On 24 September 2018, the Lebanese Parliament passed the “Integrated Solid Waste Management Law” (ISWML) in its first session since it was elected in May 2018. Apart from its name, the ISWML is a far cry from a long-awaited integrated policy instrument on solid waste management. It does not qualify as framework legislation on sustainable solid waste management nor does it include sufficient details to properly regulate markets and day-to-day waste management operations. It requires other elements and secondary legislation to build an integrated system combining technical/environmental, political, economic, and social components for solid waste management.
The ISWM comprises several chapters covering institutional setup, management of non-hazardous and hazardous waste, financing of a national strategy and local government waste management initiatives, and responsibilities and penalties related to violations of waste management laws. However, it does not address aspects of the solid waste sector such as waste generation, segregation, transfer, sorting, recovery, treatment, and disposal in an integrated manner. Furthermore, the law fails to define source separation, waste prevention (reduce), reuse, and recovery and sets no targets for favoring recycling. It does not refer to the concept of extended producer responsibility, which lays out incentives for market actors to adjust their production designs after end of product life, toward reduction, reuse, and recycling (3Rs).
The ISWML lacks mechanisms that push solid waste practices toward environmentally preferred waste treatment options 1 and, consequently, it fails to protect people from the negative effects of solid waste management. Instead, it provides a skeleton of basic concepts and addresses practices that deal with the least favored and most dangerous waste disposal options similarly and with relative laxity. In a country characterized by weak monitoring and law enforcement, this could easily allow the adoption of less desirable solutions to solve only visible parts of the problem, while health, environmental, and economic concerns are ignored and more comprehensive solutions are sidelined.
Furthermore, the law offers no up-to-date scientific and elaborate classification of multiple waste streams to allow for their regulation in secondary legislation, and, accordingly does not address the complexities and risks associated with their treatment operations. Consider in this context that hazardous and industrial waste is mixed with municipal waste across Lebanon, making treatment even more complicated and risky. 2
In terms of governance, roles and responsibilities designated for or shared between national and local authorities are not clearly defined. For instance, the law places the responsibility of waste reduction on municipalities, whereas this typically requires economic and social policies and programs, including financial incentives to encourage and eventually realize behavioral and social changes. At the same time, the law provides national authorities with room to override municipalities, which—as per their mandate and legislation—have the right and duty to assume a leading management role, while national authorities are expected to support local actors with capacity building and financial contributions.3
Incinerators, a “magical” wand to resolve the waste crisis?
The ISWML does not firmly enforce the establishment of a circular economy and sustainability principles and practices, meaning that in its current iteration, the law effectively facilitates the adoption of incinerators—hidden under the term “thermal degradation”—or other similarly complicated and risky technologies.
Indeed, the central government 4 and a number of municipalities in Lebanon 5 are opting to use incinerators to dispose of municipal waste, despite warnings from international organizations, consultants, and the outcry of civil society and local experts. Opponents cite the nature of municipal waste generated in Lebanon, which is more suitable for alternative, safer, and more environmentally sustainable solutions, in line with the globally recognized waste hierarchy/ladder. In fact, incineration in Lebanon deters the 3Rs process, largely on account of the type of waste that is produced, which consists of more than 80% of recyclables and organic material. The economies of scale and nature of such technologies would require burning recyclables with organic waste and, thus, diverting from safer and cheaper treatment options and from material recovery, while working against reduction in generation. More importantly, incinerators emit highly toxic substances harmful to human health and the environment such as dioxins, which Lebanon cannot currently monitor because its existing laboratories are not equipped to test for this chemical.
Hype for incinerators is on the rise, despite the fact that Lebanon has facilities—either being designed or already implemented—that could treat more than the total volume of generated waste if well operated. 6 Instead, in the absence of planning and good governance frameworks to benefit from these facilities, mis-management resulted in the use of almost 1,000 open dumps and open burning being practiced in more than 150 dumps across the country. Now, decision makers think incinerators are a “magical” solution because they are used in some Western countries that have completely different governance, economic, environmental, social, and political structures.
The way forward
Lebanese society has shown signs of readiness and has already embarked on self-initiated waste reduction, sorting, and recycling projects. Communities in both upscale and less affluent districts, non-governmental organizations, educational institutions, private companies, social businesses, households, and a few select municipalities show willingness to adopt sustainable practices, despite the absence of policymaking to connect them as part of a cohesive system.
Within this context—notwithstanding the ISWML’s weaknesses—there might be another chance. The approved law stipulates the formulation of a strategy within the next six months, an action for which the Waste Management Coalition (WMC)—a coalition of civil society activists, experts, non-governmental organizations, and community groups joining forces to address mis-management in the sector, as well as lobby and campaign for integrated waste management planning at the national and sub-national level—has been advocating. The WMC opposed the ISWML as drafted and has requested its reformulation based on an integrated strategy adhering to sustainability principles and safeguarding people’s right to a healthy living, in a country where levels of pollution are already alarmingly high.
The WMC will work to capitalize on this opportunity and influence strategy making, while placing a priority on minimizing the impacts of waste mismanagement on public health and the environment (stopping open burning and open dumping, monitoring coastal landfilling, opposing the adoption of incinerators etc..). The WMC aims to bring about an integrated plan with strict adherence to sustainability principles, reflected in clear goals, and well-developed implementation mechanisms. The WMC will pursue its lobbying actions using scientific research and stakeholders’ engagement, in addition to raising awareness and advocacy to warn of the risks of unsuitable proposals and policies and advocate for alternative solutions.
1. The cornerstone of waste management policy internationally is the waste hierarchy or waste ladder, which is a tool used to indicate the order of preference for actions in waste management. It clearly gives priority and thrust for policy that aims foremost to prevent the generation of waste. The next preferred action is to reduce waste generation (e.g. through re-use), then recycling, including composting or anaerobic digestion, followed by the downstream steps of materials recovery. These solutions should be implemented before the less favored options, including landfilling processes or combustion and incineration. Source: Mark Hyman et al. 2015. “Guidelines for National Waste Management Strategies: Moving from Challenges to Opportunities”.
2. SWEEP-Net the Regional Solid Waste Exchange of Information and Expertise network in Mashreq and Maghreb countries. 2014. “Country Report on the Solid Waste Management in Lebanon.” Beirut, Lebanon. April.
3. A survey conducted in 2018 on 37 municipal unions found that solid waste challenges are financially draining; consuming the vast majority of budgets with more than 80% of unions short on staff in this sector. The report on the survey stated that unions’ presidents’ request from “the central government more resources, less red tape on cooperation with private and civil society organizations and clearer regulatory frameworks that allow them to take the lead in solid waste management.” Source: Democracy Reporting International. 2017. "Public Service Provision in Municipal Unions in Lebanon Solid Waste Management, Municipal Police and Public Safety, Accountability and Participation." Beirut, Lebanon. December.
4. At the international CEDRE conference held earlier this year, the Lebanese government requested some $1.4 billion to build three large incinerators along the Lebanese seaside.
5. The municipalities of Beirut, Jdeideh, Bauchrieh and Sad, Beit Meri, Zahleh, and Blat, among others, have been considering such thermal processes technologies. The municipality of Beirut is quite advanced and preparing a tender for an incinerator. The others presented plans to set pyrolysis plants. Pyrolysis is a technology that has not been proven suitable for mixed municipal solid waste and is not commercially viable. Source: European Union and Office of Minister of State for Administrative Reforms. 2018. “Technical Support to Upgrading the Solid Waste Management Capacities in Lebanon Policy Note on Small Scale Incinerators." IDOM in consortium with EPEM SA & LACECO. Beirut, Lebanon. August.
6. Ministry of Environment. 2017. “Updated Master Plan for the Closure and Rehabilitation of Uncontrolled Dumpsites.” Beirut, Lebanon. June.