Mazin Sidahmed| The Daily Star

BEIRUT: The government may handle Lebanon’s growing solid waste problem by installing incinerators across the country, but environmentalists warn this could create more problems than it solves.

The government decided on Oct. 30 to open a tender for companies to treat solid waste.

The Cabinet is scheduled to be briefed on the outcome of the bidding by the end of this month.

Sources familiar with the decision told The Daily Star that incinerators that convert waste into energy were the preferred option.

Incineration is a controversial method that involves burning waste and converting it into ash, flue gas and heat.

The gas emitted from incinerator plants is often hazardous and can affect the health of local residents if it is not filtered correctly.

The main advantage of incineration is it can be used to generate electricity for the local grid.

If used only for non-recyclable goods, in parallel with comprehensive recycling programs, it may offer a viable solution to Lebanon’s waste epidemic.

According to the Environment Ministry, Lebanon produces 1.57 million tons of solid waste a year, growing at an annual rate of 1.65 percent.

A 2010 report by the ministry found that Lebanon’s urban areas generate a maximum of 1.1 tons per capita – roughly average for the Middle East and North Africa region and far below that of the advanced OECD economies.

Currently, 53 percent of Lebanon’s solid waste goes to landfills, 30 percent is disposed in dumps, and the remaining 17 percent is recycled or composted, according to government figures.

The main problem is a lack of infrastructure. A plan to remedy this by implementing a solid waste management system across the country was interrupted by the 2006 war with Israel.

Environmentalists said that the enormous amount of waste in Lebanon’s landfills is disruptive to locals and is often burned, emitting toxic gases.

The imminent closure of the notorious Naameh landfill has expedited the need for an alternative solution and opened the door for incineration.

However, incinerators have a rocky history in Lebanon. A large incinerator located in the Amrousieh suburb of Beirut was burned down in 1997 by locals sick of the fumes it was emitting.

Ziad Abi Chaker, CEO of Cedar Environment, which builds recycling sites with a zero waste philosophy, is skeptical the government will able to find a location for incinerator plants.

“It is going to be even more difficult placing incinerators then finding landfills,” he said.

“People know that an incinerator has a much higher risk then a landfill,” he added.

Abi Chaker said that incinerators require consistent maintenance to ensure that toxic fumes were filtered properly, and there was no guarantee the government would take care of this.

He added that most incinerators in Europe only handled 120 tons per day and were used along with extensive recycling.

The Naameh landfill handles 2,800 tons of waste per day; to divert this amount to an incinerator would come at a huge cost and would be difficult to maintain.

Abi Chaker also noted the issue of how to dispose of the harmful ash created by incineration. Some countries have been burying the ash in salt mines, he added.

Nader Nakib, president of green building NGO, G, believes that segregation of recyclable waste should be the top priority.

“Waste should be segregated. Anything that can be recycled has to be recycled, everything that can be composted … has to be composted in a good way and the remaining could be incinerated if they follow the Scandinavian model.”

Nakib said the Scandinavian model involved extensive recycling and the feeding of energy generated from incinerators into the country’s electrical grid.

In fact, Sweden is requesting waste from other countries to use as fuel to generate electricity.

Green Party President Nada Zaarour said that setting up an incineration plant in Lebanon would require in-depth monitoring and maintenance that she was unsure the government was capable of.

“We’re not completely against this treatment method as long as it’s done at the highest standards or with very progressive technology. We just have a problem with this government’s vision with treatment,” she added.

Lack of monitoring and maintenance plagues most of Lebanon’s long-term projects, Zaarour said.

Projects such as incineration tend to succeed in European countries, where strong state institutions ensure their effective operation.

Zaarour suggested that instituting a garbage tax would involve citizens as part of a waste management solution, and encourage people to be more cautious about what they throw out.

Environment Minister Mohammad Machnouk could not be reached for comment.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 20, 2014, on page 3.
– See more at: