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Presidential Blog

2020: A Wasteful or Wasteless Year

When we look back at year 2020, for us in Lebanon, four main incidents come to mind, economic crisis, Covid-19 pandemic, national lockdowns, and Port of Beirut explosion. The combination of these four incidents resulted in an economic recession that resulted in the closure of many business, a 48.5% decrease in imports compared to previous years, and an overall 58% decrease in trade (import & export). As for the unemployment it increased drastically from 6.2% (2019) to exceed 30% by end of June 2020. These figures indicate that 2020 was not a productive year, or in other words it was a wasteful year. Despite it being in general a wasteful year, this article will provide an overview of the solid waste sector within 2020.

Municipal Solid Waste

The general trend of municipal solid waste during 2020 was decreasing mainly due to the economic crisis and the Covid-19 lockdowns. The economic crisis resulted in a permanent closure of several businesses and in the depreciation in the value of the local currency, which limited the purchasing power of citizens and accordingly decreased the commercial waste and auxiliary household waste. On another front the national lockdowns due to Covid-19, resulted in a decrease in the waste generated from the commercial sector (restaurants, hotels, retail shops, malls, etc….). The decrease in quantities of waste between Aug 2019 and July 2020, was in the range of 20-24% in comparison to the same interval of the previous year. This time interval was selected in order not to account for the intrusion of demolition waste from the Port of Beirut explosion into the waste stream during August 2020. Keeping in mind the considered interval has two months (August and September 2019) that fall before the official inception of economic crisis and thus influence the quantities of waste positively.

As for the Port of Beirut explosion, there has been no official data related to the quantities of demolition waste that intruded into the municipal waste stream after the explosion. However, according to some internal analysis by ISWA-Lebanon team, the quantity has been estimated during the month of August 2020 to be in the range of 14 KTonnes.

Additionally, as part of Port of Beirut explosion analysis, it should be noted that up to July 2020 (inclusive) the quantities of landfilling activities were decreasing in Beirut and Mount Lebanon area simply for two reasons,

  1. The overall quantities of waste has decreased
  2. The biological treatment plant serving the area was originally undersized, thus part of the organic waste being landfilled was due to the limited capacity of the facility; thus, the decrease in quantities of waste, increased the percentage of material treated at the biological treatment plant and decreased the excess quantities of organics being landfilled.

However, after the explosion the landfill quantities in Beirut and Mount Lebanon increased due to the damage of the biological treatment plant and to one of the two sorting plants serving the area. Thus, the of landfilling has increased from its conventional 70% (before economic crisis), to more than 90% after the port of Beirut explosion.

As for the special waste stream, the impact of this stream in many cases is not spontaneous, since e-waste products, used vehicles, filters, etc… are either disposed of at end of life or when a newer version of the technology is in the market. However, it should be noted that according to IDAL report in July 2020, it was noted that the ICT (Information and Communication Technology) sector was not affected as per other sectors such as vehicle sector which witnessed a decrease in its imports. Accordingly, the decrease in vehicle import will result in gradual decrease in the end of life vehicles in the upcoming years. As for the e-waste, the impact of this stream is controversial, due to Covid-19 and the imposed lockdown measures which forced students to study remotely, and people to work remotely. Studying and working remotely resulted in an increase in the demand on smart devices, computers and their accessories despite of the economic recession. Accordingly, an increase in the end of life devices related to computers should be expected in the upcoming years, while other types of e-waste may encounter a decrease in the upcoming years due to the ongoing recession. In general, there is no comprehensive trend so far related to special waste streams as each stream tends to be behaving differently.

Healthcare Waste

The year 2020 in the healthcare environment is identified to be the year of the outbreak and spread of Covid-19 worldwide (including Lebanon). Upon preliminary analysis of the quantities of waste, it has been noted that in some hospitals covid-19 patients produce three times more infectious waste than the regular patient. However, during most of the year 2020 there was no major increase in the quantities of infectious waste. This is due to the decrease in the none urgent surgical procedures during Covd-19, which decreased the none Covid-19 infectious waste. However, a spike in the quantities of infectious waste was noted during August 2020 due to the Port of Beirut explosion. Additionally, due to the lack of hospital capacity due to the explosion, many injuries were quickly addressed at the hospital and injured personnel were sent home to recover and were asked to change the bandages at home, which also resulted in an intrusion of healthcare waste into the municipal waste stream. An increase in the quantities of healthcare waste is expected during the first quarter of 2021 due to the huge increase (exceeding 6000 cases per day as oppose to the previous 2000 cases per day) in cases recorded at the beginning of the year.

Construction and Demolition Waste (CDW)

There is no official quantification of CDW generated in Lebanon. Nonetheless several academic publications have been issued over the past years with each giving a different estimation. Regardless of the actual quantities, CDW in general is directly related to construction and rehabilitation works, which have experienced a notable decrease due to the economic recession. However, the Port of Beirut explosion may have contributed in redeeming the quantities of CDW within Beirut. Estimation of the quantities of CDW generated annually in Beirut according to various publications ranged between 0.5 Million tonnes and 0.9 Million tonnes. Coincidently, according to UNDP assessment of the CDW quantities have been within the same range.

Conclusive Statement

When it comes to waste streams it seems that year 2020 was wasteless for some waste streams while wasteful for others. Regardless of its impact of various waste streams, it is clear that year 2020 forms an turning point in conventional waste generation trends in Lebanon. Especially that the economic recession is extending beyond 2020 so is the Covid-19 pandemic. Therefore, the validity of previous solid waste plans and projections are at stake and would require validation and amendments in some cases. Hence, it would be advisable to revisit previous studies and adjust them if needed in light of the impacts of year 2020.

[1] https://blog.blominvestbank.com/38982/lebanons-trade-deficit-down-by-58-yoy-at-5-25b-by-september-2020/

[2] https://www.consultancy-me.com/news/2900/lebanons-unemployment-rate-surges-past-30-amid-meltdown


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