Over the past decades, the Mediterranean environment has degraded, and the threats of human activities have increased causing major environmental problems, with a particular impact on the coastal and marine areas.
Urban settlements have significantly increased in numbers and size leading to serious economic, social and environmental challenges. Urbanization in the Mediterranean region will continue at a fast pace, while rural populations will decrease considerably, especially in the countries of the eastern and southern Mediterranean (Blue Plan’s estimates).
This fast increase of population and the related increase in solid waste generation make the topic of waste management crucial as it might lead to intensified toxic emissions with the related effects on health if not properly managed.
The problems of urban solid waste are due to several factors prevailing in the Mediterranean region, such as:
– Absence of waste collection and disposal schemes
– Absence recycling facilities
– Improperly managed dumping sites
– Rejection of projects for modern sanitary landfills or waste treatment facilities by local communities due to lack of information from the citizens or lack of confidence in the relevant authorities
– Lack of awareness
Waste in the Mediterranean region poses a threat not only to the inhabitants of the region but also to the adjacent marine coastal environment. The Mediterranean sea is the largest enclosed sea in the world with 46,000 km of coastline*.
As the quantities of waste increase and its composition is altered, new methods of managing it become even more necessary. One of the major concerns is that waste is thrown away in an unrestrained manner and only 5% goes through a recycling process. Compounding this problem is the lack of sanitation measures in the dumping process and the proximity to town limits and waterfronts. These conditions increase the risk of disease, litter and pollution. Also, burning waste, a common disposal method in the region, emits smoke particles, dioxins and PAHs. These cause health issues for the locals and the surrounding towns. This necessitates the usage of more sustainable waste disposal management methods.
If no measures are taken, the following adverse effects could arise:
- Worsening of public health
- Environmental deterioration (including: marine life, coastline, water, etc.)
- Emerging climate change
- Increase in pollution (including: sight, odor, etc.)
- Loss of economic opportunity (including: decrease in tourism)
Although waste production in Mediterranean countries is substantially lower than in the EU, the general trend of increased waste generation is obvious in the Mediterranean. For instance, the Maghreb countries produce 250 kg/per capita/per annum of waste compared to the 500 kg/per capita/per annum of the EU. However, per capita waste generation in the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean had risen by 15% from 1990 to 2000. In the MENA region it is predicted that by 2025 waste production will have increased to 135 million tons per annum from the present 63 million tons per annum. The current waste disposal methods put emphasis on barely regulated landfills, burning waste and about 5% recycling in the majority of countries.
This increase in production can be linked to the following trends:
- The development and growth of the countries in the Mediterranean region
- The increase in international trade
- The rise in consumption causing a shift from biodegradable waste to higher proportion of plastics and other synthetics
- The increase in household income
- The increase in high waste staple goods
As the table below shows, waste is a major problem for most of the Mediterranean countries. This is why waste management has been recognized as a priority under the Barcelona Convention and within the Union of the Mediterranean. For this reason, waste management should be at the forefront of the environmental agendas of all countries in the region.
* Environmental and Sustainable Development in the Mediterranean, IEMed, 2010
* Priority issues in the Mediterranean environment, EEA Report 2006
* Michel Gunther, WWF Report