As of the waste crises Lebanon has endured in the last few years wasn’t enough, another looming problem reared its head and shocked Lebanese residents last week on the shores of Keserouan, north of the Lebanese capital Beirut, when large amounts of garbage were suddenly strewn along the coast.
Before the cleanup even began, fingers already started pointing in different directions, with some claiming the source is from the Burj Hammoud landfill where trash has been driven by northwestern waters and surface currents and has set on Zouk beaches. However, the official explanation by the Minister of Environment is that it must be from Nahr El Kalb which he claims is used by some municipalities inland to dump their waste. The theory is that due to the heavy rain, storm water must have carried the waste downstream into the sea while the current led them to the nearby shores. In fact, municipalities all over Lebanon have been dumping their waste illegally. A recent study undertaken by UNDP concluded that there are over 940 illegal dumps throughout the country. The map below shows the locations of these dumps.
To inspect the two claims regarding the source of the waste, the following aerial photos show the locations of Burj Hammoud dumpsite, Nahr el Kalb discharge point into the sea and the shores where large amounts of garbage were found.
As shown in the two images, the Nahr el Kalb discharge point is very close to the shores in question, while Burj Hammoud landfill is located quite a bit further away, such that the waste would need to cross several areas before reaching Zouk beaches, such as Burj Hammoud, Antelias and Dbayye. The Nahr el Kalb theory therefore seems more likely.
However, regardless of the exact source of the coastal garbage, it is clear that the waste crisis in Lebanon has not ended, as central and local government resort to haphazard decision making without any long term vision. None of the current waste management practices are in fact sustainable.
As a first step to address this issue, on January 11, 2018, the Council of Ministers approved the Policy on Integrated Solid Waste Management, a document that sets forth the path forward towards more sustainable solid waste management in Lebanon. The policy focuses on decentralization of solid waste management. It also requires the recovery of as much waste as possible by adopting the integrated solid waste management hierarchy based on source reduction, re-use, sorting at source, treatment, and disposal of refuse waste, with a major reliance on the controversial “waste-to-energy” disposal method.
The source reduction, re-use, sorting at source, sweeping, and collection will be undertaken by municipalities. The Ministry of Environment will work on awareness raising and on rehabilitating waste sorting and treatment plants, communicating with municipalities in order to implement the Master Plan for Rehabilitation and Closure of Uncontrolled Dumpsites, as well as develop strategies for hazardous and other wastes such as the construction debris.
As feasible as these measures are, applying them while abiding by environmental regulations is key to start solving the waste problem in Lebanon. What we witnessed last week may be just the tip of the iceberg, as our own waters revolted and rejected the status quo. If that’s not going to spur us into real action, the situation may indeed be hopeless.