New lenses for blind solid waste areas

February 4, 2020

Rubbish piled on the streets of Tripoli

©UNDP Libya

As the armed clashes between the two governmental factions keep on going in Libya, transforming Tripoli's neighborhoods in battlefields, disrupting public services and forcing people to leave their houses placed in the frontline areas, for some other residents' lives go on, and the need of developing resilience becomes essential.

Within the private and public sector in Tripoli, people are defying the conflict and trying to continue with their daily routines.

One of the most affected services in the current context is solid waste management (SWM). Tripoli's municipalities rely on designated landfills through public sector companies (PCCs), to get rid of the trash.

Tripoli’s designated landfill, Sidi Sayeh, happens to be in the conflict area and is currently inaccessible, which has triggered to streets loaded with bags of mixed waste.  Occasionally, the waste is collected by trucks, only to be dumped in temporary locations. This approach has created discomfort among residents and caused environmental challenges.

Trucks unload waste on the Mediterranean Sea, east Tripoli

©UNDP Libya

In an attempt to improve the capacity of municipalities in dealing with SWM, the Ministry of Local Government of the Government of Libya has developed a strategy to improve and systemize the waste disposal service in the country. The national authorities will test nine pilot projects in nine different municipalities during a year. This strategy will be structured on the effectiveness of waste collection and disposal of the waste.

The UNDP Libya Accelerator Lab has joined the Ministry of Local Government efforts by creating a strategy on the areas not included on the pilot project, exploring ways to reduce waste and encouraging people to segregate waste.  The lab has conducted several exercises, including a solution safari around the city and organized meetings with activists who promote a free-waste environment with the aim of finding innovative ideas from local thinkers to accelerate the cleaning process around the country.

UNDP Accelerator Lab in Libya also conducted an ecosystem mapping exercise to identify innovators and activists who can make the changes happen, not just in the area of SWM, but also in others.


Innovation Ecosystem map created by the UNDP Libya Accelerator Lab. Photo: ©UNDP Libya

Through these initiatives, the Lab has discovered that one of the major culprits of the environmental issues in Libya is the overuse of plastic bags obtained for free from the shops and used only once.

According to the World Bank, in 2016, the world generated 242 million tonnes of plastic waste —12 percent of all municipal solid waste. In Libya, the Public Service Company (Government-owned) revealed that Tripoli city produces 999,356.13 tonnes of solid waste annually. A study conducted by the Head of Technical Centre for Environmental Protection, Dr. Bashir Faris (2002), recorded that 13.17% was made up of plastic. This means that only Tripoli city produced 131,615.20 tonnes of plastic. The study is old, but it was the latest evidence found; however, the daily use of plastics packages in Libya made evident that the presence of plastic waste has increased in Libya. People rely heavily on plastic water bottles and bags, mainly because the shopping bags are distributed for free in all types of shops.

Accelerator Lab in Libya info graphic on waste solid management. Photo: ©UNDP Libya

The negative impact on the environment and human health is notably seen in the streets, farms and beaches across the country. The plastic waste has caused floods in numerous streets in Tripoli by clogging drains. Respiratory diseases are worsened due to the burning of waste by people intending to reduce overflowing garbage.

The Lab has discussed with many individuals, government and non-governmental organizations to better understand the trends and issues regarding SWM in the country. It has also conducted a workshop to promote collective intelligence efforts and develop ideas for experiments.

Community members participate in an exercise organized by UNDP Accelerator Lab in Libya to map solid waste management challenges in Tripoli. Photo: ©UNDP Libya

The most recurrent challenges identified during these sessions were the lack of awareness and advocacy communication from mass media on waste reduction and segregation.  There is also a failure to enforce laws and penalties on over wasting.  Additionally, there is a weak return of revenue on recycling activities alongside a lack of recycling resources and facilities.

Lastly, multiple activities and NGOs highlighted the lack of interest by the international community in supporting Libyan organisations and small enterprises in tackling environmental issues.

The consulted group discussed the issues and came up with experimentation ideas that they believe will help to improve solid waste management in Libya, such as placing recycling bins in public areas and institutions; activating and enforcing an existing law to prevent the use of plastic bags in bakeries; campaigning against single-use plastic bags while providing alternatives in the shops; raising awareness through traditional and social media; and targeting elite and large market places to reduce waste using reusable products.

Thanks to the innovative tools, such as sensemaking and collective intelligence that the Lab adopted, Libya accelerator Lab managed to explore issues and solution in SWM in Libya. In the following weeks, the lab’s activities will consist of trying to test the results from these tools to nudge people to reduce single-use plastic bags in supermarkets, remove plastic water bottles in workplaces and segregate waste from the source in houses and schools.