The municipal management of household garbage or solid waste is one of the simplest, most common signs of a working relationship between the state and its citizens. Lebanon’s recent problem—of municipalities leaving garbage to pile up uncollected—has caused public outcry and public demonstrations. It is an example of a failed social contract between the state and its citizens.
It is, as one local youth put it, not just about services: “The root cause of the waste crisis in Lebanon is not technical but political. There is no political will to solve the problem—from one side mainly because of the failure of state institutions and a deadlock in decision making within the cabinet; and from the other, because multiple political actors with vested interests have been blocking any solution”.
This piece examines three countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region—Morocco, Palestine, and Saudi Arabia—each of which have had a unique journey, both in the way they have learned to manage solid waste and in how this has translated into an important part of the relationship that has evolved between their citizens, local authorities, and national governments.
In Morocco, the reform of the solid waste sector has taken place over the past decade, with its emphasis on public partnership with the private sector and on improving the environment and lives of vulnerable groups of people who make money from picking through household garbage. Before the reform program began, solid waste sites in Morocco were poorly managed. Rivers laced with toxic effluent commonly flowed through towns and into the Atlantic. “Waste-pickers”—the men and women, adults and children trying to make a living from what other people were throwing out—often competed to collect valuable scraps of rubbish from unregulated dump sites without any protection.
As part of the Programme National des Déchets Ménagers, Morocco’s government has been partnering with the World Bank throughout four solid waste, Department Policy Loans (DPLs) for more than a decade. This program aims to increase the ratio of material collected and recycled from 5% of Morocco’s household garbage in 2016, to 20% by 2022, while improving the working conditions of waste-pickers.
A significant part of this was bringing in the private sector to manage important components of the waste collection system. The private operator that runs the Oum Azza site says it is the largest modern sorting and landfilling facility in the Maghreb area, taking in about 850,000 tons of refuse per year. The operator sponsored the creation of a cooperative, and built a sorting facility so that impoverished garbage-pickers could continue to earn money, but in safer, more organized conditions.
About 150 people belong to the cooperative, 22 of them women. Waste pickers who used to forage day and night for scraps, were relocated to the sorting and landfilling facility. Teams extract trash for resale, and green waste for compost, earning a fair wage, health insurance, and even gaining access to small mortgages. By hiring recyclers, operators extend the life of the landfill.
Morocco is focused on maximizing other environmental and financial benefits of responsible waste management, too. At the Oum Azza landfill, biogas from organic waste is captured and, with the support of the World Bank Inclusive Green Growth DPL, will soon be sold to fuel electricity for the national grid. Oum Azza will be the first landfill in Morocco to also sell an expected 50 million tons of CO2 emission reductions.