Gaza Ranks High on World’s Garbage Map

UN study finds 3 billion people lack access to controlled waste disposal facilities.

Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat
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A Palestinian woman walking past a heap of rubble and garbage in the Gaza Strip, September 15, 2015.
A Palestinian woman walking past a heap of rubble and garbage in the Gaza Strip, September 15, 2015.Credit: AFP
Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat

Three of the world’s 50 biggest active garbage dumps are in the Gaza Strip, an indication of the poor conditions in the territory. There is one site near Dir al-Balah, in the central Gaza Strip, and a second near Rafah, in the southern Strip near the Egyptian border. The biggest is near Gaza City, in the northern Strip, and 50 people support themselves by collecting and selling materials from it. Two other large sites are in Jordan, while the largest dump in the world is in Pakistan. It extends over 50 acres and around 5,000 people support themselves by collecting and selling waste materials.

That, according to a report issued last week by the UN Environment Programme, based on a study by the International Solid Waste Association. The authors of the study — the 2015 Global Waste Management Outlook — estimate that at least three billion people, nearly half the global population, lack access to controlled waste disposal facilities. As a result, the waste they produce is not recycled formally or used in energy recovery, and at the same time it creates widespread health and environmental hazards.

Every year, an estimated 7 billion metric tons to 10 billion metric tons of “urban” solid waste from households, commerce, industry and construction is created. That amount is expected to double within 15 to 20 years in lower-income cities in Africa and Asia, where the lack of waste management is most critical, according to the study. Economic disparities between countries is reflected in the amount of urban solid waste they generate. In the African country of Burundi, for example, one of the poorest in the world, urban solid waste production is 200 kilograms per person, compared to 900 kilograms in Canada.

The dumping of waste at sites that are not properly equipped to handle it causes air pollution and foul odors in addition to serious ground and groundwater pollution. Such sites are also a major source of the emission of methane, a greenhouse gas.

At substandard sites, the liquid waste that seeps from the garbage is not collected and gaseous emissions are not used to produce energy. At many sites refuse is burned, exacerbating air pollution levels. The practice is also common near Arab communities in the Galilee and in the West Bank.

Construction of proper waste disposal facilities is required to improve the situation, but the UN report says proper waste disposal without the recycling of resources is not enough. Recycling and the production of energy from refuse should not only be employed in wealthy countries, the agency asserts, adding that expansion of the practice in the developing world would not only reduce the amount of refuse at waste dumps but also provide a source of employment.

China is actually the leading importer of materials for use in recycling. It imports 70 percent of the world’s paper destined for recycling and 56 percent of the plastic. And in the developed world, the report notes that the Belgian region of Flanders recycles or reuses 70 percent of its total waste.

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