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Potential Collapse of the Solid Waste System

Throughout the recent history of Lebanon, more than one solid waste system has collapsed. Worldwide, the collapse of solid waste systems may be attributed to various reasons, public acceptance, failure of technologies, development of newer technologies, lack of means of sustainability, etc…. This article will highlight some of the key solid waste management systems that have collapsed in Lebanon, reaching the existing system and the risks it is facing that might lead to its collapse.

The collapse of the 70’s system

During the 70’s Lebanon was moving towards developing solid waste management systems to get out of the open dumping system towards other management systems which included the first solid waste incinerator which was constructed in Karantina-Beirut and commissioned in 1974. In April 1975, a 15 year war started in Lebanon, thus imposing a big pressure point on most sectors including the solid waste sector. The war resulted in limiting municipal financial resources, and weakening the central government monitoring and law enforcement. Thus, resulted in the collapse of the system, which lead to reviving of the open dump system. Thus the open dump system became a trend for the vast majority of municipalities, resulting in renowned dumpsites like, Normandy Dumpsite, Bourj Hammoud Dumpsite, Saida Dumpsite, Tripoli Dumpsite, Ras El Ain Dumpsite, Zahle Dumpsite, Hbaline Dumpsite, and many other Dumpsites.

The 90’s system and its collapse

In the early 90’s an attempt to revive the system of the early 70s was made for greater Beirut area, a second incinerator was commissioned in Ammroussieh to complement that of Karantina, in addition to sorting facilities. In 1993, both incinerators were ready for operation and the decision to close and rehabilitate the Normandy Dumpsite was taken. In 1997 the system collapsed due to public opposition that targeted mainly two aspects of the system

  • Opposition of Bourj Hammoud Dumpsite, which witnessed an increase in its scope of service due to the closure of Normandy Dumpsite.
  • Opposition of Ammroussieh’s Incinerator, due to complaints about its emissions, odours, and efficiency. Consequently protesters penetrated and set fire to the facilities of Ammroussieh.

The first emergency plan system and its collapse

In 1997, due to the collapse of the greater Beirut solid waste system of the 90s, the first emergency plan was developed to cover Beirut and Mount Lebanon (excluding Jbeil). The emergency plan was based on constructing two sanitary landfills one in Naameh (for municipal solid waste), and another in Bsalim (for bulky solid waste). Thus creating the first sanitary Landfills in Lebanon. The sorting facilities at Karantina and Ammroussieh were developed to enhance their capacity, although their technology remained basic and focused on bag openers and handpicking lines. The final part of the system comprised of a 300T/d composting facility at the Coral area. This system survived for 17 years despite its numerous weaknesses that can be summarized by the following points:

  • Basic sorting systems, with limited recovery rates
  • Lack of financial sustainability (part of the funding was deducted by central government from the independent municipal fund, while the bulk of the fund was registered as a debt on the municipalities towards the central government that settled it to operators)
  • All activities were performed by the same operator, who got paid for the various activities from collection, to sorting & composting reaching landfilling. With no incentives to develop the technology and enhance recovery rates.
  • Heavy routing around specific points especially around Naameh landfill that received daily more that 80% of the collected waste from Beirut and Mount Lebanon.
  • Composting facility’s capacity covered at best 20% of the organic waste quantity generated by the service area in covered.
  • The output material of the compost facility was distributed for free, due to physical impurities. However, the chemical and biological quality of the material remained a point of debate.

In parallel to the emergency plan, various sources of funding mainly EU and USAID, contributed in the construction of solid waste facilities mainly outside Beirut and Mount Lebanon areas. The operation of these facilities was funded by the central government as a subsidy. Additionally, some of the solid waste facilities were operated and managed by Municipalities (i.e. Zahle). Additionally, two main dumpsites were rehabilitated during this period (Saida’s Dumpsite and Zahle’s Dumpsite)
However, during 2015, the first emergency plan system collapsed due to the closure of Naameh sanitary landfill, which resulted in the accumulation of waste throughout the streets of Beirut and Mount Lebanon for several months. The Naameh sanitary landfill was closed in 2015 as a result of opposition from citizens of neighboring areas, and due to political interferences in the sector and failing to reach mutual consensus.

The second emergency plan system

As a result of the collapse of the first emergency plan, a second emergency plan was developed and activated in March 2016. This plan can be summarized by the following points

  • Upgrade of Ammroussieh and Karantina sorting Facilities
  • Upgrade Coral Composting Facility from 300T/d to 750T/d, at construct a second composting facility at Costa Brava with a capacity of 750T/d. (Coral was upgraded in 2018, Costa Brava Facility is still under-construction)
  • Establish 3 sanitary landfills, 2 of which are coastal and located at Costa Brava and Bourj Hammoud-Jdeideh. While the third did not have any pre-specified location and it was designated to serve the Cazas of Chouf and Aley (eventually, the 3rd landfill was never established, and the waste of the Caza’s of Chouf and Aley were served by Costa Brava Landfill).
  • Encourage sorting at source (no major progress achieved in the area)
  • Encourage decentralization (limited interventions within Beirut and Mount Lebanon)

As for the means of funding it remained as per the scenario of the first emergency plan.
Additionally, in parallel to the second emergency plan subsidized operation of facilities mainly located outside Beirut and Mount Lebanon continued so did the operation of some of the facilities directly by municipalities (i.e. Beit Meri). However, it was noted that sorting at source initiatives did increase but not significantly. Furthermore, during the period of this system Bourj Hammoud Dumpsite was rehabilitated.

Potential collapse of the second emergency plan system

Most of the weaknesses of the first emergency plan still apply to the second plan especially, especially when it comes to sustainability of funding. Other limitations are also encountered during the second emergency plan system that include,

  • The limited capacity of the coastal sanitary landfills
  • The economic crisis (the Crown Jewel) Lebanon is witnessing and the depreciation of the Lebanese currency.

Due to the economic crisis the Lebanese Government is facing serious challenges in allocating funds for the sector especially in the absence of a cost recovery system and a dedicated source of funding for the sector. Thus securing funds for the subsidization and covering payments on behalf of the municipalities as a municipal debt are both at stake. Furthermore, the depreciation of the currency, is creating a huge pressure point on securing maintenance parts for equipment and machinery, which are imported. Not to forget the everlasting dilemma of finding publicly acceptable locations for landfills at the time that Bourj Hamoud-Jdeideh landfill is few month away from reaching its design capacity. All these challenges indicate a potential collapse risk of the second emergency plan.


Based on the previous collapse scenarios and the current potential collapse scenario, the following key suggestions are recommended for any upcoming plan to account for:

  • Ensure have a robust cost recovery system to ensure sustainability
  • Reduce the role of central government and enhance that of local authorities or union of local authorities
  • Enhance material recovery rates and reduce landfilling to prolong life-span of sanitary landfills
  • Construct sanitary landfills with anticipated capacities of at least 20 years.
  • Enforce penalties of non-environmental friendly practices (open dumping)
  • Encourage environmental Friendly systems (establish Extended Producer Responsibility system)


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