Perhaps George Santayana said it best in his quote “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. It has been evident that most of the solid waste crisis that occurred over the past 30 years in Lebanon are due to the ongoing centralized waste management system covering approximately half of the quantities of waste generated by the country. In 1997, the central dumpsite was closed down, and waste accumulated in the streets. In 2015, the central landfill closed down and the waste accumulated in the street. In 2020, the explosion of Port of Beirut damaged the sorting and composting facilities of Karantina and Coral; thus reducing the recovery rates and enhancing landfilling, which is imposing a major threat on the lifespan of the existing landfills.
The existing centralized system
Centralization is not only limited to having a system being managed by a central entity. Centralization is also related to having everything managed at a specific location. The existing solid waste management centralization in Beirut and Mount Lebanon is based on both aspects of centralization (management and location). Accordingly, waste management is being done by one central body, in one or two locations. Thus whenever a site fails to operate, a potential central crisis facing half of the population is anticipated. Therefore, limiting the processing of 3500T/d of waste at 2 sites for sorting, 1 site for biological treatment, and 2 sanitary landfills, is basically a ticking time bomb for a solid waste crisis, in a country already suffering from exhausted infrastructure and an ongoing economic crisis.
A version of decentralization Although ideally, a complete decentralization may be recommended as an alternative; however, if such a step is still premature at the management level, perhaps one should start with the decentralization of the location while developing gradually the phasing of the management decentralization at a different pace. Such a version of decentralization would entail scaling up smaller facilities (250 -500T/day) and distribute them geographically based on the generation rates/quantities. Accordingly, the term “day” in this context is comprised of two (8 hour) shifts. Hence, if a specific facility should happen to face operation challenges, its quantities of waste may be rerouted temporarily to the other neighboring facilities to be processed exceptionally over a third operating shift. This would enhance the robustness of the system. However, it should be noted that the rerouting of waste to other neighboring service areas may face public oppositions from citizens as a result of NIMBY syndrome and the refusal to receive waste from neighboring areas. The main approach to address this is through public outreach and awareness programs. Eventually, it will be a cyclic systems between the various service zones, and incentives my always be an option to overcome public resistance.
Recommendations It has become evident that the existing ongoing system is no longer serving it purpose. However, a smooth transition is needed. Any new system, should be based on lessons learned and should have specific targets to attain. Phasing out into decentralization in phases is always an option but it might not be the only one. The new system should be based on:
- Robust financial mechanisms,
- Public involvement & acceptance, and
- Key Performance Indicators.