A new trash plan in the pipeline
From top down to bottom up, neither strategy is without barriers
Agriculture Minister Akram Chehayeb’s waste management strategy is the equivalent of the central government finally throwing up its hands after years of writing plans it could never implement and telling municipalities, “Fine, you deal with your garbage.” For most of the country, this is not exactly a deviation from the status quo. Outside of Beirut and most of Mount Lebanon (excluding the Jbeil district) – municipalities have been dealing with their own trash. Many have done a very bad job from an environmental and public health perspective. While the country has a 99 percent waste collection rate, some 26 percent of its refuse was open dumped or burned prior to the July 17 closing of Lebanon’s largest sanitary landfill near Naameh, when that percentage substantially increased. An expert who helped draft Chehayeb’s plan – which was written in four days – explains that municipalities will be given training on best international practice, cash to sign contracts for waste solutions and help to write tender documents in preparation for those contracts. When it comes to finding locations for waste treatment and disposal facilities – the barrier that has prevented implementation of modern trash solutions for decades – the expert says “the municipalities will have to decide.”
BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD
Since the end of the civil war, Lebanon has not been able to fully implement a single waste management plan. Even the 1997 emergency plan for Beirut and Mount Lebanon – resulting in contracts between the state and Averda companies Sukleen (collection) and Sukomi (treatment and disposal) – was only partially implemented. Sukomi was supposed to receive land to build two composting plants in order to divert 850 tons of organic waste per day from the Naameh landfill. Instead, land was only provided for one, meaning the amount of organics sorted out of the service area’s waste stream stood at 300 tons per day. The emergency plan was clearly not meant to last forever. According to a 2001 report commissioned by the Ministry of Environment, new tender documents for waste collection in the service area were prepared in either 2000 or 2001 - the report is unclear. The report notes, “tender invitations were issued but subsequently aborted as only two bids were received.” During this same time period, the rest of the country was left to deal with its waste however it could. A 2010 report, again commissioned by the Ministry of Environment, notes “austerity measures by the [government] have prevented many municipalities [from planning for and investing in] proper solid waste systems. They typically receive their budgetary allowances from the Independent Municipal Fund (IMF) several years behind schedule and therefore tend to resort to quick solutions and fixes, including open dumping.” Uncontrolled dumping and trash burning pre-dates the war and has never been properly addressed. Between 2003 and 2013, however, four plans were developed to provide nationwide waste management solutions. None have gone into effect.
TWO PLANS IN 2015
When then Prime Minister Najib Mikati resigned in March 2013, there was plenty of unfinished work left behind, including the need to approve a national waste plan focused on building incinerators to turn waste into energy. Eleven months later, a new government was in place and, in short order, a new ministerial committee was tasked with writing yet another waste management plan. Unlike before, however, Prime Minister Tammam Salam’s cabinet this time promised to close the Naameh landfill for good – meaning that to avert a national trash catastrophe, a solution would have to be in place before the scheduled January 2015 closure. The committee was initially due to announce its plan in April 2014. It did not. Minister of Environment Mohammad Machnouk has ignored Executive’s interview requests for the past two