Junked Food

The Bahraini newspapers’ headlines were dramatic. “Too Fat to Fly!” screamed one, repeating a municipal official’s claims that Bahrain’s seagulls had become obese feasting on food waste. The publicity campaign, which attracted global attention in February 2021, was part of the municipal council’s efforts to crack down on food waste, which councilors say is contributing to rodent infestations and an “uncivilized image within the neighborhoods.”

By all accounts, Bahrain wastes a lot of food. The 2021 UN Environment Program Food Waste Index put per capita food waste the highest in the Middle East and among the highest in the world: an estimated 132 kg per person per year. Bahrain imports about 90 percent of its food, and the wasted food costs the country nearly $250 million per year.

Between 1997 and 2018, Bahrain’s solid waste generation rate increased by 9 percent every year, about double the population growth rate. Most waste is sent off to Askar Landfill, the country’s only general waste landfill. According to Bahraini officials, the landfill receives at least 500 truckloads of waste every day, half of which is estimated to be food waste.

Amid a growing global commitment to sustainability, Bahrain is trying to revise its approach to waste. Initiatives to alter consumer behavior make up one front of a broader government campaign. The government is also attempting to organize its solid waste management sector and invest in alternative disposal strategies. More ambitious plans for the construction of a $480 million waste-to-energy plant at Askar Landfill are currently on hold. Bahrain is seeking to ensure an opportunity for change does not go to waste.

This article is part of the CSIS Middle East Program series Mezze: Assorted Stories from the Middle East