Better strategic planning needed to resolve waste crisis in Lebanon

25 September 2018 4 min. read

Good governance and strategic direction are the keys to resolving Lebanon’s municipal waste management crisis according to international management consultancy Arthur D. Little.

Despite its government having outwardly addressed the worst of the waste removal crisis in Lebanon, which in 2015 saw rubbish piling up uncollected in the streets and the widespread illegal dumping and burning of waste as a result, the international management consultancy Arthur D. Little has argued in a new report that the potential for a repeat persists, with many remaining challenges preventing the development of sustainable long-term solutions.

While the Lebanese government strives to get the troubled local economy back on track with the aid of the international community and private sector partners – including the consideration of economic recommendations laid out by McKinsey in a recent 1000-page report – the challenge to overcome long-term economic mismanagement has in recent times been exacerbated by the influx of refugees from Syria, placing a greater strain on already overburdened infrastructure.Lebanon daily waste production compared to international benchmarksNaturally, this included the country’s waste management systems, with the sharp spike in population together with poor governmental planning considered by Arthur D. Little to be the two primary factors leading to the 2015 failure. Further, and although its current levels are well below the EU average, Lebanon is projected to increase its municipal solid waste (MSW) generation from 2,040 thousand tons in 2014 to around 2,653 thousand tons in 2025.

While this increase is troubling, the greater concern according to Arthur D. Little is the comparatively low percentage of treated waste in Lebanon, which currently stands at only 23 percent of total MSW weight; 8 percent through material recovery and 15 percent by way of composting. That leaves 77 percent of all MSW generated in Lebanon being directed to landfills or open dumpsites – a staggering amount compared to international benchmarks.

As a comparison, the consulting firm points to Germany and the Netherlands, which respectively produce 1.7 kg and 1.4 kg of waste per day per capita, yet landfill less than 2 percent of the total MSW generated, diverting the rest through various techniques including recycling (48.1 percent in the case of Germany), composting and waste-to-energy (accounting for 44.5 percent of generated waste in the Netherlands). The EU average is under one quarter of waste to landfill.Lebanon’s waste management compared to international benchmarksWhile Lebanon addressed the immediate crisis of 2015 through an emergency plan which entailed the opening of two new coastal landfall sites, Arthur D. Little points to several factors which are inhibiting the development of sustainable longer-tern solutions, namely weak regulations and enforcement, improper planning and a lack of synchronisation in remedial efforts, the shortfall in proper infrastructure, and certain social barriers and compliance issues.

Overcoming these issues is a complex task, yet the consulting firm contends that any strategic plan should focus on the best practice principles of waste management – described in order of preference as the waste management hierarchy, led by reduction, reuse, recycling, waste-to-energy and then land-fill as a last resort – and the basic pillars of waste management: environmental protection, governmental cost management, socio-economic impact optimisation and ease of implementation.

“For the Lebanese government, the pathway forward should be to develop an integrated waste management plan that achieves the best combination of the aforementioned pillars,” the authors of the report state in conclusion. “Once defined, the national plan will require the support of seven key enablers to ensure its success” – among them; infrastructure, regulation and enforcement, awareness and communication, financial instruments, and private sector participation.