As we approach the second year after the closing of the Naameh Landfill, little progress has been made towards developing and implementing a comprehensive solid waste management plan for Beirut and Mount Lebanon. The plan of the previous Lebanese government, two landfills to replace the Naameh landfill, is on the brink of collapse. The Costa Brava landfill is supposed to be closed next month after a Lebanese court ordered its permanent closure in four months last January. Over the weekend, demonstrators blocked the entrance of the landfill protesting the environmental pollution caused by the landfill. The second landfill in Bourj Hammoud is currently being challenged in court. Last week, the case was adjourned for one month as experts conduct an environmental study of the landfill.
In light of all these problems, it seems like the government is now considering waste incineration for Beirut. Since before the Naameh landfill was closed, the government considered the only viable long term solutions were either the reliance on landfills or incinerators. Touted by the mayor of Beirut as a waste to energy plan, the mayor describes this solution as “not as incinerator” but as “holistic approach that starts from sorting material [at the source].” The Beirut municipality already hired the Danish firm Ramboll to design and build the Waste-to-Energy plant.
Despite the claims of the Mayor of Beirut, waste incineration is an integral part of Waste-to-Energy plants. In fact, the small program that was put forward by the Mayor of Beirut’s campaign coalition during the municipal elections specifically states that energy will be produced through waste incineration. In addition, Ramboll’s project portfolio consists of numerous Waste-to-Energy plants through incineration or combustion units throughout the world.
Proponents of Waste to Energy plants and incineration often argue that Lebanon should adopt these techniques because they are already being implemented in western and industrialized countries. Had the conditions been similar between Lebanon and said countries then that would be a valid point, however, there are very few similarities, as a group of AUB experts explained last month in a press conference. The experts, who covered various academic fields, advised against incineration and offered several compelling arguments. These arguments included the high costs of building, operating, and monitoring waste incineration, lack of mitigation measures available in Lebanon, the increased level of pollution, and the fact that the waste composition in Lebanon is not suitable for incineration.
In addition, most of the industrialized countries that implement such plants have a comprehensive environmental legal framework that consists of rules and standards that are adhered to. Lebanon’s environmental legal framework is not as developed, and the little regulation that is present is not fully enforced.
The question is that should this proposal go through, how will the government manage the Waste-to-Energy plant and monitor its environmental impacts? Both of these activities are costly and there is a long history of the Lebanese government failing to maintain infrastructure that is much simpler to operate, resulting in deterioration of the surrounding environment. Almost every year the flooding of tunnels and roads during torrential rain reminds of us the dire state the infrastructure is in. Residents near Zouk and Jiyyeh power plants have long complained about the pollution caused by these plants. The Naameh landfill was operated at over capacity for years and residents nearby continued to complain. In fact, the Naameh landfill was only shut down when the residents had to physically obstruct access to the landfill. Various segments of the Lebanese coast, including Beirut, are polluted from direct discharge of raw wastewater and solid waste (industrial and household). Idle wastewater plants throughout the country is another example of how the government has been incapable of managing its infrastructure.
With the exception of a handful of municipalities in Mount Lebanon, no real nationwide initiative has been taken to increase waste sorting from the source. If the government is serious about implementing a holistic approach that starts from sorting the material at the source, then why hasn’t it taken any measure to promote this from the beginning of the crisis? And why hasn’t a national solid waste management plan been developed and implemented to avoid another waste crisis that is now becoming unavoidable? These are questions that need to be addressed before the residents of Beirut will be convinced the government’s proposed solutions have their best interest at heart.