Despite all the zero waste initiatives and promotions, it still remains a myth. Nevertheless, new strategies and master plans are helping in the conversion of solid waste management towards it without actually succeeding in attaining it. As for Lebanon, it is still far away from it with final disposal exceeding 75%. To make it even worse, Lebanon has been living under emergency solid waste plans for more than two decades and has been undergoing an economic crisis for the past year. Definitely, the economic crisis and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, has shifted the nationwide priorities towards the healthcare system and securing basic food needs. Thus, further crippling the struggling solid waste sector and enhancing the risks of the outbreak of a new solid waste crisis. However, from another aspect, the quantities of waste has decreased throughout Lebanon in notable percentages reaching up to 40% in some areas. Therefore, Lebanon has to re-strategize based on its current status and limitations.
An Overview Lebanon’s Waste Generation.
Back in the day, the prevailing basic lifestyle reduced the generation of municipal solid waste, and most waste products were extensively reused by producers. A simple example, organic products were either used as backyard compost in gardens or as food for the livestock, while textiles and glassware (jars), were reused in more than one way. All this contributed to a minimal amount of waste generation. Thereafter, with the development of technology and modern lifestyle, and the enhancement of the purchasing power, waste culture developed towards increase in purchasing of disposable products. Thus, it was less of a hassle to buy a new product rather than repairing an old one. Thus, quantities of waste started to increase drastically, especially, in the absence of environmental public awareness. Today, due to the economic crisis the quantities of waste generated are decreasing due to the decrease of the purchasing power, and the limitations on purchasing imported products. However, the waste management system has not been developed to meet anticipated international standards, and in light of the existing crisis, the upgrade of the system may not take place anytime soon due to the financial limitations.
Capitalizing on Lebanon’s current status
The decrease in the quantities of waste due to the crisis may serve positively in extending the lifespan of existing infrastructure (landfill, and treatment facilities). Less quantities of waste means less wear and tear of facilities and means less waste are being landfilled. Thus, the current infrastructure may serve a longer period than previously anticipated giving everyone some time to strategize. Previously, the plan was to develop the infrastructure with higher priority on the lower half of the solid waste management hierarchy. This may have been a successful approach if enough resources are allocated to develop the infrastructure and secure the sustainability of the Operation and Maintenance (O&M) costs. However, today, in the absence of an economic plan that would ensure speedy economic recovery, less likely government funds can be allocated for the upgrade of the infrastructure nor for the O&M. Thus, there are two options, either wait for the economic recovery to take place then continue with the previous plans, or re-strategize. The option of waiting may turn out to be risky due to potential delay in economic recovery, and the depletion of existing infrastructure. Therefore, it might be advantageous to go with the other option and re-strategize. There is no one single option for re-strategizing. Accordingly, a potential option will be presented as follows:
- Provide incentives and facilitations for recycling and upcycling industries. This would encourage private sector in investing in recycling and upcycling. Thus, enhancing the scope and capacities of managing recovered material from various waste streams. Accordingly, this would help in reducing the amount of material being landfilled. Additionally, it would also support the struggling economy by creating new job opportunities, and decreasing the import of products and encouraging the production of alternative local products (with potential increase in exports).
- Set taxes on non-recyclable products and on products that are not environmental friendly. This should increase the price of such products and push consumers to use alternative products that are environmental friendly and/or recyclable. Thus reduce the amount of waste being sent to landfills.
- Establish a Pay As You Through (PAYT) system. This would force producers to pay higher fees when their waste generation increases. Thus encourage reduction in the amount of waste being generated.
- Launch national campaigns to encourage sorting at source and reuse of products. A simple low cost version of sorting at source can be through drop-off centers. This should also contribute positively in reducing quantities of waste being sent to landfills.
Thus, by implementing the above approach, one would be shifting the priority from the lower half the solid waste management hierarchy to the upper half. This option will help in further extending the lifespan of the existing infrastructure, and save annual O&M fees. The saved amount of annual fees may then be used to invest in the development of the existing infrastructure to further develop the solid waste management and thus develop also the lower half the of solid waste hierarchy, without discarding the developments and progress achieved in the upper half.
As per the famous proverb “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade”, we should re-adjust and adapt to the changes taking place around us. Accordingly, by adapting and implementing the above approach, we can reduce landfilling, converge closer to zero waste, enhance the local implementation of the solid waste management hierarchy, and converge closer towards circular economy. Therefore, whenever we encounter a challenge or a crisis, we should always search for the opportunity within it and try to capitalize on it.