Circular Economy is the latest international solid waste strategy following the green and blue economies that preceded it. Circular economy in principle aims at capitalizing on resources within the waste streams by circulating their use at the account of final disposal. On the other hand Lebanon in its current waste management schemes is far away from circular economy with its ongoing 70-85% final disposal practices. However, many activists are lobbying to implement circular Economy in Lebanon.
Numerous Interpretations of Circular Economy
To shed some more light on circular economy, it might be interesting to have a look at a blog article posted on ISWA’s website (https://www.iswa.org/home/news/news-detail/article/114-1-definitions-for-a-circular-economy-finding-a-common-language/109/) this article is based on a published paper that is referenced within the above link. The interesting thing about this article is that it reveals that there is no universally agreed on definition for circular economy despite having the majority of definitions highlighting the 3Rs (Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle) system. The article highlights the existence of 114 definitions of circular economy of which some include Waste to Energy.
Accordingly, having numerous definitions of circular economy, raises concerns regarding means of assessment on whether a circular economy is achieved or not. For instance, if a certain region or state achieves circular economy based on “Definition A” but fails to achieve it based on “Definition B”. In such a case which definition prevails in the circular economy performance assessment?
Another challenge rises when specific terms may have different definitions between various states. Some laws of some states consider Waste to Energy as a form of recycling, under the principle that it transforms waste into a usable form of Energy (whether electric power, or district heating), while other laws of other states exclude Waste to Energy from the recycling category. Such variations in laws between various states also impose pressure points on having a clear definition of circular economy, and means of assessment of performance towards achieving it.
Lebanon and Circular Economy
Despite the urge to develop Lebanon’s ongoing solid waste schemes to converge towards modernized systems including Circular Economy, one should note that such a conversion will not happen by a flick of a button. As a first step, a clear definition of circular economy should be endorsed (one out of the 114 definitions). As a second step the economic model of Lebanon should be refined and developed. Yes, circular economy is not compatible with Lebanon’s current economic system. The success of the implementation of circular economy is partially related to the development of compatible infrastructure that would support the 3Rs system with enhancement of the industrial sector being one of the fundamental parts of the system. It is evident that the industrial sector in Lebanon has been struggling over the past decades due to neglect, and high cost of operation with cheaper imported products flooding the local market. Accordingly, to enhance the 3Rs, industrial sector should be developed to manage the various streams especially those related to reuse and recycling. The industrial sector can contribute to reuse by repairing used products, and/or enabling reuse of certain products as part of other new systems/products, while it can contribute to recycling by transforming current products into new one. In the absence of a competitive industrial sector, enhancing the recovery capacity of material from waste streams will not serve its purpose in moving towards circular economy, as such recovered products may end up in landfills (a simple recent Lebanese example is the glass waste stream).
In addition, to the development of the industrial sector, the waste management system should also be developed. The development of the waste management systems will have to move on the following levels:
Generators of Waste
Waste generation is a key issue and accordingly, schemes should be set forward to reduce waste generation from one side (implementation of Pay As You Through (PAYT) concept as one option).
Other aspects include enhancing the culture of sorting at source. Despite that sorting at source has its own learning curve, it should be introduced into the waste management system in a hybrid and interactive manner.
An additional aspect is to enhance and develop Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) systems. EPR schemes encourage manufacturers to use reusable or recyclable products from one aspect and forces manufacturers/importers to be responsible of the end of life products that they produce/import and hence they will have to manage it as per required norms and standards, thus reducing waste generation and enhancing the management of various products.
Waste Cost Recovery
Circular economy cannot be achieved without ensuring the sustainability of the waste management system. A key aspect for the sustainability of any system is by ensuring the sustainability of the Operation, Maintenance and Development (OM&D) cost. The current structure and legislations in Lebanon do not ensure a clear and dedicated fund for the OM&D and thus contributing to the vulnerability of the ongoing solid waste practices and plans in Lebanon. Accordingly, a dedicated waste cost recovery system is needed for any solid waste management system including a system based on circular economy to ensure its sustainability and robustness.
Collection of Waste
The current waste collection schemes should be reconsidered and developed to encourage the implementation of waste reduction, sorting at source, and EPR mechanisms.
Processing of Waste
The current waste management systems in Lebanon are very basic and are more biased towards labor sorting and segregations. The systems should be modernized and automated to enhance performance when it comes to segregation. Additionally, biological treatment mechanisms should be also reconsidered and diversified to account for the nature of the waste being managed and to the limitations of various technologies.
Furthermore, waste processing should be developed by means of favoring decentralization over numerous facilities and service areas to enhance robustness and sustainability.
Moving towards circular economy is an objective that should be implemented in a pragmatic and systematic manner and over phases taking into consideration the status of Lebanon’s existing infrastructure. The movement towards circular economy should be done by developing flexible yet robust systems and mechanisms to enable adaptation to newer economies that might be developed in the future as a follow up to circular economy.