Lebanon needs a long-term solution to its trash woes

Still a mess

Greg Demarque | Executive
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Lebanon on the precipice of another trash crisis, with its own garbage floating in the sea, lining the streets, and forming a mountain in Tripoli. All this not even five years after the last crisis that, in 2015, saw mounds of garbage pile up on the streets of Beirut and Mount Lebanon. In the north, the garbage mounds have already reappeared, after the owner of the Aadoueh dump refused to accept anymore trash. In the capital, politicians have warned that if no solutions are implemented, the Burj Hammoud and Costa Brava landfills will reach capacity and the country will enter its next garbage crisis by the beginning of September. With that calendar mark passed, it seems Beirut remains safe for a little while longer. How much longer will be determined by the government’s ability to implement long-term waste management solutions rather than relying on ad hoc measures to delay continual threats of crises. A country can only rely on stopgap measures for so long, and 30 plus years—the first emergency measures were implemented in 1997—is far too long.

What then, is standing in the way of a solution? Following altercations in Aley, cabinet meetings were postponed for six weeks, stalling talks on Environment Minister Fady Jreissati’s proposed new solid waste management roadmap. The government, as usual, chose politicking over addressing serious challenges the country is facing. Slight hope emerged when cabinet adopted the roadmap on August 27. But it was adopted without inclusion of a financing mechanism, which is to be studied over the next month. With Jreissati warning that another trash crisis would begin as soon as September 1 if nothing were done, it is curious that with the plan not passed in full, let alone implemented, this deadline has passed without landfills reaching capacity, informal dumps rejecting garbage, and a second crisis kicking off. When Executive asked a Ministry of Environment official how this passage of the roadmap would help in averting this crisis given the timeframes involved, they replied: “Sometimes people make predictions and they’re wrong.”

A weak long shot

New financing mechanism aside—a previous attempt to create one via Law 80 (2018) was removed before it was voted on Parliament—the roadmap calls for a four-part plan to be implemented. The funding issue seems to be central in past failures, like efforts to introduce sorting at source in 2017, to clean up Lebanon’s streets and introduce sorting at source in municipalities and treatment facilities. The sector also carries an alleged deficit of $2 to $3 million, though no one from the Ministry of Finance could confirm this. If the roadmap’s proposed financing mechanism is agreed on, the sector may be well on its way to productivity, but without it the country will continue to be forced to view waste management through a crisis lens. 

Since the end of the civil war in 1990, the country has witnessed emergency measure after emergency measure taken in an attempt to manage waste. The 1998 creation of the Naameh landfill, closure of which spurred the 2015 crisis, was one such measure. In 2006, the household solid waste management master plan was approved by the Council of Ministers as the first attempt at comprehensive waste management. Yet, nothing happened due to political turmoil at the same time. Efforts were renewed in 2010 with little to no progress made. The 2018 law called for a national strategy to be created within six months. Eleven months later one was delivered. 

In a country where progress tends to be slow if not completely stalled, it is of little surprise that the solid waste management roadmap emerged late. Executive has examined the roadmap and the elements that cabinet approved. It is the view of Executive’s editors that implementing this new plan seems like a long shot, given the government’s history of ineptitude and seeming apathy unless crisis stinks up the capital’s streets (even less attention seems to be given if trash piles up in other parts of the country). Previous legislation encourages municipalities to independently manage their waste, but many lack the funds to do so. One wonders how the central government expects this round of attempts at decentralization and increased sorting at source to go any differently.

The solution needed is three-fold. It is the government’s job to chart a comprehensive and sustainable path forward and make sure municipalities are equipped financially to comply with new legislation. Municipalities, given proper funding, must devise ways to effectively collect garbage and enforce regulations—primarily those regarding sorting at source. Finally, citizens themselves must do their part in their own homes. Most waste management experts Executive spoke with agree that Lebanese are willing to sort at source, but lack the infrastructure to do so. Executive calls on the government to finally secure the path and the funding of solid waste management, and for municipalities to establish infrastructure for it, so that citizens will be able to comply with their civic duties for responsible waste management. It remains to be seen if this plan will be the one that sets Lebanon’s waste crisis on a path to recovery, but protests over incinerators, and sure-to-come protests over increased fees for citizens who will have to foot the bill for many of the proposed measures, will make its implementation challenging. 

*

Top