About UNEPUNEP OfficesUNEP NewsUNEP PublicationsUNEP CalendarUNEP AwardsUNEP Milestones

Survey on Solid Waste Management in the Southern Governorates of Iraq


Under the framework of Phase II-A of UNEP Project on “Support for the Environmental management of the Iraqi Marshlands,” UNEP implemented a survey on Solid Waste Management in the Southern Governorates of Iraq. The survey was conducted to investigate the current solid waste management practices and solid waste characteristics. UNEP, with the Ministry of Municipalities and Public Works (MMPW), developed the terms of reference for this work. The fieldwork was carried-out by Thi-Qar University under the overall supervision of UNEP-DTIE-IETC, in consultation with MMPW, through a Memorandum of Understanding concluded with UNEP in April 2007.

The survey covered nine cities and towns identified by MMPW, representing large, medium and small cities and towns in Thi-Qar, Basrah and Missan governorates. These nine cities and towns were: Al-Nassiriyah, Suq Al-Shuyuk, and Al-Nasr in the Thi-Qar governorate; Basrah Central, Al-Zubayr, and Al-Deyr in the Basrah governorate; and Ammara Central, Qal’at Al-Salih and Al- Maymuna in the Missan governorate. The fieldwork was conducted during June to September 2007.

The survey consisted of two main components, namely 1) information collection on solid waste management practices and 2) solid waste characterization surveys. The survey on current solid waste management practices was conducted using a questionnaire to collect information through interviews with local officials and observation through site visits. Current practices of collection, transport and disposal of wastes from households, commercial activities, small and medium-scale industries and large industries were analyzed and documented. Other data collected and summarized include qualitative information on waste from construction and demolition activity, sanitation facilities, hazardous household waste, electrical appliances, and war-related debris.

Solid waste characterization surveys addressed household, industrial, commercial and clinical waste generation.

Waste generation from households was investigated by collection and measurement of samples. Each city or town was sub-divided into high-income, middle-income, and low-income sub-areas in order to analyze waste generation and composition differences according to income levels. In total, 997 samples were collected for a period of seven consecutive days to determine the household waste generation rate per person, waste density, and waste composition. The waste generation rates from commercial entities and small and medium-scale industries were estimated through collection of data of the number of entities for each type of activities, and data from selected entities visited during this survey. Similar data were also collected for clinical waste.

The project generated estimates of waste generation from household, commercial activities, small and medium-scale industries, clinical wastes and from large industries, and compared with estimates available from open dumpsites on the quantity of waste disposed. A database of waste sources, generation rates and disposal has been established.

Key findings

Solid waste management practices in the surveyed areas were found to be very poor. The unsatisfactory practices were found in the collection, transport, and disposal of all types of wastes surveyed, i.e., household, industrial, commercial and clinical.

1) Solid Waste Management Practices

Collection and transport:

  • In large urban areas and towns in Thi-Qar and Missan governorates, municipalities are responsible for collection, storage, transport and final disposal of solid waste. In Basrah governorate, solid wastes have traditionally been collected by local authorities. Recently, the local authorities have entrusted some of the collection functions to private contractors. Limited facilities were found to be available for solid waste collection and transport and were available mostly to major centres. Outskirt areas did not have such services and tended to dump their waste at the nearest available land.
  • Most of the industrial wastes generated in cities came from small or medium-scale industrial operations, and these were usually disposed of along with the municipal waste.
  • Larger industries were found to be located outside the city centre, and the disposal of solid wastes was primarily the responsibility of the industries themselves. Most solid wastes generated by industry contained a significant amount of valuable materials like steel, aluminum, copper and other metal, some of which were recovered and reused by the industry or sold to others as scrap. The rest were disposed at the municipal dump.
  • The survey found no specific control means for the collection, transportation, treatment, or disposal of industrial waste. Moreover, there was a lack of a legal structure controlling the handling of dangerous/ hazardous wastes of industrial origin.
  • Commercial wastes included wastes generated in groceries, restaurants, markets, offices, hotels, motels, printing shops and pharmacies. Commercial wastes, along with institutional wastes, were found to be collected together with household wastes. The survey also found recycling taking place by manual sorting of materials such as paper, plastic, glass, metals, cloth and bones. Recovered materials were baled and transported to factories as raw materials.
  • Hospitals were generally equipped with incinerators for the management of contaminated clinical wastes. Some of the incinerators, especially in large hospitals in Basrah, were often non-functional because of the non-availability of spare parts, lack of maintenance, and absence of skilled technicians. Clinical wastes from hospitals without incinerator access were found to be mixed with municipal solid wastes, and eventually disposed in open dumps.


  • The majority of wastes collected by municipalities or by private contractors was disposed of in open dumps and often burned. Large heaps to small mountains of refuse on the outskirts of the major cities were observed. In some of them, the refuse was periodically leveled and compacted. In others, the refuse was piled as high as equipment would permit, and some were ignited and allowed to burn to reduce volume.

2) Solid Characterization Survey

Household waste generation rates:

  • The average per capita household waste generation rate was 0.55 kg/(capita.day) for high-income households, 0.51 kg/(capita.day) for middle-income households, and 0.46 kg/(capita.day) for low-income households respectively. The maximum waste generation rate was 0.83 kg/(capita.day) in the high-income households in Ammara Central in the Missan governorate, and the minimum was 0.33 kg/(capita.day) in the high-income households in Al-Deyr in the Basrah Governorate. The waste generation rates were higher with higher income level in all three towns surveyed in Missan Governorate, and two towns (Al-Nassiriya and Al-Nasr) in Thi-Qar governorate. The income-waste generation volume relationship was not observed in the three towns surveyed in Basrah governorate and in Suq Al-Shuyuk in Thi-Qar governorate.
  • Compared to other survey results within Iraq, the per capita household waste generation rate results obtained in this survey were comparable to a recent survey figure of 0.42 kg/(capita.day) in Al-Najaf (2004), higher than 0.32 kg/(capita.day) in Al-Falluja (2005) and lower than that reported for Baghdad at 0.70 kg/(capita.day) in 1978. At the regional level, the survey results were also comparable to the generation rate reported for Amman, Jordan at 0.63 kg/(capita.day) in 1993. Caution must be exercised in this comparison, as it is not clear whether the reported per capita generation rates were only for the household waste as in this survey, or whether they were based on the gross estimate of all municipal waste including commercial, institutional and small/medium-scale industrial waste generated.

Household waste density:

  • The household waste density for high-income, middle-income and low-income households obtained by averaging the results of all surveyed area were 286, 255 and 274 kg/m3 respectively. The maximum density was 331 kg/m3 at high-income households in Suq Al-Shuyuk and the minimum was 223 kg/m3 at low-income households in Ammara Central. The density of waste from high-income and low-income households was generally higher than that of middle-income households except in Ammara Central and in Al-Maymuna.

Household waste composition:

  • The organics were the main component of household waste in the order of 46-71%. Plastics were at 5-8%, and metal, glass, paper and textile were in the range of 3-5% each. Rubber was approximately 1% and miscellaneous combustibles were less than 2%. Miscellaneous incombustibles were exceptionally high at above 10%, especially in Al-Zubayr, Al-Deyr, Ammara Central, Qal’at Al-Salih and at Al-Maymuna for all income levels. The source and origin of the miscellaneous incombustible component needs to be investigated in the future.

Industrial waste generation:

  • During the period of this survey, large industries in Al-Nassiriya and in Ammara Central were either running below their capacity or were not functioning. The survey collected data on the number of small and medium scale industries by type of industrial activity in all surveyed areas. There were a total of 3,750 such industries classified into 24 categories, which were generally located in specific industrial sites. The exception was in Qal’at Al-Salih and at Al-Maymuna, where industries were scattered in the main market area of the town. Most of these industries were related to automobile repair. Large-scale petrochemical complexes in Basrah were not covered in this survey.

Commercial waste generation:

  • The survey documented data on the number of commercial entities classified by their activity in all surveyed areas. There were a total of 12,250 such entities classified into 34 categories, which were generally located in the main market area of the town. The survey found large number of entities categorized as grocery, slaughterhouse, general restaurants, and barbecue restaurants, which were also found to have high rates of unit waste generation. The number of mills was found to be small, yet they had the highest unit waste generation rate.

Clinical waste generation:

  • The number of hospitals and public health centres and their waste generation were documented. The survey found a small number of hospitals and public health centres. While the small sampling size makes the characterization analysis difficult, there was a general correlation between the establishment size (i.e., number of beds) and the volume of clinical and non-clinical waste generated.

Waste generation and disposal estimates:

  • The estimates of total waste transported to dump sites were higher than the total estimated waste generation from household, commercial and industrial sources. The difference in the estimates may have been caused by some factors. First, the disposal estimates contained wastes that were not categorized in this survey, such as bulk waste from construction and demolition activity, discarded electrical equipment, garden clearing etc. transported directly to dump sites, waste from large institutions that were not covered in this survey. In addition, the waste generation estimation methods and their reliability differed among the waste categories. The estimation of disposal volume was also based on operator knowledge, as written data were limited. Furthermore, the waste generation estimates were based on the results of the survey during dry season only. Considering the fact that there was recovery of valuables, open dumping at vacant lands, burning at intermediate locations etc., it is necessary to investigate further to account for and to refine the estimates of waste generation and disposal obtained.

Recommendations for future work

The extensive data collection and analysis carried-out during this survey is expected to form a basis for improving the solid waste management database. Recommendations to improve the solid waste management practice as well as the database include conducting similar surveys during the winter season to analyze seasonal fluctuations, targeting high volume sources to refine the waste generation estimates, and refining the estimates of waste generation and disposal. These recommendations are also expected to inform/complement the on-going study on the “National Solid Waste Master Plan funded by the USAID.