Giant landfill in Iran creates thousands of litres of contaminated water


When the Saravan landfill was first established in 1984, it was only supposed to be temporary. But in the years since, it has become the biggest landfill in northern Iran. The once forested site is now buried under toxic mountains of rubbish. Every day, thousands of litres of water contaminated by this landfill flow towards nearby rivers. Locals are starting to worry about the effects of the toxins seeping into their water.

The Saravan landfill is about 15 kilometres from Rasht, the capital city of Gilan, a province in northern Iran. Ten years ago, the spot where the landfill is now located was a forested valley nicknamed “pheasant’s valley”.

But everything changed in 1984. The region’s growing population was creating more and more waste, and the authorities decided that they needed to construct a landfill in the area. Back then, no studies were done to look at the potential impact of a landfill on the environment. The dump in Saravan was supposed to be temporary and to be limited in size to about 250,000 square metres, but now, this landfill has become the largest in northern Iran. More than 500 tonnes of rubbish are dumped there every day. The region – including Rasht and nearby towns – has a population of about a million people. The steady stream of incoming waste in a limited surface space (due to its valley location) has led to a rubbish pile-up. The mountain of waste in Saravan now towers more than 70 metres high.

Photo sent by an Observer.

This is an overhead view of the Saravan landfill.

"Each minute, more than 1,200 litres of toxic, contaminated water flow from the landfill”

Nasim Tavafzadeh is the head of "Sabz Karan", an NGO dedicated to protecting the environment in the region. 

The landfill currently extends over a 300,000 square metre zone. But it has also destroyed the forest in a further area of 200,000 square metres. At this rate, more than 120,000 square metres will be destroyed in the next five years by this toxic waste.

Information : University of Gilan


There is all kinds of waste in this landfill. A lot of it is food waste – according to official estimates, about 25,000 kilograms of bread and rice alone are thrown into the landfill each day.

But there is also much nastier waste in there. Twice a year, the big pharmeceutical companies are allowed to throw their waste into the same landfill. We’ve also found toxic waste from hospitals in the landfill even though it is illegal to throw it away in this manner.

These test tubes were found in the landfill. Photo provided by an Observer.

But now, it isn’t just the waste that is the biggest problem, it’s the contaminated water that flows out of the site. According to studies done by the nearby university, about 1,200 litres of water flow out of the site every minute.

This contaminated water then seeps into the groundwater tables and into the Zarjoub and Goharroud rivers, which are two of the most polluted rivers in Iran. [Editor’s note: These two rivers meet to form the Siahroud, which feeds into the Anzali lagoon in the Caspian Sea.]

We’ve been waiting for years for authorities to build a water treatment plant to clean this toxic water, but nothing has been done for the time being.

Red arrows show the forest, the fields and the villages that have been affected by the polluation from the landfill.

There has actually been a compost factory running in Rasht for the past 12 years. But it only manages to treat about 75 tonnes of waste a day, which is tiny compared to the 500 tonnes that are dumped in the landfill every day. The compost system in general is also problematic because, after 20 days, the containers that hold the compost are full. So then you have to wait a full 70 days for the containers of waste to transform into compost before the factory can take in more waste.

Video provided by an Observer.

Contaminated water. Photo provided by an Observer.

"Gastro-intestinal cancers are on the rise in the area"

Mahboubeh (not his real name) is an environmental activist based in the region.

According to official reports, large amounts of heavy metals including copper, nickel, lead, mercury, zinc and others can be found in the water, which could explain the increase in gastro-intestinal cancers in the area. [Editor’s note: An estimated 7,000 people living locally have been diagnosed with these cancers.]

Moreover, some children in the area are sent to the landfill to collect rubbish that might fetch a price when resold. Most of them don’t wear gloves or even shoes, which creates the perfect conditions for getting infectious diseases, especially skin diseases.

The water has an unaturally dark color from the pollution.

This pollution is also harmful to animals, both livestock and wildlife. If animals die then it impoverishes the community.

Authorities say that they are in the process of building canals and pools that would contain the toxic water and keep it from spreading. The authorities have also promised to speed up waste-sorting projects throughout the province.

But for the time being, none of these projects aimed at improving waste management have become reality.