The solid waste sector has evolved internationally towards capitalizing on resources and material through various practices at the account of final disposal. This practice is known as circularity or circular economy. It starts from the production of material, where single use products, are replaced by reusable or recyclable products, to reduction of waste generation, to enhancing the recovery of material, and all the way towards reduction of landfilling. In Lebanon, many of the solid waste specialists are working and pushing towards circularity, with some draft legislations being prepared and some pilot interventions being implemented; however, the pace is quite slow, and disappointing. It seems that as most people involved in the solid waste sector throughout the world are prioritizing and moving towards circularity and circular economy, Lebanon is running in a circularity of its own.
Circularities in Lebanon
Several circularities can be highlighted in general that govern the status of the solid waste sector in Lebanon. Some of these circularities are as follows:
Circularity of History
If we focus on recent history (the last 25 years), we notice that in 1996, public opposition started against having a single disposal site serving Beirut and Mount Lebanon, in Bourj Hamoud area. This public opposition escalated gradually, resulting in 1997 in the closing the disposal site by the municipality of Bourj Hamoud and citizens. Thus, municipal solid waste started accumulating in the streets resulting in a solid waste crisis.
The response to this crisis was a short-term emergency plan, with its key elements based on establishing two sorting facilities, one composting facility and a central landfill in Naameh for municipal solid waste, and a second landfill for bulky waste in Bsalim.
The emergency plan of 1997 was continuously extended up till 2015, despite the development of several plans during this period.
In 2013, the signs of the circulation started to gradually spark. Towards the end of 2013 protests against Naameh landfill, its size and centralization notably increased. In January 2014, the Lebanese Council of Ministers decided to close the Landfill in a year time. In summer 2015 the landfill was closed with no actual alternative plan or site for landfilling. Causing a historic circulation but with a bigger magnitude. Waste accumulated along the streets of Beirut and Mount Lebanon. After several months of waste accumulation along the streets and curbsides, the council of ministers endorsed a second short-term emergency plan. The second plan was a 3-year plan with its key elements based on establishing two coastal landfills (1 at Bourj Hamoud/Jdeideh, and the second at Costa Brava), one additional landfill to be identified later on, upgrading and expanding the capacities of sorting facilities and the existing composting facility, and construction of an additional composting facility at Costa Brava.
Well now that we are in 2021, definitely the 3 years of this short-term emergency should have come to an end. However, another historic circulation took place, and the duration of the plan has been extended and the capacity of the two coastal landfills has been expanded, while the construction of a third landfill was never implemented, and the upgrades of facilities experiencing delays.
Yes, it seems Lebanon is experiencing a historic circulation in the waste sector, from abusing the implementation of emergency plans beyond their actual preset term, to the extensive extension of plans and expansion of disposal sites till the situation reaches its limits or exceeds it.
Another form of circularity seems to be related to the approach. The first national emergency plan was activated as a post crisis measure back in 1997, and stayed active till 2015. Although, there was more than 15 years to develop an alternative non-emergency measures, and despites the various plans that were developed (2006 plan, 2010 plan, and 2013 plan), none of them were implemented. The second emergency plan was launched in 2016 as a post 2015 solid waste crisis and is still ongoing, despite the fact that it exceeded its actual pre-set timeframe. Accordingly, it seems that there is a circulation in the approach of decision makers where plans are implemented only as a pre-crises measure. If that is true, then this is a major drawback since crisis responses are developed as part of as a quick response to a crisis and not as a sustainable response.
Circularity of Experts
Ironically, in Lebanon, there is a circularity in experts. Yes, circularity in experts. Whenever a new challenge or crisis pops up suddenly everyone becomes an expert in the field and want to impose the solutions, they see fit without them having the technical knowledge/background nor the baseline information based on which decisions are taken. For instance, whenever a solid waste topic is set forward, one would notice, various people holding interviews on how to address this issue, from the farmer, to the sports commentator, to the surgeon, to the lawyer, etc… recently, with the ongoing pandemic (COVID-19) and vaccination approach following it, one would find the same people preaching also on how to respond to the pandemic and how to approach the vaccination. Thus, Lebanon ends up having the same set of “Experts” circulated to talk in various field based on the topic of the hour.
The way forward is basically in breaking these vicious circulations that the solid waste sector in Lebanon is stuck in. The target should be to reach a sustainable system that approaches towards circular economy. As a first step Lebanon should recycle the ongoing decision-making mechanism that does not evolve or move without a crisis pressuring it. This decision-making mechanism should be recycled into an interactive mechanism that adapts to the continuous ongoing changes on local and international level. The decision-making mechanism should have the flexibility to respond to variable that are encounters and to adapt to new technologies and systems. Additionally, Lebanon will need to recycle the so-called multidisciplinary experts into specific experts per field, and promote the opinion of these actual experts per field of expertise in order not to mislead the public.