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Words Bassam Al Kantar

In Lebanon, an ongoing dilemma on waste management is evident. Studies show that the amount of waste produced needs adequate management plans to ensure a healthier lifestyle and environment.

In 2016, the estimated Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) generated in Lebanon amounted to 2.04 million tons a year or 5600 tons a day, 77% of which went to landfills and dumpsites. Particularly, in Beirut, the estimated MSW generated amounted to 237250 tons a year or 650 tons a day. The solid waste composition is divided as follows: paper and cardboard accounting to 16%, plastics accounting to 11.5%, organic matter accounting to 52.5%, and others accounting to 20%. Others include 5.5% of metals, 3% of textiles, 3.5% of glass, 1% of wood, 3% of diapers, and 4% of others.

Decision makers agree that waste incineration could be a practical solution to implement. However, its success incorporates a nationwide strategy. Furthermore, anti-incineration coalitions argue that adopting waste to energy solution is actually a step toward burning just about everything. Consequently, before burning or landfilling residue, the government needs to employ waste strategies that acknowledge the significance of sorting, recycling, composting, and biofuel generating.

Waste management has also been attributed to politics in Lebanon. In the summer of 2015, the government suspended trash collection due to the shutting down of the Naameh Landfill. The decision incited protests in Beirut. In March 2016, authorities claimed that they have solved the issue. However, contractors were simply disposing the trash into two newly established coastal landfills instead of the Naameh one. In a bid to end this crisis, the Lebanese government announced a temporary four-year plan by adopting a sorting waste process from source, strengthening recycling industries, and establishing waste treatment facilities.

On a different note, in September 2015, the Lebanese government established guidelines on the Solid Domestic Waste (SDW) Treatment Plan. They adopted the principle of treatment decentralization, whereby the municipalities and their union were held responsible for the SDW over a sustainable period, in accordance with implementation mechanisms set for this purpose, as an intrinsic part of the transitional SDW treatment period.

A Study Within Beirut

Even though collecting recyclable material is an active service, especially within the vicinity of Beirut, 50% of those materials are lost upon reaching the disposal phase due to the lack of sorting from the source. Moreover, landfill use is linked to land availability and the “not in my backyard – nimby” effect.

Early next year, the United Nations Development Program is planning to launch a new project to help the Beirut Municipality in fulfilling its promise of collecting recyclable materials from the source as part of its domestic solid waste management plan. For this purpose, a study about the situation of recycling cardboard and paper in the Lebanese context, specifically in Beirut, is being conducted. The study addresses a desk review of the Lebanese paper industry and a mapping review of cardboard and paper recycling. Eventually, the study aims at introducing a business plan, called “Warak Beirut”, which is a pilot project that serves as a prototype for the recycling initiatives in the country.

THE PILOT PROJECT AND AWARENESS CAMPAIGNS PLAY A CRUCIAL ROLE IN INITIATING A CULTURE OF SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT IN LEBANON

After a series of workshops and debates and months of work on different projects, the governmental key-players, which include the Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Interior and Municipalities, OMSAR, and the Council for Development and Reconstruction (CDR), will be able to compile “roadmaps” and “emergency plans”. The maps and plans intend to give pointers to municipalities, NGOs, and homeowners on efficiently tackling the issue. These pointers include informative sets of dos and don’ts and an overview of the waste management options available in Lebanon. The roadmaps conclude that sorting cardboard and paper from the source is the most effective solution for an efficient recycling process.

A Brighter Outlook

The Project and awareness campaigns play a crucial role in initiating a culture of sustainable development in Lebanon, which offers innovative solutions to waste management. Even though the environmental cause was insufficient to motivate behavior change, the solidarity will prove to be a driving force. The Project launches a transition from a society, where waste is regarded as a source of pollution, unpleasant odors, and diseases, into a society, where waste is considered a valuable resource used for sustainable development.

Working with more than 200 organizations, including municipalities, schools, universities, companies, refugee camps, residential buildings, and other associations, Warak Beirut Project proves to be practical and successful. The solution is appealing for private organizations, as well, because it provides them with opportunities to contribute to social activities and environmental preservation through the simple act of paper and cardboard sorting. The process could be undertaken under their “Corporate Social Responsibility” and could improve their image in society. Moreover, associations could increase social engagement through encouraging waste sorting within their communities. Schools and universities could also use this solution as an educational tool for sustainable development.