CLEAN IT UP

Lebanon 2017 | GREEN ECONOMY | FOCUS: WASTE MANAGEMENT CRISIS

Lebanon's never-ending waste management crisis almost led to the resignation of the government in 2015, and the country still struggles to deal with the multi-faceted issue.

As Beirut-based garbage collection company Sukleen temporarily processes and stores garbage in Bourj Hammoud parking lot and construction of a landfill continues, experts across sectors and issues are warning of the dangers of Lebanon's trash crisis. Nowadays, each citizen in the world produces more than a kilo of garbage per day. Population growth, consumerism, and industrialization have citizens producing larger amounts of waste while still using the old methods of disposal. Even when the landfill in Beirut is completed, it is unlikely to solve the problem long term.

Several experts warned about the risks of incineration during a panel discussion about waste disposal at the American University of Beirut. They advised that this method is both expensive and environmentally hazardous when not implemented correctly. In Lebanon, regulations regarding incineration of waste are lacking, which makes this process a potentially dangerous solution to Lebanon's growing waste disposal problem.
With few solutions in play to deal with Lebanon's future trash, health professionals in Lebanon are now warning of the possible negative effects of current massive garbage accumulation on the Lebanese citizen's health. Hospitals in Beirut are confirming a surge in severe respiratory diseases linked to the so-called "waste crisis." According to a study by the American University of Beirut, air pollution in areas where waste is burned is 400 times worse than in industrial areas of the country.

One of the most recent topics in this regard has been the threat that the garbage on the Lebanese coasts causes to planes and the safety of the airport. Since the Costa Brava garbage landfill opened near Rafic Hariri International Airport, several aircraft had found seagulls on the runways during landing and takeoff. On top of that, untreated waste is being disposed into the Mediterranean Sea, causing water pollution and impacting marine life. After the government halted trash collection, causing protests in Beirut in 2015, the unsustainable solution was shifting waste to coastal dumpsites.

But despite all the challenges, some solutions are starting to flourish in 2017. The Ministry of Environment and the Municipality of Beirut are working together with the private sector on several projects, including the construction of a waste-to-energy plant. The idea of using waste energy in Lebanon, and other parts of the world, comes from waste-to-energy expert Thomas Henderson. In April 2016, he visited Lebanon to discuss the waste disposal system that he helped to design in Florida, which combines recycling with electric power generation.

Another ongoing project that tackles the waste management issue as well as the refugee crisis is called Recycle Beirut. The Lebanese recycling project, launched a year ago, provides job opportunities for the country's vulnerable Syrian refugees. Recycle Beirut benefits both Lebanon, because it preserves and maintains the environment, and also gives dignity and a salary for the most vulnerable refugees, easing the burden on the host community. On average, refugees earn USD20 a day collecting garbage and sorting waste according to type, size, and material.

The cost of maintaining the Recycle Beirut plant amounts to about USD9,000 per month, of which the NGO Oxfam covers 90%. The municipality of Gazzeh pays the remaining 10%. With recycling sales, 2% is generated, which is used to cover part of what it has cost to raise it, about EUR600,000 (USD672,000). The project managers are already working on the plant's expansion, since the capacity of the plant is still not enough to treat all the waste generated. The municipalities of the Bekaa Valley, home to the majority of refugees in the country, are unable to manage the waste generated by both locals and refugees. Recycle Beirut and other grassroots initiatives, such as an all-women trash collection team in a Lebanese village, are making headway on an issue the public sector is struggling to handle.