This policy brief analyzes the challenges facing Tunisia’s municipal waste management system and proposes potential solutions for reform. It highlights issues such as inadequate infrastructure, insufficient funding, and weak governance. It suggests implementing a comprehensive waste management strategy, improving citizen participation, and strengthening regulatory enforcement to overcome these challenges and create a sustainable waste management system.


Tunisia has experienced a significant increase in municipal waste generation due to rapid urbanization, population growth, and changing consumption patterns. However, inadequate waste management infrastructure and practices have led to serious environmental and health problems, including air and water pollution, land degradation, and the spread of diseases. The current waste management system in Tunisia is unable to cope with the growing waste stream, resulting in a backlog of waste in public areas and causing public health concerns[1].

Reforming Tunisia’s municipal waste management system is crucial for the country’s sustainable development. This policy brief highlights the importance of addressing the challenges and potential solutions to improve the waste management system. Effective waste management strategies will not only protect the environment and public health but also have a positive economic impact by creating jobs and reducing the cost of waste management.

This policy brief comes at a critical time as Tunisia’s volume of waste increases[2] by an average of 3% every day, adding up to more than 2.5 million tons[3] each year[4], most of which ends up in open-air landfills without being recycled or treated. 

Tunisia’s municipal waste crisis: Inefficient management and harmful impacts

It is necessary to ask about the fate of the waste that is collected in the outfalls, which represent only part of the waste produced by Tunisians, as confirmed by Walim El Merdassi, an expert in waste management, as 85% of the waste is collected in the municipal waste dumps, while the rest is piled up in random areas in the streets and urban places. On the other hand, only 4 to 7% is recycled[5] due to the lack of selective waste collection, The scarcity of sorting leads to a low rate of material recovery and recycling, that’s currently based on the efforts of informal waste collectors known as “barbechas”,They go through trash containers and landfills and remove recyclable items without having any official legal status to do so neither a good income or a safe environment,

The inefficient landfilling method is the most commonly used waste management practice in Tunisia for the larger portion of waste. However, this method has proven to be highly ineffective due to the limited capacity of the landfills. Many of the landfills in Tunisia have already reached their maximum capacity[6], resulting in their closure, such as the Borj Chakir landfill located in southern Tunis which was shut down in 2019[7]. 

The spread and accumulation of waste has negative effects on the health of the population living near the outfalls and dumpsites. The State’s inability to solve the waste problem and the spread of random dumping grounds led to a wave of protests in several regions of the country[8] to demand the closure of waste collection centers. In particular, “Manish Msab” and “Sakker el Masab” movements, which represent a sample of social movements that affirm that the problem of waste accumulation is mainly due to the inefficiency of municipal waste management,

These dumpsites and landfills not only take up large areas of land, but they also release methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. Methane is a major contributor to global warming and its emission from landfills exacerbates climate change. Additionally, the lack of appropriate lining and covering of the landfills allows for the seepage of toxic chemicals into the soil and groundwater[9]. This results in the contamination of water resources, which can have serious consequences on the environment and human health. 

Key stakeholders contributing to municipal Waste management deficiencies

Different stakeholders directly influence the question of municipal waste management such as the private sector, municipalities, recycling companies, citizens but most importantly the government.

One key actor that has the power to influence the problem of municipal waste management in Tunisia is the government. As it was stated in decree n°47 of the constitution  “the government guarantees the right to a healthy and balanced environment and to contribute to a safe climate. The State must provide the means to eliminate environmental pollution.” But, the inability of successive governments to find effective and efficient  solutions to  the waste question  is very visible.

Another key actor that plays a significant role in shaping waste management practices in Tunisia is the private sector. Many industrial companies in Tunisia are not taking responsibility for their environmental impact, taking as an example, “The Tunisian Chemical Group” in Gabés[10] . Despite the law stipulating  ecotaxes[11], which are meant to incentivize eco-friendly product and packaging strategies, many companies are choosing to pay those taxes because they are low and  haven’t been updated since the 90’s and that would range from 100 TND to 50.000 TND for regular wastes according to art.46 of law 41-96 dated June 10, 1996[12] , instead of investing in more sustainable practices. This is contributing to a high waste footprint and environmental degradation in the country.

Municipalities in Tunisia are also facing challenges in effectively managing municipal waste. Many municipalities are lacking the organizational capacity and monitoring required to properly collect, transport, and dispose of waste. Additionally, while there are 226 licensed recycling companies in Tunisia[13], only 4% of waste is currently being recycled,

Despite the need to raise awareness amongst tunisian households to engage into the practice of trash sorting and recycling, the reality that there are no adequate practices of proper waste collection that ensures sorting the trash into the appropriate categories in landfills renders the household practice futile and pointless.
The issue needs to be fixed on a municipal level in order for it to be enforced on an individual level. 

The consequences of inadequate municipal waste management in Tunisia:

In Tunisia, the lack of proper municipal waste management has led to far-reaching and severe consequences for its citizens, environment, and economy. Poor waste disposal practices can cause the spread of diseases and the contamination of food and water sources, leading to significant health hazards that impact the wellbeing of humans. Additionally, inappropriate waste disposal contaminates soil and water, pollutes the air, and harms natural ecosystems, leading to long-term ecological damage that threatens the country’s biodiversity[14].

Contamination caused by improper waste management can cause significant harm to the citizens. Improper waste management in Tunisia can lead to the spread of diseases such as cholera, typhoid fever, dysentery, and hepatitis A, caused by ingesting contaminated food or water[15]. Disease-carrying insects and rodents like mosquitoes and rats attracted to piles of waste can spread diseases like dengue fever and leptospirosis[16].

This also can lead to increased healthcare costs for the government, adding to the economic burden. 

Creating waste dumps inside agricultural lands without prior scientific studies, which is considered an environmental crime, as is the case in Sbeitla, Kasserine governorate, where agricultural land was converted from a fertile shared agricultural property that guarantees the food independence of the region to a random dump full of toxic and dangerous household waste, according to the testimony of one of the residents of the area. Thus, the site was transformed into a place where environmental protection rules are violated and represents a threat to biodiversity, cultural identity and historical privacy of Sbeitla[17].

 Improper waste management not only harms the environment, but also leads to the loss of valuable natural resources, which can have serious economic and social consequences. In Tunisia, the contamination of drinkable water due to municipal waste is a significant threat to public health and well-being. The lack of proper waste disposal infrastructure can result in the release of harmful chemicals and toxins into the soil and groundwater, making it difficult or even impossible to use these resources for human consumption or agriculture. This can have far-reaching effects on the economy, as industries such as agriculture and tourism rely heavily on access to clean water[18]. 

Strategies to attain an effective municipal waste management in Tunisia.

To attain effective municipal waste management in Tunisia, it is imperative to consider different  approaches, which involve reducing waste production through the rupture of municipal production itself, as well as managing the waste that has already accumulated in the streets and landfills. Only through the adoption of a comprehensive approach can Tunisia tackle the challenge of waste management sustainably.

The Rupture strategy: Refilling method and boycotting single use items.

The rupture strategy presents an effective solution to the mounting problem of waste production in Tunisia. By switching to refillable containers for liquid products like oil, water, and juice, the country can significantly reduce waste production and promote a circular economy that views waste as a valuable resource. The government can encourage businesses to switch to refillable containers by offering incentives such as tax breaks or subsidies for the initial investment. Additionally, consumers can be encouraged to bring their own reusable containers through public awareness campaigns and education programs. The success of this strategy has been demonstrated in several countries, including Germany, where the use of refillable packaging is resulting in a significant reduction of plastic waste annually[19].

Furthermore, the implementation and the serious application of the plastic bags ban law (decree n°2020- 32 dated16 January 2020[20]) is a critical step towards sustainable waste management in Tunisia. The government must enforce the ban strictly, imposing penalties on businesses that violate the law. In countries like Rwanda, where the ban on plastic bags has been in place since 2008[21]. significant improvements have been witnessed in the cleanliness of the environment. Rwanda is now considered one of the cleanest countries in Africa[22], with plastic bag litter almost non-existent. By following Rwanda’s example, Tunisia can become a role model for other African countries by taking a strong stand against plastic waste.

Ecotaxes: A Catalyst for Sustainable Industrial Practices in Municipal Waste Management:

To tackle Tunisia’s excessive waste production, the government must take measures to promote sustainable practices among businesses and strictly apply the proper sanctions. One effective strategy would be to raise the already inadequate ecotaxes to be more befitting to the degree of violations businesses are responsible for, which would provide a financial incentive for businesses to adopt more sustainable practices and reduce their environmental impact. Denmark’s carbon tax serves as an excellent example of the success of ecotaxes in promoting environmental sustainability, having reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 23%[23]. Tunisia’s private sector, particularly products that come with non-biodegradable packaging, contributes significantly to the waste management problem. By raising ecotaxes, the government can push these businesses to switch to more sustainable alternatives. In case businesses fail to comply, the revenue generated from these ecotaxes can be used to fund waste management infrastructure and projects.

Enforcing Selective Sorting: A Crucial Step towards Sustainable Municipal Waste Management:

The implementation of a law mandating  waste selective sorting system, is a crucial step towards achieving sustainable municipal waste management. This law will not only help reduce the volume of waste being sent to landfills but will also provide opportunities for informal waste pickers and waste management companies to work together towards a more efficient and sustainable system. By sorting waste at the source, valuable materials can be recovered, reused, and recycled, reducing the need for resource extraction and the environmental impacts associated with it. For example, by recovering plastic bottles and other plastic packaging that can be recycled into new products, we can decrease the amount of microplastics that end up in the soil and oceans.

Moreover, making waste selective sorting mandatory will help reduce the overall cost of waste management for the government, as it will minimize the amount of waste that needs to be transported to landfills. This, in turn, will liberate  resources that can be directed towards investing in waste reduction and recycling infrastructure. Additionally, by providing clear guidelines for waste sorting and disposal, the law will promote civic responsibility and encourage citizens to play an active role in waste management.

Several countries have already implemented waste selective sorting laws, and the results have been promising. For instance, in France, where waste sorting is mandatory[24], the recycling rate has increased in a decade, 26 % in 2001 to 35 % in 2010[25]. Therefore, it is imperative for the government to declare a mandatory waste selective sorting system to facilitate the transition towards a more sustainable and efficient waste management system.

Management of the existing waste in landfills and streets: Investing in waste valorization projects:

To address the issue of excessive waste in Tunisia, the government must take measures to manage the existing waste in landfills and streets. Investing in waste valorization projects can provide an effective solution to the problem. Waste valorization refers to the process of converting waste materials into valuable products, such as biofuels, compost, and recycled plastic and tires. By investing in these projects, the government can reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills and on the streets, as well as create economic opportunities for citizens.

Several countries have implemented waste valorization projects successfully, such as Sweden, which has reduced its waste to landfills by over 99%, with only 1% of its total waste ending up in landfills[26]. In Sweden, waste is incinerated to produce energy, which is used to power homes and businesses.

Another example is South Korea, which has achieved a rate of 95% in food valorization[27] through implementing a comprehensive system of selective sorting of waste.

In Tunisia, investing in waste valorization projects has the potential to reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills and on the streets. By converting waste materials into valuable products, the government can create economic opportunities and reduce the environmental impact of waste. The government can encourage foreign investors to invest in waste valorization projects, such as biofuel, compost, and plastic and tire recycling, by providing tax incentives and reducing bureaucratic barriers. Additionally, the government can partner with private sector companies to implement these projects and develop the necessary infrastructure. 

To implement the waste valorization strategy effectively, we should begin with collecting and sorting the waste we want to valorize. This can be achieved by investing in informal waste pickers, commonly known as “barbechas”, who play a significant role in the waste management process. A system should be developed that allows the barbechas to use their skills in collaboration with municipalities. 

This not only helps in reducing the amount of waste in landfills but also provides an opportunity for the creation of jobs and income for marginalized communities.


In conclusion, Tunisia faces significant challenges in municipal waste management, including inadequate infrastructure, insufficient funding, and a lack of citizen participation. However, with government action, public awareness campaigns, and collaboration between the public and private sectors, Tunisia can overcome these challenges and move towards a more sustainable and efficient waste management system.


The government in collaboration with the Ministry of the Environment:

  • Declare and enforce a law mandating selective sorting of waste in all the municipalities and regulated dumpsites , The ministry should enforce the ban on the use of plastic bags with the authorities empowered to impose sanctions for violations according to the decree n°2020-32. 
  •  Create a waste management authority responsible for coordinating and monitoring waste management activities in the country. Their tasks would include overseeing waste collection, sorting and ensuring proper disposal of hazardous waste.

The Ministry of finance : 

  • Increases ecotaxes accordingly to the nature of the  products and packaging, It should also be exceptionally high for products made of materials that are toxic to to the environment and compel them to find alternatives within a limited time frame  

The Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research :

  • Provides support to startups developing innovative solutions to address the municipal waste issue, including funding, mentorship, and networking opportunities.

The Ministry of Social Affairs

  • Issues identification cards to informal waste pickers, granting them access to waste sorting facilities to guarantee their safety and to enable their access to medical treatments in case of sickness.

The Ministry of Education

  • Includes an environmental education module specifically focused on waste sorting and responsible consumption in several academic grades, which will have a positive impact on household waste management.

[1] Solid Waste Management in Tunisia, Abdulmumin Abdulrahman, EcoMENA, 29/04/2021 [2] Idem [3] Residents of Tunisian village protest massive toxic landfill, Stephen Quillen, Al Monitor, 19/11/2021 [4] Solving Tunisia’s growing waste management problem, Malak Altaeb, Middle East Institute, 31/03/ 2022, [5]  انتشار النفايات في تونس: الصعوبات والتحديات والحلول من أجل صحوة إيكولوجية حقيقية, إيمان بدور, FTDES, 20/08/2022 [6]  Tunisia waste crisis: Protests demand right to health in face of state neglect, The New Arab, 24/11/ 2021 [7]   Solving Tunisia’s growing waste management problem, Malak Altaeb, Middle East Institute, 31/03/ 2022 [8]  Residents of Tunisian village protest massive toxic landfill, Stephen Quillen, Al Monitor, 19/11/2021 [9] The Hidden Damage of Landfills,Kayla Vasarhelyi, Environmental Center University of Colorado, 15/04/2021 [10]  Gabès, a Victim of Industrial Pollution in Tunisia, Adel Azouni, The Tahrir Institute, 27/10/2022 [11]  Ecotaxes, also known as environmental taxes or green taxes, are taxes levied on goods or activities that are considered harmful to the environment. The purpose of ecotaxes is to encourage individuals and businesses to reduce their negative impact on the environment by increasing the cost of environmentally harmful activities or products, while also generating revenue for the government to fund environmental protection measures. [12] Loi n° 96-41 du 10 juin 1996, relative aux déchets et au contrôle de leur gestion et de leur élimination (1). [13] STOP THE PLASTIC FLOOD A guide for policy-makers in Tunisia, WWF report 2019  [14]Solid waste management, UNEP [15] Disease Threats and Global WASH Killers: Cholera, Typhoid, and Other Waterborne Infections? Global Water, Sanitation, & Hygiene (WASH), CDC [16] Solid Wastes Provide Breeding Sites, Burrows, and Food for Biological Disease Vectors, and Urban Zoonotic Reservoirs: A Call to Action for Solutions-Based Research, PubMed Central, January 2017 [17] انتشار النفايات في تونس: الصعوبات والتحديات والحلول من أجل صحوة إيكولوجية حقيقية, إيمان بدور, FTDES, 20/08/2022 [18]  Landfill Leachate Generation and Its Impact on Water at an Urban Landfill (Jebel Chakir, Tunisia), Aydi, Abdelwaheb & Zairi, Moncef & Dhia, Hamed. (2012)  [19] Zero waste live, Tobias Bielstein, 13/04/2021 [20]  Décret gouvernemental n° 2020-32 du 16 janvier 2020, fixant les types de sacs en plastique dont la production, l’importation, la distribution et la détention sont interdites sur le marché intérieur [21] Rwanda Plastic Bag,Plastic Oceans International, Jan 2018, [22] Why Rwanda is Africa’s Cleanest Country, Arbiterz, February 2020 [23] Denmark’s Carbon Tax Policy, Cindy Bae, February 2013 [24] Tri des déchets, OPTIGEDE Centre de ressources économie circulaire et déchets [25] Municipal waste management in France, Emmanuel C. Gentil, European Environment Agency, February 2013 [26]  Turning Waste to Energy: Sweden’s Recycling Revolution, Chan Kim & Renée Mauborgne, Blue Ocean [27] South Korea once recycled 2% of its food waste. Now it recycles 95%, The world Economic Forum, Apr 2019 

Le contributeur

Mayssem Marzouki

Mayssem Marzouki is an environmental science student, green entrepreneur, and climate advocate who is dedicated to fighting climate change. As a member of The Official Children and Youth Constituency of the UNFCCC, Mayssem is an active participant in the global conversation surrounding environmental policy. Additionally, Mayssem is the founder of the environmental club network "Youth for Planet United", inspiring the next generation of environmentalists.

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