The government of Lebanon has still not found a final solution for the waste crisis. Nevertheless, trash collection has resumed and is being transported to temporary plots of land in different areas. Considering a location has not been agreed upon yet, it is safe to assume that a landfill to replace the recently closed one in Naameh will not be operational any time in the near future. In the immediate aftermath of the closure of the Naameh landfill, residents of different areas have rejected the prospect of receiving Beirut and Mount Lebanon’s trash, leading to protests and acts of vandalism.
As a result, the government is now looking into exporting its waste to help alleviate the trash crisis in the short term. However, if Lebanon is to export its waste, it will have to follow guidelines of the Basel Convention, to which Lebanon is a signatory. In addition, the waste would have to be sorted to some extent, costing the country about $ 40 million in just the first 2 months.
Last week, the Prime Minister announced that bids would be announced for construction of incinerators in the country, a measure considered by some as the only viable solution for Lebanon due to the lack of available land for landfilling. However, incineration is costly because of the high capital costs required.
In a workshop held at the American University of Beirut for on August 6, professors and other stakeholders discussed various related issues including incinerators. Professor May Massoud from the Department of Environmental Health acknowledged that incineration would reduce the size of waste by almost 85% but explained that the process generates a significant amount of air pollution, including the release of the carcinogenic dioxins and acidic gases (sulfur oxide, nitrogen oxide). Applying mitigation measures to reduce the amount of pollutants will make incineration an even more expensive solution. To ensure that these mitigation measures are working, incineration plants would require constant monitoring and maintenance, a practice that is highly lacking in Lebanon.
One of the advantages of waste incineration is the possibility of converting the waste into energy. About 50% of household waste in Sweden is used for this purpose. In fact, about 20% of Sweden’s heat supply and electricity for250, 000 homes is produced by incinerating garbage. This would be great for Lebanon, but it may not be feasible. According to the US Energy Information Administration, the energy price per kilowatt for energy from waste incineration is twice the cost of coal-fired power and 60% more than nuclear energy. Maintenance costs are ten times greater than coal and four times greater than nuclear. With such expensive maintenance costs, future waste incinerators in Lebanon risk the same fate as the idle wastewater treatment plants around the country. In addition, and as Ziad Abi Chaker, an environmental entrepreneur, explained at the workshop, incineration would not result in any energy production as claimed by the government due to the high moisture content of trash in Lebanon. While producing electricity from waste seems an attractive idea for a country with severe power shortage, the Lebanese government should not get carried away and focus on resolving the waste crisis. Of course an economic feasibility study, cost-benefit analysis and an environmental impact assessment study for waste incineration should be carried out and disclosed to the public before any decision is made.
A silver lining of the waste crisis in Lebanon has been putting the issue at the center of public concern as awareness on solid waste has risen to an all time high. Paul Abi Rached, an environmental activist, stated that recycling facilities are receiving the most material they have ever received. A few municipalities and villages are encouraging their residents to recycle and offer a service to pick recyclables up. A long-term strategy should incorporate different non-waste disposal techniques such as source reduction, reuse, and recycling. A good model to follow is the Household Solid Waste Treatment Center of Sidon; their treatment process is not dependent on landfills or incinerators and have benefited from recycling different forms of waste.