A major problem for every sector in Lebanon is the lack of reliable data and transparency. Often, the only available figures are published by a non-government entity, such as a university, an international organization, or NGO. In the solid waste sector, important statistics such as waste generation and recycling rates are scarce; any available data is not continuous and some of the figures conflict.
In two reports published by SWEEP-Net (the Regional Solid Waste Exchange of Information and Expertise Network in Mashreq and Maghreb Countries) in 2014, two different values for waste generation in Lebanon were used for the year 2013; one report estimated 2.55 million tons of waste produced per year, while the other put the figure at 2.04 million tons. In a report published by the Ministry of Environment in 2010, the projected waste generated in 2030 was put at 2.3 million tons a year. There are estimates for waste generated by governorate, but no estimates for waste generated by municipality. The situation is the same with recycling rates; SWEEP-Net estimates an 8% recycling of municipal waste for all of Lebanon. However, this rate not broken down by governorates and there is no time series of this data.
Without such important information, developing a solid waste management plan is very difficult. Not having accurate figures for waste generation makes it very difficult to determine the capacity of landfills, recycling facilities, composting plants, or any other solid waste facility. This was one of the major problems of the last emergency plan. According to a report commissioned by the World Bank in 2004, one of the main deficiencies of the Emergency Plan was that planners underestimated the amount of waste generated. Therefore, the sorting plants and composting plant did not have sufficient capacities to handle the waste such that most of it ended up being sent to the landfill in Na’ameh.
There is also a shortage of information on waste composition. Knowing the composition of waste would facilitate developing disposal alternatives as well as feasibility of recycling and waste-to-energy options. For instance, areas with high organic waste would be good candidates to host compost facilities. The current information available is not continuous and is not broken down by area. In the last Sate of the Environment report published by the Ministry of Environment, waste composition is broken down between rural and urban areas. Assuming that waste composition is the same in all rural areas is a faulty assumption. Rural areas with high agricultural production would have much higher organic waste than other rural areas. In the last SWEEP-Net report, composition is also broken down between rural and urban areas; however the report states that there is no comprehensive data for rural areas outside of greater Beirut.
In addition to waste data, environmental data needs to be monitored as well. This is particularly important if any waste to energy (incineration) schemes is to be implemented in Lebanon. Many countries around the world incinerate their waste; but this is complemented with a thorough monitoring plan, something which is not common in Lebanon. The government needs to determine air quality standards associated for each type of waste facility and develop monitoring plans to make sure none of the parameters exceed their limit.
Without reliable data, it is very difficult to develop a comprehensive solid waste management solution. The government needs to set up mechanisms around the country to collect all relevant waste data on a regular basis. If the government is serious about ceding waste management to municipal authorities, waste data for each municipality needs to be available. Without such data, solid waste policy will not be based on facts and be prone to many shortcomings. The collection of data needs to be carried out by technocrats away from political bickering and vested interests.