In the last Beirut municipal elections in 2010, competing political parties from the two main coalitions (March 8 and 14) put their differences aside and formed a municipal council and ran unopposed. Even though political tension has increased substantially since the last election, the political class maintained their alliance and formed an electoral list, The Beirutis List, for the upcoming municipal elections. Unlike the last election, the political parties are not running unopposed and face competition from two campaigns: Beirut Madinati and Citizens within the State.
Another difference from the last municipal election is that the various campaigns have developed a program which the candidates commit to implementing should they get elected. This may have prompted the Beirutis List to publish a program with concrete development plans for the city. The Beiruti List released a press release addressing how they will deal with one of Beirut’s most pressing concerns, the management of solid waste within the city. Ironically, the Beiruti List is backed by the same political parties who are responsible for the waste crisis by failing to develop and implement a comprehensive solid waste management plan and relying on temporary solutions for the last 18 years.
The Beirutis List proposes to implement a modern and environmentally-friendly solid waste management plan, based on the principle of sorting at the source and recycling. It includes the distribution of recycling bins around the city. Under this plan, organic waste will be converted to fertilizers, waste material (such as rubber and plastic) will be used in asphalt concrete mixtures in road pavement, and the remaining waste will be incinerated to produce energy. These measures will consume all the waste eliminating the need for a landfill.
All the measures mentioned in the press release would be essential in any comprehensive solid waste management plan. However, looking closely at the proposed activities reveals many drawbacks. First of all, the assumption that Beirut residents will start sorting all their waste overnight in response to the distribution of recycling bins throughout the city is naïve at best. It took the city of San Francisco (850,000 residents) 6 years to increase their recycling rate by 20%. Increasing recycling compliance in Lebanon is no easy feat and will require a comprehensive strategy to achieve. Second, the proposition that no waste will require landfilling is not tenable in the foreseeable future. In 19 years, the EU managed to increase their recycling rate by 166% and reduce the amount of waste landfilled by 54%; despite this success, they still rely on landfills. Even if the remaining waste is incinerated, the resulting ashes will need to be buried somewhere. And finally, a feasibility study on waste-to-energy schemes needs to be performed before basing an entire strategy on it. The composition of Beirut’s waste is unknown because such data does not exist. Incinerating the waste to create energy may therefore prove not to be a viable option for Beirut. There is also the issue of the actual incinerators; securing a location and developing a monitoring plan to contain the environmental impacts need to be considered before deciding on implementing such schemes.
As the Beirutis List is backed by the same political parties such that some of the candidates running are serving in the current council, voting for them can be considered as an extension of the current Municipal Council. It is difficult to believe that this new council will be dedicated to promoting recycling while not one initiative has been launched by the current council to increase recycling within the city, even during the 8-month long trash crisis. Therefore, in the short and medium term, it is safe to assume that the current plan will focus mostly on incineration as a way to reduce waste, with the potential need to landfill the resulting ashes.