonna go to that much effort, why not move said parcels to your car to take home and put in the trash?

It seems that the adage “Leave nothing but footprints” isn’t part of the general psyche over here.

However, that being said, the casual leaving behind of rubbish in Riyadh hails from a different view of life. You see, they know that someone else is going to pick it up.

Who Kiwi? Who?

Enter the yellow Wheelie Bin Brigade - the WBB.

One of the Wheelie Bin Brigade - out and about early in the morning.
These are men, mostly Bangladeshi, who walk around in yellow uniforms with little wheelie bins and brooms, whose sole role is picking up rubbish and street sweeping. Their efforts at keeping this city clean are a major feat that must be applauded because, after all picnics are over, there’s plenty of litter left lying around for them to pick up.

The Wheelie Bin Brigade men get paid about 250 SAR per month to keep Riyadh clean. That’s less than $100 NZ dollars - I can't see many of the whanau working for those wages.

Apparently they get their meals and accommodation provided, but you can bet their abode doesn’t come with a star rating attached.  In the evenings you can spot a few Wheelie Bin Brigaders pushing their little wheelies along the main roads in the hope that they will also collect a few cash donations from grateful city dwellers.

I have no idea where all the rubbish gets taken to once collected.  I’m presuming that someone, somewhere digs a big hole and buries it all – there is a big desert out there.  If there is a recycling factory out over the sand dunes, I have doubts that it’s busy – not from household recyclables anyway. Recycling has not yet caught on with the masses here in Riyadh.

Although, it could - quite easily.  In fact, this country has the perfect set up for developing Saudi social conscience for all sorts of things - care of the environment, health promotion, human rights (whoa Gae…don’t get too carried away). Because five times a day, mosques call out messages from almost every corner.

Imagine if somewhere in the Quran there was a passage that could be interpreted to say you get extra gate points to the Hereafter if you pick up your rubbish and put it in a bin.  Imams interested in promoting social issues (there must some, I'm sure of it) have a captive audience.

It can’t be hard to find such a passage, after all scholars are finding passages for all sorts of things –

Women can’t have gyms,

Men can beat their wives.  And here's a scholarly type explaining Beating etiquette

Yep, finding one for correct disposal of litter shouldn’t be too hard at all.

And they should get onto it right away, just in case one day the Wheelie Bin Brigade decide SAR250 per month for cleaning up Riyadh Rubbish is chicken feed and they up and leave the country?


  1. Thats so interesting! I totaly agree with your views on people littering, people should make more of an effort to keep where we live clearner! Because NO ONE says in a dirty area, oh wow this is a nice street.
    Its great to hear about another part of the world, thank you for doing this!

  2. "Imagine if somewhere in the Quran there was a passage that could be interpreted to say you get extra gate points to the Hereafter if you pick up your rubbish and put it in a bin."

    No need to imagine..well almost, in the Sunnah, the teachings of our beloved Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him, we are taught that moving a harm out of the way is a way to earn rewards if done for the sake of Allah. in the Quran we are taught that Allah loves those who are clean and purify themselves, we are taught that cleanliness in general is a significant part of belief. as a muslim, living in the kingdom- in madinah..i too am sad to see the things you've stated. however, i am grateful to have enough knowledge on what is islamic vs what is culture. i suggest ppl/expats really know the differenc. they will quickly understand that Islam is not Saudi and Saudi is not Islam..and perhaps see the beauty of Islam for what it truly is, and reject the garbage as cultural norms that are backwards when compared to the sources of Islam.
    peace to you.


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