Fighting waste: problems in Lebanon

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Fighting waste: problems in Lebanon

Lebanon has not managed their waste well. So people are protesting on the streets. They are angry at the new plans. But there are also optimists. By Fiona Bloom


A river of bin bags in the road in Jdeideh, Beirut, in the middle of the rubbish crisis in February 2016. (Photo: Hasan Shaaban/Reuters)

The rubbish on Lebanon’s beaches shows the whole of life there: – hummus containers, espresso cups, plastic water bottles. It also shows the political problems: that they don’t care about the environment or health, and that they are not worried about finding solutions for serious problems, or corruption.

The country – particularly the capital Beirut – has had a big waste crisis since 2015. There was too much rubbish in the Naameh landfill site, so the people forced the government to close it. The government finally closed it 12 years after the planned closure. No one collected the waste for 9 months in Beirut because of problems with the waste collection company. It was left in the streets. People protested so the government quickly opened 2 new landfills, outside Beirut.


One of the new landfill sites outside Beirut

But problems with waste in Beirut started many years ago. In the 1975-90 wars, Bourj Hammoud was a dump; the Lebanese Forces militia who controlled the area accepted illegal shipments of toxic waste from Italy. People think that some of this toxic waste is still there. The governments after that have not started a good national waste plan. They only think of short-term solutions.

The newest short-term solution is an incinerator, to burn the waste. Many people are against it. The process of burning the waste might use more energy than it produces.

Lebanon’s waste problem is not only rubbish from houses; it is also sewage, industrial, agricultural and medical waste. Only eight per cent of water coming from houses and factories goes through treatment before it goes into the Mediterranean Sea. But if they used the facilities better, they could treat more than 20 per cent of waste¬water.

Bad management is everyone in Lebanon. So many people do not think it is a good idea to build and incinerator. Incinerators can explode and they always produce some toxic emissions. There is no ‘safe space’ - an area with no people - in Beirut.

Joslin Kehdy, who started the social enterprise Recycle Beirut, doesn’t believe it is possible to make an incinerator safe, in Lebanon or any place. She hopes that technical experts from the Waste Management Coalition (Recycle Beirut is a member of this) can convince the Beirut local government to stop planning an incinerator.

But politicians want the incinerator because they will benefit from it eg. from land created from rubbish dumped in the sea. They can also make money from it.

Kehdy says there are other solutions eg. re-using things, recycling and using nature, for example natural pesticides. argues that alternative solutions to the waste crisis exist within Lebanon’s traditional circular living culture. The ability and knowledge of reusing items is evident across the country, particularly in the villages.

Lebanon is now growing quickly, but there is space for optimism. There is a lot of creativity in the country, so they can find different ways of producing and using things.

Fiona Broom is a freelance journalist and environmental management student.


(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed)