Slowly Cracking the Chains – Iran‘s Waste Management is Going to Awake

The trade embargo, worldwide imposed by the UN, USA and EU on Iran, has seriously retarded their national economy. In the forefront of the trade facilitation the country began to reconsider its waste management strategies. The newly obtained freedom of trade gives reason to suppose even more progress.

The current population of the Islamic Republic of Iran is 79,671,411 as of Sunday, February 7, 2016, based on the latest United Nations estimates. Figures on the amount of waste in Iran are not as current. According to the freshest information from the Tehran Waste Management Organization, the annual waste production rates in Iran are said to be 7,200,000 tons, of which 70 to 75 percent are organic material convertible to compost, 20 to 25 percent recyclable dry materials and five to ten percent other wastes. A look at the composition of Iranian municipal waste offers that most of it is organic waste. Statistics of Karaj Municipal, at the end of 2008, stated that 70 percent of gathered waste were corruptible materials, sludge, and gathered sediments of the city. In Mahabad Town, 75 percent of household waste consists of food waste and putrescible material. And in Tehran, 68 percent of total household waste analyzed 2013 was organic.

The organization of waste collection is not that uniform. In Tehran, Iran’s capitol and biggest city, 57 percent of the recycled materials were collected from door-to-door services, 34 percent of households served by curbside sorting collection schemes and nine percent by buyback centers. In Mahabad Town, about 37 percent of the households separate their recyclable waste from discarded waste before delivering it to the waste collection crew and selling it to the itinerant and informal sectors. And in Mazandaran Province at the West Coast, the collection in all cities is done by the municipalities except Noshahr in which 20 percent of the waste is gathered by the private sector and 80 percent of the remaining by the municipalities.

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Running out of space

Excluding PET treatment, most of (municipal) waste was and is brought to landfills. For example the province of Mazandaran contains ten landfills which are used to dispose and eliminate about 21,600 tons of waste per year from twelve municipal districts. The before mentioned Isfahan composting and recycling plant was designed to treat 844 tons of MSW per day by aerobic decomposition of organic waste and also by recycling of polymer materials like PET into re-usable polymer materials. But about 500 tons are rejected every day from the composting lines and remain untreated. Not to forget the Kahrizak landfill near Tehran, more than 45 years old. In 2008 it was amplified by the Arad-Kouh recycling site, considered to be the greatest one in the Middle East and equipped with processing lines, a fermentation site and a sanitary landfill cell, capable of “dumping 600 tons of waste“. 2013, the Aradkooh Processing Center announced 55,800 tons of compost produced from processing, aeration and fermentation in nine months. Nevertheless, in spite of “recycling machines“ hospital waste, food waste, e-waste and even construction debris is reported to be disposed of. In fact some of the sorted “dry” waste goes directly to garbage incinerators; some others like glass fragments are sent to be melted into new glass products. But from 5,600 tons of solid waste that enter the Kahrizak (Aradkouh) landfill every day, 700 to 800 tons (twelve to 15 percent ) are converted into compost. The remainder cannot be recycled and turned into compost, if mixed with garbage longer than for 48 hours, Javad Nasiri, an official of the Renewable Energy Organization of Iran, is cited. So the material is stored and not used for farming. On top of that, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency, 50.000 tons of Tehran construction waste – six times more than the household waste – are to be treated daily. The 18 sites near south Tehran have merely capacity to handle 20 percent of the waste; the rest has to be transported to landfills with the majority ending up in Abali, the second landfill site of Tehran: A newspaper described Abali in January 2016 “to be running out of space“.

Industrial waste: 62 percent to landfill

Following a case study on industrial plants located between Tehran and Karaj dated May 2015, the machinery and equipment industry generates 23 percent of all industrial waste; the food sector and the metallic minerals industry succeeds with approximately 20 percent. The major hazardous waste-generating industries include chemical and plastic, electronics and metallic minerals. 45 percent transport and disposal of industrial waste is delivered by the private sector, 31 percent by industrial owners and 24 percent by municipalities. The most common way for industrial waste storing until final disposal is warehouse (33 percent) and keeping waste in open space (23 percent).

The primary option for disposal of the waste lies on landfilling: About 62 percent of industrial solid waste is buried, ten percent burned, and eleven percent disposed in an unknown  manner. Compared to landfilling the rate of recycling and reuse is low: 17 percent, resulting of the lack of a recycling system. Another source, relating to the industrial estate of Rasht, illustrates that 21.2 percent of the industrial units state to recycle together with other management activities such as source reduction, incineration and sanitary land fill;  4.45 percent of the units specify to recycle their solid wastes, and 1.51 percent incinerate their solid wastes – without precise controlling of air pollution. And a study, published end of 2015, even reports that in coastal cities like the province of Mazandaran the waste of ports, industrial zones and industries contain dangerous substances. It is said that they are not separated from other wastes and discharged into municipal landfill, resulting in leachate penetrating into the surface waters and contaminating water resources extensively.

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Partly incapable of action: the government

The responsibility for governing waste affairs is organized hierarchically: a national level with ministries and environmental agencies, a regional level with governors or provincial, a local level, consisting of  municipalities and city councils, and a fourth level of the stakeholders, where most of the program implementation and actual instructional action is happening. The national level consists of the Ministry of Health, Treatment and Medical Education focusing on healthcare waste inspectorate, the  Ministry of Interior for supervision and coordination and the Department of Environment for enforcement responsibilities. Additionally, the Ministry of Agriculture Jihad and the Ministry of Mines and Industries contribute to regulations dealing with other hazardous wastes. Allegedly, there is no independent organization responsible for waste management at provincial level. At local respectively city level, the responsibility of solid waste management is fixed by the Waste Management Law. But Iranian municipalities transferred many operations, control and development functions to the Solid Waste Management Organization. And there are sub-contractors who are in charge of collecting waste and disposals.

Following an analysis on the “Status of Waste Governance System in Iran“ in 2013,  Iran has initiated significant progress in the legal and institutional framework during the last few years. A waste law was ratified targeting necessary structures, responsible organizations, committees for inter-agency communication and the role for an increasing private sector in service provision. But the governance still is hierarchic, leaving the MSW management system top-down organized.

Small innovations

In spite of the hampering governance, Iran`s waste management shows several small innovations. A recently published study from the Japanese Hokkaido University, Sapporo, for example identified the following trends in waste production: Although the generation of municipal solid waste in Tehran increased by ten percent during the five-year period, the amount of waste directly disposed of to landfill halved and resource recovery almost doubled. An increase in the capacity of a waste-processing facility contributed significantly to these changes. The estimated result of biodegradable fraction going to landfill in 2012 decreased to 49 percent of its value in 2008. And in Rasht city – due to an increase in population and changes in lifestyle – quantity and quality of MSW have changed. The small town near the Caspian Sea has to deal with problems like lack of resources, infrastructure, suitable planning, leadership and public awareness.

However, the present situation of solid waste management in this city – 400 tons per day – has been improved since the establishment of an organization responsible only for solid waste management: Source separation of wastes and the construction of a composting plant are the two main activities of the Rasht Municipality in recent years.

Several new plants increased the capacity for treating municipal waste. The building of the largest mechanized waste recycling site in southern Iran started in March 2013: Inaugurated on Qeshm Island, Persian Gulf, the Qeshm Investment Development Company has purchased the automatic facilities of the site from the Netherlands to recycle garbage by using the most modern recycling machinery and technology. The new Arad kooh rejects incinerator plant includes a waste pit and input. The rejects are a result of processed domestic waste. It has been collected for some years in Arad kooh Proceeding Centre: The plant possesses an input capacity of 200 tons rejects wastes, generates 3 MWh of electricity, and is said to be the first project applicable in metropolitan of Tehran.

The first solutions

In September 2011, a study stated urgent need for the implementation of legislation dealing specifically with e-waste, demanding the implementation of Extended Producer Responsibility program and allocation of funds to prepare suitable equipment and facilities for the managing and recycling in Iran.

In 2011, PhD Candidate M. Adl from the Islamic Azad University, Tehran, plead for “basic concepts of recycling and its role in the automotive industry, and then recycling strategies methods such as design for recycle, formulating a database and creating a recycling network in this industry is also discussed in Iran as a developing country“. In view of over 320,000 old cars scrapped in Iran in 2014 and forecasted 350,000 in 2015, this issue is more and more waiting for a solution.

In November 2014, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) was waiting to start to support the project of the Municipalities and Rural Management Organization (MRMO), Ministry of Interior, for the development of appropriate solid waste management in municipalities of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Before the commencement, JICA, together with an expert of solid waste management from Japan, conducted a preparatory survey in Tehran and Mashhad, and reached an agreement with MRMO and Mashhad Municipality on the scope of JICA‘s cooperation for the project.

In November 2014 Hamid Reza Maleki, as the representative and a member of the board director of Iran’s Waste Recycling Union, negotiated with Esfahan Steel Company (ESCO), the first and largest manufacturer of constructional steel products in Iran. Talking about the establishment of a steel recycling industry, he stated that since Iran’s main steel industries are operating in Isfahan Province, this very province possesses the biggest market for the metal recycling purpose.

In June 2015, an Austrian trade delegation visiting Iran underlined the country‘s willingness to develop cooperation with Tehran on – among others – recycling and waste water treatment.

In Tehran, the Chairman of the Iranian Chamber of Commerce, Gholam-Hossein Shafeyee, referred to the lack of water resources in Iran and the importance of recycling for the country and said Tehran is interested in using Vienna‘s experiences in these fields as well as the development of Iran‘s steel industry.

In July 2015, Tasnim News Agency cited Abolfazl Roghani Golpayegani, managing director of Mazandaran Wood and Paper Industry Company. He announced plans to launch a paper recycling plant with 120,000 tons in annual capacity. The plant is expected to become operational in 2016 and would be the country’s first large-scale paper recycling unit.

In November 2015, the managing director of Tehran Municipality’s Waste Management Organization Medical announced that waste incinerators will soon go into operation in Tehran with the ultimate goal of generating electricity. As Hossein Ja’fari referred, almost all of the hospitals in Tehran are under a contract to collect and deliver their waste to the organization. He added that the organization had nearly doubled the C&D waste recycling rate and was aiming to increase treatment by 5,000 tons. According to Germany Trade & Invest, the are some small waste-to-energy projects and two biogas plants. Currently the Iranian Environment Agency is under discussion with a French provider of waste-to-energy technology on potential projects in Iran. Administrator Masoumeh Ebtekar has already visited a 75 MW waste-to-energy plant in France. The French enterprise is interested  in investing in Iran.

The Waste Recycling Industries Union

Meanwhile, the Iranian recycling sector has begun to be well organized. The before mentioned Hamid Reza Maleki presented the formation and fields of the Union in 2014 as follows: “Iran’s Waste Recycling Industries Union is operating under the supervision of Iran Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Mines established in 1386 (= 2007) consisting of 15 task groups which are as follows: worn-out cars recycling; oil, gas and petrochemical waste recycling; organic waste recycling (compost, compost vermin); metal waste recycling; polymeric waste recycling (plastic, rubber, pet); cellulosic waste  recycling (paper, carton, card boards); worn-out batteries recycling; electrical and electronic parts recycling; water and sewerage recycling; machinery recycling; recycled materials suppliers; glass recycling; construction waste recycling; hazardous material transport; waste handling and energy (waste extinction and burning).“ The website “Global Companies“ offers a schedule of nearly 50 Iranian companies engaged in several branches of waste recycling.

International relations

A number of international meetings is determined. At the 8 of March 2016, an Iranian delegation has visited the Bavarian Umweltcluster, interested in issues like industrial waste and waste water, land recycling and ecological monitoring. Project Iran 2016, the 2nd International Trade Exhibition for Construction Materials, Equipment and Environmental Technology was held from 24 to 27 April 2016 at the Tehran Permanent Fairground to once again connect international expertise to the Iranian market, and contribute in shaping the tremendous potential of the country’s promising construction sector. Motto: “The embargo has been lifted. A new construction market has opened.“ The business tour “NRW goes to Iran“, organized by the IHK East-Westfalia, will take place from 22 to 26 Mai 2016 in Iran and features visits of facilities, company meetings and expert conversations.

At 11 and 12 April 2016 the 1st edition of  the “Iran PET Market, Applications & Recycling“ took place in Tehran, an international symposium aiming at local and international operators in the industry. As the packaging sector in Iran is expected to grow and accelerate, this meeting meant an opportunity for investments and expansions for the PET industry. Packaging and production cost of PET in the water and beverage sector; competitiveness of Iran’s PET trade and barriers to export; and Pegah’s approach to PET recycling and trends in the dairy sector were subjects of the discussions. The key question was: “How soon will Iran’s PET sector be integrated into the global market?“

And then?

According to market researcher Frost & Sullivan, Iran‘s economy is expected to recover on account of the upturn in private consumption and the successful diversification into the non-oil sector. The lifting of sanctions has „catalyzed a ripple of positive boosters“ to the Iranian economy and economic growth is expected to pick up in 2016/2017 driven – among others – by restored access to foreign assets. This will probably boost the Iranian steel market; its structure has turned under the pressure of economic sanctions from a net importer to an exporter. According to Germany Trade & Invest, Iranian government estimates that realizing the high targets for growth declared in the 6th Five-year-plan (2016/17 to 2021/22) will need investment of 1,000 billion US-Dollar. One third is expected to be covered by foreign direct investment, combined with technology transfer and significant increases in productivity. Iran already shows great interest in a cooperation with German businesses as much as the German mechanical engineers are interested in business relationships to Iran.

Without a doubt the next years will push industrial productivity and – delayed – private consumption, forcing the amount of waste and accordingly necessity, structure and policy of waste recycling. Although, it might take some time.

Photo: Borna Mirahmadian |

GR 22016