Despite the government agreeing to export Beirut and Mount Lebanon’s trash for the next 18 months, the fate and destination of the trash remain unclear. The only information disclosed was the names of companies that have been awarded the export contracts: the British firm Chinook Urban Mining International and the Dutch firm Howa International.
Agriculture Minister Akram Chehayeb announced last month that Lebanon will pay the companies $125 dollars a ton to export the waste. However, the government will also have to pay for street sweeping and other administrative costs making the total cost of solid waste management around $212 per ton; a price that is substantially higher than what the government was paying before the closure of the Naameh landfill.
The selected companies will not export trash that is older than 45 days. Thus, the government will be issuing two separate contracts with the same companies; one contract for exporting waste over 18 months and another contract for the treatment of all the waste that has accumulated over 45 days. It is not clear if the treatment is included in the $125 per ton the companies are charging. If it is not included, the price could end up much higher than what is being reported.
Unfortunately, the bidding process was not made public and the terms of the contracts signed with the export companies are vague. Unanswered questions include: How many companies bid on the contract? What were the selection criteria? How will the companies deal with the issue of hazardous waste mixed within the municipal solid waste? Who is responsible for cleaning up all the makeshift dumpsites that have emerged since the beginning of this crisis? What is the final destination of the trash? What are the responsibilities of the selected companies? What is their cost model? Who is liable for any environmental damage that may result from the final disposal of the waste?
Details of how and where the trash will be exported are integral aspects of this plan. Such information should be part of the selection criteria but do not seem to be. International agreements such as the Basel and Barcelona conventions, both of which Lebanon has ratified, means Lebanon is legally responsible for its waste wherever it ends up.
A few days ago, the Daily Star was able to talk to the Dutch firm that was awarded the contract, Howa International, about the Lebanon’s waste and their future task in Lebanon. According to them, Lebanon’s trash is not fit for fuel production and will have to be landfilled or incinerated. The company representative said that Lebanon’s sorting needs to be improved before other large investments in waste infrastructure is made. Investing in non-disposal techniques is something many activists have been calling for, including this blog. The company also stated that the trash will probably be destined to Africa, Eastern Europe, or the Middle East.
On January 9, Lebanese media reported that Sierra Leone will accept Lebanon’s waste. This lead to an outcry from the West African country’s media although the news was quickly denied by the Sierra Leonean authorities. The reason for the outcry is that Sierra Leone cannot cope with their own waste and the prospect of receiving another country’s trash worried many. Their waste disposal sites have reached full capacity, and like Lebanon, waste is being burned illegally in the open. Cholera and typhoid, caused by poor sanitation, are responsible for thousands of deaths each year in Sierra Leone.
This brings up another issue: What conditions and criteria do the destination country of waste need to meet? It is morally questionable for Lebanon to export its environmental and public health problems to another country. Whoever receives the waste needs to have the infrastructure, capacity, and capabilities to manage Lebanon’s waste. It is the government’s responsibility to ensure the waste does not end up in a country that cannot handle it.
It has been half a year since Beirut and Mont Lebanon’s trash have been piling up in illegal makeshift dumpsites throughout the country. Although this is potentially one of the worse solutions possible in terms of both financial feasibility and environmental sustainability, exporting the waste seems to be the only available solution for now. However, the government needs to agree on and prepare for what happens after the 18 months of exporting this problem. Extending this “emergency plan” as predecessor governments have done in the past is not an acceptable way forward.