Lebanon’s waste problem: no end in site

waste

Source: Utilities ME

After last year’s waste crisis the government promised to shut down the Naameh landfill by January 2015. However, no suitable alternative option has been found and the closure of the dumpsite has been postponed until April 2015. With the myriad of political and security problems that Lebanon is weathering, the postponement comes as no surprise. But this inaction could lead residents of Naameh to return to their demonstration and close access to the dumpsite once again.

According to the Minister of Environment, the three-month extension was enacted to prepare for the new waste collection companies that will be entering the market. Currently Beirut and most of Mount Lebanon‘s garbage is collected by only one company who then transports the waste to the Naameh Landfill. The proposed plan is to divide the areas and hire different companies to manage the municipal solid waste. During the extension the government will accept bids from different companies and select the most suitable ones.

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POW Photos

The problem with this approach is that it seems to miss the point as waste collection is not the main issue; it is the location and method of disposal. Naameh originally opened in 1997 and was meant to operate for only six years; it remained opened for 17 years. Obviously no one wants to have a waste disposal site in the neighbourhood and the Naameh debacle makes the perception problem worse. This is why the government is having major difficulties finding an alternative location. Yesterday, the residents and local organizations of the southern towns of Ekleem EL Kharoub rejected a government proposal to build a dumpsite in their area.

Disposing waste from one region, particularly the capital, in another raises fairness questions, especially when the disposal region is considered poorer. Lebanon’s waste management needs to be based on the proximity principle. The proximity principle argues that waste should be disposed or managed at the closest point it is generated. This will decrease transaction costs related to transportation and address the fairness problem.

The mismanagement of the Naameh landfill should have been a wakeup call for the government. Finding a new site to dump waste will not solve the problem in the long run. The table below shows the fate of municipal solid waste in Lebanon. Clearly, the potential of recycling and composting waste is very high and the amount of waste dumped in open sites is significant.

Fate of Municipal Solid Waste Percent
Composted 15
Recycled 8
Land filled 48
Dumped 29

 

A major issue is that many landfills including the one in Naameh receive other types of waste than municipal as planned. Last week the Minister of Environment warned of untreated medical waste being disposed in coastal and mountain areas. A few months ago the Lebanese Professional Diver’s Syndicate retrieved 6 cubic meters of medical waste 4 km off the coast of Sidon. Rivers have become the destination for industrial waste in some areas of Lebanon.

Lebanon lacks an overall legal framework, policy and action plan that addresses all these issues. The government needs to focus on this as a priority and ensure sufficient resources are allocated for implementation and enforcement. Without political will, however, any new landfill will follow the steps of the Naameh one.

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