Photo: Guenter Hamich /

Waste Management in Northern Africa: Between Children’s Shoes and Seven League Boots

The Horizon 2020 Initiative aims to reduce pollution in the Mediterranean. The latest “Horizon 2020 Mediterranean report” has now been released by the European Environment Agency and the United Nations Environment Programme. The report covers Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Palestine and Tunisia, which work with the European Union within the European Neighbourhood Policy. Amongst others, the report offers a comparative overview of the municipal waste management situation in that region. (Photo: Guenter Hamich  /

Municipal solid waste in ENP-South countries currently contains twice as much organic waste and two times less cardboard waste than European dustbins. The discrepancy is changing, however, with some categories such as plastics showing an increase in Mediterranean countries. In most countries in the European Neighbourhood Policy-South region, the proportion of biodegradable waste is on a clear downward trend, while the share of plastics and other synthetic materials in on the increase.

Some hazardous waste such as batteries, and electric and electronic equipment can be included in the composition of municipal solid waste; it is dumped without any sorting and/or treatment. Organic waste is still the biggest share of municipal solid waste, ranging from 40 per cent in Israel to 68 per cent in Morocco, as compared with 20 to 25 per cent in developed countries.

Waste collection rates varying locally

In ENP-South countries, most of the solid waste management budget is still allocated to waste collection. Indicator data show that the amount of municipal solid waste collected in the ENP-South region is about 40 million tonnes per year. The municipal solid waste collection rate is around 76 per cent, varying between 50 and 100 per cent and reaching near-complete collection in Lebanon and Israel, as is the case for the European countries. The extent of municipal solid waste collection varies across countries and also within each country. The coverage of municipal solid waste collection and the collection rates are in general higher in urban areas than in rural zones. For example, the collection rate in Cairo varies from 72 to 85 per cent, as compared to the national average of 60 per cent.

Municipal solid waste collection coverage is a significant issue in most ENP-South countries, none of which succeeded in reaching full waste collection coverage, especially in rural areas. The uncollected waste is directly thrown away in the street or the fields. Better coverage would prevent wild tipping or landfilling in unmanaged dumpsites, burying, burning of waste, generation of (marine) litter, and the related impacts on health and environment. An important characteristic of the collection is the degree of separation at source, which has an impact on the amount of waste recycled and on the quality of the recycled material.

Treatment rates between 100 and 19 per cent

After collection, municipal solid waste is generally transported to a location where collection vehicles are emptied. This location may be a material processing facility, a transfer station, a sanitary landfill or an open dumpsite. The municipal solid waste treatment rate allows for measuring the efficiency of the municipal solid waste management system.

The total amount of municipal solid waste treated in ENP-South countries is not well known, with the exception of Israel, Jordan and Palestine. No data are available for Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. In 2012, the treatment rate reached 100 per cent of the collected municipal solid waste in Israel. In Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, and Lebanon, this rate is 19, 31, 50, and 70 per cent, respectively. More than half of the collected waste is disposed of in open dumps, the main method of waste ‘treatment’ in most ENP-South countries. This fraction amounts to 83.5 per cent of MSW in Egypt, 76 per cent in Palestine, 67 per cent in Algeria and 62 per cent in Morocco. This value is low in Tunisia (13 %) and there is no open dump in Israel (0 %).

The next most commonly used treatment method is (sanitary) landfilling; it accounts for 31 per cent of the collected waste: 87 per cent in Israel, 70 per cent in Tunisia, and about 50 per cent in Lebanon and Jordan. This ratio is very low in Egypt (5 %), where the percentage of municipal solid waste disposal in open dumps is the highest among ENP-South countries. In Greater Cairo, only 35 per cent of the population is served by a sanitary landfill.

Although it remains the first treatment means, landfilling has been steadily decreasing since 1995. Both recycling and composting are generally low (< 13 to 14 %) in all countries. In 2011, 40 per cent of treated municipal solid waste of EU-27 countries was recycled or composted, up from 27 per cent in 2001. However, an increase in the proportion of recyclable materials is expected in the ENP-South region as a result of economic development; the monetisation of waste products recovered through recycling will present an important economic opportunity.

Composting is highest in Egypt and Lebanon, reaching nine and eleven per cent of the MSW treated, respectively. Around 2.5 per cent of MSW is recycled in Egypt: 433,200 tonnes are recycled by the formal sector and 979,400 tonnes are recycled by the informal sector (the Zabbaleen, CWG and GIZ, 2011).

Most sorting by the informal sector

Based on the data available for Egypt, there are currently 34 plants involved in recycling and composting, no operational incineration systems and four landfills for the 29.69 million tonnes of waste collected in 2009. Many towns rely on unregulated open dumps. These dumps have existed for decades for the disposal of all types of waste, but their capacity is such that they cannot keep up with current production. These landfills are rarely regulated and controlled, and have no geomembranes to protect the soil.

Some communities may have transfer centres, from which transport vehicles carry the collected waste to landfills, indiscriminately taking in household waste, hospital waste and some industrial waste. Despite the existence of some private sorting and collection systems for specific types of waste, very little waste is treated – and this is mainly the most easily recoverable waste types. These systems consist of small-scale private operators working on markets ensuring minimum returns, but volumes are limited. In most countries, sorting tends to be carried out by the informal sector.

Source: © European Environment Agency, 2014 (National Sources, 2013)

Source: © European Environment Agency, 2014 (National Sources, 2013)

Strategies and master plans

The development and implementation of national strategies were carried out in most countries. Strategies and master plans were developed in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt and Palestine, and a draft solid waste management strategy/policy was prepared in Lebanon and Jordan. Solid waste management was enacted in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, and a draft solid waste management law was prepared in Lebanon and Palestine.

In Egypt, solid waste management law is under preparation to replace the Public Cleaning Law of 1999. In 2006, Israel set out a Sustainable Solid Waste Management Master Plan up to the year 2020, and in 2012, regional master plans were adopted for organic waste.

117 projects on solid waste

In the Mediterranean region, solid waste management is tackled by 20 per cent of the 912 identified projects for protecting the Mediterranean Sea from pollution. These 182 solid waste projects relate to agglomerations of more than 200,000 inhabitants served. Solid waste management is referred to an Integrated Projects (117), and 82 per cent of solid waste projects are NAPs projects. Some 31 per cent of the projects are operational and around 29 per cent are in execution or under preparation. In addition, 38 per cent of the projects have secured funding. In ENP-South countries, 93 projects focused on solid waste, 22 per cent of the 421 projects identified.

Responsible institutions

The responsibilities of solid waste management policies and planning at national level are generally shared between the ministries and specific institutions:

  • Dedicated solid waste management agencies exist in Algeria and Tunisia;
  • National committees exist in Morocco, Egypt, and Lebanon;
  • The Ministry of Local Administration/Government is responsible in Palestine;
  • The Ministry of the Environment is responsible in Jordan,
  • and the regional and local offices of the Ministry of Environmental Protection are responsible for implementing waste management policy in Israel.

In most countries, local authorities are responsible for contracting and overseeing the collection and disposal of municipal solid waste.

Private sector involvement

The private sector is involved in both municipal solid waste collection and disposal in Morocco, Lebanon and in the main cities of Egypt. In Tunisia, the private sector is involved in the disposal of municipal solid waste and landfill gas (LFG) recovery systems. In Jordan, the private sector has initiated involvement in the LFG system established on the landfill in Amman.

Many lacks

Despite all these legislative and institutional efforts, in most ENP-South countries, municipal solid waste management is still challenged by a number of issues. The following statements are issued from the conclusions of the ENPI-SEIS national workshops and from other reports such as the Sweep-net reports and the report for Reco Baltic 21 Tech:

  • Environmental and municipal solid waste legislation management is still weak;
  • There are no waste reduction policies;
  • Separate collection is practically non-existent;
  • There is a lack of know­ledge of modern municipal solid waste management facilities;
  • There are many informal activities in municipal solid waste management;
  • There are strong regional disparities between urban and rural areas;
  • There is lack of data, mainly on waste generation and composition.

The full report is available under following link