Today I have the pleasure to host a post from a young and dynamic environmental consultant from Lebanon, Mrs. Nour Kanso. I followed her in LinkedIn and I like her approach to the Lebanese Waste Management crisis, thus I asked her to prepare a blog post. Nour has worked on numerous environmental impact assessment reports and waste management proposals and tenders in Lebanon. She is currently serving as a project coordinator for a solid waste sorting and composting facility in Lebanon. She holds a Masters in Environmental Technology from Imperial College London specialising in environmental analysis and assessment and a Bachelors in Environmental Health with a minor in Public Health from the American University of Beirut. In her free time, she likes to volunteer in environmental related causes as to bring more attention and awareness about the solid waste issues. Enjoy her interesting post abut one of the most famous waste management problems.
“On July 15th 2015, one of the biggest and most heavily relied on landfills (Naameh Landfill) was closed mainly due to the current unsanitary conditions, capacity issues, and public opposition. The Naameh Landfill was initially built as part of an emergency plan in 1998 and was supposed to accommodate only a certain amount of solid waste. Once filled, the landfill would be shut down and no further dumping would take place. Nevertheless, the government continued to extend its capacity to a point where waste was improperly disposed. Such actions endangered the public health of nearby residents mainly due to the toxic atmosphere created by the landfill.
Following its closure in the summer of 2015, the government authorities had no contingency plan put in place to deal with the waste generated by residents and all that trash started piling up on the streets and riverbanks of Beirut and Mount Lebanon. This has been described as the worst waste disposal crisis Lebanon has ever faced. As such, the practice of dumping and burning waste in random unauthorized areas started taking place which exposed many residents to health issues and severe sickness. A couple of weeks after this crisis, residents held widely attended protests in Central Beirut District and urged the government to act immediately and resolve the situation. Since then, the government has been forming environmental committees of industry experts to figure out a temporary solution that get the country out of this catastrophe.
Several solutions were proposed and one of them was the re-opening of the Naameh landfill. Due to the lack of an immediate solution and the severity of the crisis, the landfill was re-opened temporarily until it was shut down after 60 days due to heavy complaints from nearby residents. The committee also considered another plan that involved the shipping of waste to landfills overseas, but the execution was unsuccessful and no export of solid waste took place.
After a number of failed attempts, the government finally decided to build two new temporary landfills (~4 years of life) in the Southern (Costa Brava) and Northern (Bourj Hammoud) regions of Beirut. But this temporary solution was heavily criticized by residents as prior experiences have proven that the government might fall again into the same loophole. The Costa Brava landfill is currently under construction and few cells have already been utilized and filled with waste generated from the capital. On the other hand, the Bourj Hammoud landfill has received a number of media scrutiny and public opposition. The area is characterized by its crowdedness and impoverished neighborhoods. The Bourj Hammoud landfill was once a dump that was closed due to its unsanitary conditions. Moreover, its proximity to residential areas poses public health concerns. As a result, the public has opposed the construction of the landfill. Nevertheless, the government authorities resumed construction and provided assurances around the execution and disposal procedures.
With respect to energy recovery, a waste-to-energy tender was open for bid a few months ago by the Council of Development & Reconstruction. The tender was aimed to construct waste-to-energy plants which will have a capacity of ~2,000 tons per day, and as such shift some waste from landfilling to incineration. Such solution was severely condemned by the media and environmental experts as incinerators could have hazardous consequences and set Lebanon on a more dangerous path if not properly managed.
All the proposed solutions thus far were regarded as short-term and unsustainable since that they do not prevent the crisis from occurring again. Currently, waste is collected by Sukleen, a privately held company, which in turn processes it and stores it in a temporarily parking lot in Bourj Hammoud until the construction of the landfill is completed. However still waste piles up in the suburbs of Beirut filling half of the streets which are not collected properly. This creates unsanitary conditions which lead to an increase of sickness rate among residents. Until the landfill is completely constructed, the environmental and health damage cost is increasing daily due to pollution of surface water resources (sea, rivers, and lakes), air pollution (emission of toxic gases such as CH4, H2S, CO2, PM 2.5).
The main barriers that affect Lebanon’s waste management are political influence, population growth, lack of transparency in regulations, and an inconsistent enforcement of laws. Many suggested that having a decentralized system which focuses on sorting from source is the key to shaping up a proper waste management system. A decentralized system starts with shifting the decision-making from the governmental level to a more local level. This empowers the municipalities to drive processes and implement decisions towards waste management.
To implement such system and overcome the afore-mentioned barriers, the following has to be done:
- Strengthen the legislation in-regards to waste management by adding more laws that are precise and clear which protect the environment and the public health.
- Implement a transparent and accurate national waste management strategy with stakeholders, NGOs, municipalities, government officials, experts and representatives from the public for better execution, cooperation and understanding.
- Enforce laws and hold parties accountable for incompliance
- Train all staff in the administrative (government & municipality) position on the concepts of solid waste management and the importance of environmental and public health protection.
- Launch awareness Campaigns which encourage two bag waste sorting system (organics & non-organics) among locals and municipalities and have the media put heavy emphasis on waste sorting and management.
- Shift the decision-making process related to waste management in cities to local authorities after sufficient training programs for waste management are done for the staff and locals involved in such projects.
An example of a decentralized system in Lebanon is the Beit Mery sorting plant. It’s a success story that hasn’t been that much highlighted by the media and the news given the current waste crisis. The Beit Mary sorting plant comprises of very simple methods which starts from sorting from the source by separating organics from non-organics allowing better recovery of material. On 9th of November 2016, the facility processed 777 tons of waste. The waste was recycled and composted, whereas the remaining materials were compressed under high temperatures and turned into eco-boards and nothing was sent to landfill which matches the zero waste concepts.
The waste hierarchy system remains a key reference to proper waste management as such incineration and landfilling are not the most sustainable options towards solving the waste crisis at hand. The regulators, authority and public figures, NGOs and municipalities should put much emphasis on eco-friendly and feasible options such as the source separation, recycling campaigns, composting programs. With the newly elected president, people are hoping that his serving term would bring positive and forward change, starting with the establishment of a holistic waste management system.
- (2016). Lebanon: ‘River of trash’ chokes Beirut suburb as city’s garbage crisis continues. Retrieved from: http://edition.cnn.com/2016/02/24/middleeast/lebanon-garbage-crisis-river/
- Deutsche Welle.(2016). Lebanon garbage crisis threatens to pollute Mediterranean. ENVIRONMENT Retrieved from: http://www.dw.com/en/lebanon-garbage-crisis-threatens-to-pollute-mediterranean/a-36234663
- The Daily Star.(2016). Beit Mery First Zero Waste Municipality. Retrieved from: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Lebanon-News/2016/Nov-09/380285-beit-mery-first-zero-waste-municipality.ashx
- Al Jazeera. (2016). Lebanese protest against waste-disposal crisis. Middle East. Retrieved from: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/07/lebanon-beirut-trash-rubbish-crisis-150725060723178.html