Sea Landfills in Lebanon and future potentials" />

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Sea Landfills in Lebanon and future potentials

After the 2015 solid waste crisis Lebanon established 2 sea landfills to serve Beirut and most of Mount Lebanon. These Landfills are known as the Costa Brava Landfill and the Bourj Hammoud Landfill. Both of these landfills have been receiving comingled waste that has undergone some treatment process, and eventually are reaching their maximum design capacity levels. Many Lebanese think that Lebanon is the only country that has resorted to sea landfills, while in reality, sea landfills have been implemented in more than one country with Japan being amongst the pioneers in this field. Accordingly, as the country is suffering public resistance to construction of landfill sites and since the capacities of existing landfills are reaching their design saturation this article aims at providing an overview of the topic with an overview of the Japanese solid waste management system.

The Rise of Sea Landfills in Lebanon

It all started during the Lebanese War (1975 and 1990), when many Lebanese towns resorted to creating coastal dumpsites to manage their waste. Thus creating dumpsites such as Tripoli dumpsite, Normandy Dumpsite, Bourj Hammoud Dumpsite, and Saida Dumpsite. In 1993 the decision to close and rehabilitate the Normandy Dumpsite was taken. As part of that decision the waste of the Normandy Dumpsite waste excavated and treated, and the land of the Normandy Dumpsite was reclaimed for real-estate development, and a 70 hectare public park. This project initiated the reclamation land within the sea as part of treatment of coastal Dumpsites. Accordingly, between 2013 and 2015, Saida dumpsite was rehabilitated, through constructing a sanitary landfill within the coastal area to host the waste of the dumpsite after conducting sorting and treatment. This project comprised of the first sea sanitary landfill, although it was limited to the management of the dumpsite waste. In 2015, the decision was taken to close the Naameh landfill which served Beirut and most of Mount Lebanon Governorates. While the government faced high public resistance, to host any sanitary landfill to serve these two governorates, the waste started accumulating in the streets. In 2016, after approximately eight months of waste accumulation in the streets, the decision was taken to establish 2 sea sanitary landfills, one in Bourj Hammoud-Jdeideh area and included rehabilitation of the Bourj Hammoud dumpsite as part of the intervention, while the second was located at the construction and demolition dumpsite of Costa Brava. The plan aimed at addressing the coastal dumpsite issue at both areas, working on developing the solid waste management facilities to limit the amount of waste being sent to these two landfills. However, unfortunately the upgrade of the waste management facilities consumed more time than anticipated, thus resulted in having the two sanitary landfills hosting more waste per day than originally anticipated.
In addition to these two sea sanitary landfill the government established a third sanitary landfill at Tripoli next to the existing dumpsite. The decision was taken after Tripoli’s engineered dumpsite exceeded its design capacity and its risk of collapsing started escalating. Tripoli’s sea sanitary landfill was put in operation in 2019.

Post Reaching the Design Capacity of the Three Sanitary Landfills

Although the Lebanese Government has endorsed the solid waste roadmap of the Ministry of Environment on 27th of August 2019, the roadmap mainly focuses on launching national bids to construct 25 sanitary landfills throughout the country and upgrading and constructing new solid waste facilities, the public remains skeptical for the following reasons,

  • The roadmap does not present stringent deadlines for the activities. So the implementation pace and plan remain unclear,
  • The historic slow pace of the government in implementing interventions make people doubtful about being able to implement the required upgrades in due time,
  • Not all 25 sanitary landfills sites have been officially endorsed and are publicly acceptable.

In reality the decision of horizontal expansion of the Costa Brava Landfill has been already taken and works are in progress, and hence, the sanitary landfill under current conditions can still serve for 2.5 to 3 years. The current bottleneck is related to Bourj Hammoud sea landfill, which is facing public opposition for both vertical and horizontal expansion options, with no clear and decisive alternative being proposed. As for Tripoli Sea Landfill it still has approximately 2.5 years of lifespan ahead of it under current conditions.

Japan’s Sea Landfills and Waste Management

Japan established its first sea sanitary landfills in 1920 in Shiomi, which was followed by other sea sanitary landfills such as Yumenoshima, Wakasu, and Others. Currently, the main landfill site serving Tokyo is an artificial island in the middle of the sea, identified as Central Breakwater Landfills. Historically, many of these sanitary landfills used to host mixed waste; however today the operational sea landfills mainly receive fly ash from incinerators, and incombustible non-recyclable waste. As for bottom ash, part of it is used to substitute part of the clay stream in cement production, while the remaining part is treated and is used in producing construction material/products. The Central Break Water Landfills, are expected to serve around 50 more years; however, since alternative options are limited specifically for Tokyo (37 million inhabitants within an area of 622km2), authorities, are working extensively on further reducing the amount of waste to be landfilled to prolong the life of the landfills. According to Japan Times “Wasteland, Tokyo Grows on its Trash”, Tokyo has already managed to drop its total amount of waste from 4.9 million tonnes (1989) to 2.7 million tonnes (2014), with only 1/8 of the 2014 quantity ending up in Landfills. However, this does not seem to be enough due to limited landfilling options, and authorities are working on further reducing the amount of waste through, enhancing reduction of waste generation, enhancing sorting, and investigating means of capitalizing on the ash generated for utilization in cement production. What should be noted that the various sea landfills have either been converted into recreational areas and facilities, or are planned to be converted once they are closed.

Analogies and Recommendations

Let us start with a slight comparison between Tokyo and Beirut and Mount Lebanon areas

Beirut and Mount Lebanon Tokyo
First Modern SW Law 2018 1900
Percent of Waste Landfilled 75% 12.5%
Remaining life of sea landfills 3 years 50 years
Quantity of Waste 1.4 million Tonnes/year 2.7 million Tonnes/year
Area 1625.5 Km2 622 Km2

The population size of Beirut and Mount Lebanon and of Tokyo were excluded since the population of Tokyo itself exceeds that of entire Lebanon. Based on the comparison table above, it clearly seems that Beirut and Mount Lebanon areas is more than twice that of Tokyo, while the quantities of waste is almost half of that of Tokyo. Perhaps, the key discrepancy starts with 118 years gap in solid waste legislations. The absence of Legal framework for the solid waste sector has definitely prevented Lebanon for enabling advanced techniques in waste management and waste reduction. This is reflected in the high percentage of landfilling in comparison with Japan (Tokyo). The second aspect is the planning, Tokyo is planning on reduction of landfilling due to a 50 year milestone, while Beirut and Mount Lebanon and barely creating 3 year transitional period planning. That being said, it should be made clear that there is no way around landfilling based on existing Solid Waste management techniques, methods and technologies. What can be done is developing the waste management system to reduce Landfilling. This can be done through implementing the international solid waste hierarchy as a starting point. However, implementing the waste management schemes of the hierarchy will not happen overnight and would require time to develop and enforce, hence high percentage of Landfilling should be tolerated on the short run even after activating hierarchy schemes. Thus the main challenge will remain to find suitable locations for sanitary landfills which may be socially acceptable. Concerning Costa Brava and Bourj Hammoud-Jdeideh landfills, although when it comes to their location they can be considered controversial; however, one should look at this project in a holistic manner and account for fact that projects themselves aimed at addressing an emergency situation and at addressing existing coastal dumpsites. What happened has happened, and it does not make sense to waste time evaluating previous decision, while the country is facing solid waste pressure points that need urgent and progressive interventions to resolve, keeping in mind that we should start planning for the next 50 years, and for the final utilization of the project after it reaches its lifespan. Definitely we cannot keep expanding our landfills along the coastal area and thus deplete our coastal resources, beaches, reef, biodiversity, etc… The primary focus should be to allocate locations for landfills in mainland Lebanon. Such locations must be enforced by Lebanese authorities, if the sites are found to be convenient with the right management and preventive measures. If securing mainland landfills are to fail, and since various exporting of waste interventions over the past 5 years have also been unsuccessful, and the only remaining option is to construct sea landfills, then we should learn for Japan’s experience. Tokyo (Japan) created an artificial breakwater island in the sea with a recreational plan for it, while at the same time it serves a higher purpose in relation to the port and shipping activities. Accordingly, as a last resort for landfilling, and instead of depleting the Lebanese coastline and depleting our beaches, authorities should consider as an alternative creating breakwater sea landfill islands with both recreational and economic objectives. Such intervention should preserve our coastline, and should address the public complaints about landfill odors.

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