Beirut mayor touts waste-to-en­ergy plan

Plant con­struc­tion project puts mu­nic­i­pal­ity at odds with lo­cal aca­demics

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - LEBANON - By Fed­er­ica Marsi

BEIRUT: In a bid to solve Beirut’s waste man­age­ment prob­lem, the Mu­nic­i­pal­ity of Beirut has put for­ward a plan for the con­struc­tion of a waste-to-en­ergy plant: a fa­cil­ity de­signed to com­bust waste to pro­duce elec­tric­ity.

While this ap­proach has been suc­cess­ful in Europe, the plan – spear­headed by Beirut Mayor Ja­mal Itani – has raised con­cerns within the aca­demic com­mu­nity that mis­man­age­ment of the plant could lead to en­vi­ron­men­tal and health haz­ards.

“Our so­lu­tion for Beirut is not an in­cin­er­a­tor,” Itani told The Daily Star. “Our so­lu­tion is a holis­tic ap­proach that starts from sort­ing ma­te­rial [at the source].”

Mod­ern waste-to-en­ergy plants dif­fer from trash in­cin­er­a­tors op­er­ated in the past in that they re­move haz­ardous or re­cy­clable waste be­fore in­cin­er­a­tion. The Beirut Mu­nic­i­pal­ity is­sued a ten­der for waste collection last Thurs­day, aim­ing to es­tab­lish the nec­es­sary in­fras­truc­ture for waste sep­a­ra­tion.

Itani said the plan in­cludes the place­ment of three dif­fer­ent types of collection bins around the city and a me­dia cam­paign to in­form the com­mu­nity about how to sep­a­rate waste.

“The sorted and un­sorted ma­te­rial will be sep­a­rated again within the plant. Af­ter [this] we will pre­treat the re­main­ing ma­te­rial to re­duce the vol­ume of garbage be­fore go­ing from waste to en­ergy,” Itani said.

The mu­nic­i­pal­ity is­sued an ex­pres­sion of in­ter­est on March 1 to cre­ate a con­sor­tium of com­pa­nies that would in­vest in the project.

In­ter­ested firms are ex­pected to ap­ply by May 2 for pre­qual­i­fi­ca­tion.

The plan’s sec­ond phase will in­clude the draft­ing of the ten­der doc­u­ment prior to the launch of the plant’s con­struc­tion. Se­lected to im­ple­ment this phase is Dan­ish com­pany Ram­boll, which de­signed Le­banon’s Zouk Mikael and Jiyyeh power plants.

Ram­boll can­not be held ac­count­able for the mis­man­age­ment of these power plants, which lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties de­nounce as highly pol­lut­ing, but the launch of an­other po­ten­tially haz­ardous project has raised ob­jec­tions among the aca­demic com­mu­nity.

“Op­er­a­tion costs are very high, es­pe­cially for main­tain­ing pol­lu­tion con­trol units,” Joseph Zeaiter, an Amer­i­can Univer­sity of Beirut chem­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing pro­fes­sor, told The Daily Star.

“We do not trust that the op­er­a­tions will be con­ducted ac­cord­ing to Euro­pean stan­dards be­cause there is no law, there is no in­fras­truc­ture, and there is plenty of cor­rup­tion.”

As part of the AUB Col­lab­o­ra­tive for the Study of In­haled and At­mo­spheric Aerosols, which con­ducts re­search into air pol­lu­tion, Zeaiter held a news con­fer­ence in Fe­bru­ary to present sci­en­tific ev­i­dence against the adop­tion of waste in­cin­er­a­tion.

One of the re­search group’s main con­cerns is the dis­per­sal into the at­mos­phere of “fly ash,” which con­tains toxic met­als and small amounts of diox­ins. In the ab­sence of ef­fec­tive con­trols, harm­ful pol­lu­tants may en­ter the air, land and wa­ter, neg­a­tively im­pact­ing hu­man health and the en­vi­ron­ment.

In Europe, fly ash is dis­posed of by means of land­fills. Mayor Itani dis­missed this ap­proach for Le­banon, say­ing that the waste-to-en­ergy plan aims to solve the prob­lem of land­fills rather than adding to it. “We have in­cluded in the ten­der that the con­trac­tor must take them [the ashes] out­side the coun­try, even if we have to pay a bit ex­tra,” Itani said.

The Basel Con­ven­tion – EU leg­is­la­tion reg­u­lat­ing the trans­bound­ary move­ment of waste – lim­its the trans­porta­tion of haz­ardous waste. De­ter­min­ing what is con­sid­ered haz­ardous is a com­pli­cated mat­ter and the fea­si­bil­ity of fly-ash ship­ments to the EU has been a point of con­tention be­tween Beirut’s mu­nic­i­pal­ity and the aca­demic com­mu­nity.

The ex­tra cost of ship­ping haz­ardous ma­te­rial abroad has pre­vi­ously limited Le­banon’s ca­pac­ity for waste dis­posal, as in the case of ex­pired pharmaceut­icals be­ing stored in ware­houses rather than shipped for dis­posal.

Itani said that all nec­es­sary risk as­sess­ments will be car­ried out by Ram­boll, as well as by in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized in­de­pen­dent com­mit­tees, and made avail­able for pub­lic scru­tiny. He also pledged to in­sti­tute “five lev­els of con­trol” over the plant’s op­er­a­tions, in­clud­ing an op­er­a­tor, a su­per­vis­ing con­sul­tant, an in­ter­na­tional con­sul­tant, a board of aca­demics in­clud­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the ma­jor Le­banese uni­ver­si­ties, and the En­vi­ron­ment Min­istry.

“I be­lieve that with five dif­fer­ent lay­ers of con­trol we will be able to con­trol the [plant’s] op­er­a­tion for a long time,” Itani said. “I can­not sit idly by and wait for the gov­ern­ment to find a so­lu­tion. I would not be giv­ing Beirut what it de­serves.”

Itani stressed that the project is still be­ing stud­ied and that, should the stud­ies high­light any prob­lems, the project will be re­con­sid­ered. If ev­ery­thing pro­ceeds as planned, the waste-to-en­ergy plant is ex­pected to be func­tional three years from now.

The United Na­tions Devel­op­ment Pro­gram re­newed last month a mem­o­ran­dum of un­der­stand­ing with the Beirut Mu­nic­i­pal­ity to pro­vide tech­ni­cal as­sis­tance in the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the plan. “We are not ad­vo­cat­ing for one so­lu­tion or an­other and we fully re­spect the position of the aca­demic [com­mu­nity],” Luca Renda, UNDP coun­try di­rec­tor, told The Daily Star, adding that “there is no per­fect so­lu­tion” to the prob­lem of waste man­age­ment in Le­banon.

Renda said the fact that sim­i­lar plans have not been prop­erly man­aged in the past does raise con­cerns, but that Beirut’s trash prob­lem will in­evitably resur­face and waste-to-en­ergy could be a vi­able so­lu­tion, pro­vided that a sys­tem of checks and bal­ances is put in place.

“Our so­lu­tion for Beirut is not an in­cin­er­a­tor,” Itani told The Daily Star.

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