The government of Lebanon’s proposed recent solid waste management plan aimed to end the 4-month crisis in the country has not yet seen the light because of the failure to secure disposal sites. Akram Chehayeb, the Minister of Agriculture who proposed the plan, claimed that sharp political differences are the main cause of this failure, insinuating that disagreements over profit sharing were the real reason behind them.
With no secured disposal locations, rejection of an incineration scheme and no effort by the government to implement non-disposal initiatives such as recovery and recycling, only one solution remains: exporting the trash. The government is therefore considering export proposals to cover a period of 18 months.
The destination of the trash is still unclear; over the past couple months various European and African countries have been mentioned as possible destinations in the press. The Basel Convention, an international treaty that regulates the movement of hazardous waste between nations, to which Lebanon is a signatory, requires the exportation of trash to follow certain guidelines, which could be costly to implement under the current conditions. On the other hand, while exporting trash to a country that is willing to forgo these strict guidelines may be the cheaper option, this does not solve the environmental problem and simply relocates it to another country.
The range of prices received for exporting waste has not been disclosed either, but according to the Minister of Environment, Mohammed Machnouk, it may reach $200 per ton. This is about 15% higher than the fee currently paid to the private contractors (Sukleen and Sukomi) for transporting and disposing Beirut’s waste before shutting down the Naameh landfill. Since the closure of the Naameh landfill, about 3,000 tons of trash has been disposed in temporary locations on a daily basis. That’s over 350,000 tons of waste in the past 4 months, at $200 a ton that would cost around $72 million.
The figure below compares the price of transporting and disposing one tone of waste in various countries in the Middle East and North Africa region. In most countries, when the price differs among regions and cities, the most expensive price was used. The figures were obtained from SWEEP-Net, the Regional Solid Waste Exchange of Information and Expertise Network in Mashreq and Maghreb Countries. Lebanon’s price consists of the old one for Beirut and Mount Lebanon (the blue bar) and the new price should the export plan be implemented (red).
It is clear that there is a substantial difference between what Lebanon pays compared to other surrounding countries, even without taking into account the increase for the planned export.
The World Bank is expecting municipal solid waste to increase globally from 1.3 billion tons a year to 2.2 billion by 2025. The price for managing this waste is projected to increase from $205 billion to $375 billion. Per one ton, this means an increase from 157$ per ton to 170$ per ton. So not only is Lebanon’s cost higher than the regional average, it is higher than the global average, which includes developed countries.
Finally, not determining how trash is disposed in Lebanon now will be a major obstacle for a comprehensive solid waste management in the future. Exporting trash is not a solution; it is merely a postponement, just like Lebanon’s emergency solid waste management plan that created the Naameh Landfill. This will also jeopardize the future role of municipalities in solid waste management. Chehayeb’s long term plan was to decentralize solid waste management and allow municipalities to take charge of their legally mandated responsibility to manage their own waste. Municipalities in Mount Lebanon had little say in how their waste was managed, and the high prices charged by Sukleen were a major financial burden on many of them. Increasing this cost even further will only add a burden on the already precarious fiscal situation in the country.