Works to set up a seaside garbage landfill in Bourj Hammoud will be completed on October 7 and the Sukleen firm will start removing accumulated trash from 45 towns in Northern Metn and Keserwan as of Tuesday night, Agriculture Minister Akram Shehayyeb said.

“The problem was not in the roadway towards decentralization but rather in those who want to take it, and from day one we stressed the importance of administrative decentralization in our plan,” Shehayyeb, who is overseeing the government’s emergency waste management plan, said at a press conference.

“All parties have admitted that the Bourj Hammoud and Costa Brava landfills were the obligatory gateway for launching administrative decentralization and everything that happened lately was unnecessary,” Shehayyeb added, referring to a lengthy sit-in by the Kataeb Party and environmental groups that halted works at the Bourj Hammoud site for around a month.

The long-running protest prompted the Bourj Hammoud Municipality to prevent Sukleen’s trucks from accessing a temporary storage site in the area, which resulted in a massive accumulation of garbage on the streets.

“We apologize to citizens for what they and we have suffered due to the deeds of some politicians and parties seeking personal gains,” Shehayyeb added.

“May God forgive everyone who delayed the implementation of the plan,” he said.

The minister however thanked the Tashnag Party, Kataeb Party chief MP Sami Gemayel and Free Patriotic Movement officials Elias Bou Saab and Ibrahim Kanaan for their role in facilitating the latest solution.

“Municipalities and municipal unions are asked to find sites for the temporary storage of the garbage that has accumulated on the streets,” Shehayyeb added, noting that the trash will be packaged in large bags prior to removal.

“Sukleen will tonight start removing trash from 45 Metn and Keserwan towns whose municipalities are ready for the process,” the minister announced.

“The contractor tasked with setting up the Bourj Hammoud landfill has been asked to work day and night to make up for the delay,” he added, noting that the landfill will open on October 7.

Kataeb and a number of environmental groups had on Sunday announced a “temporary suspension” of their sit-in outside the Bourj Hammoud site, noting that their protest has obliged authorities to revise the waste management plan and to endorse steps based on waste sorting, composting and decentralization.

“The approach of decentralization in waste management has started and no one will be able to stop it,” Gemayel announced at a press conference. “Day after day, we are proving our determination to continue the battle against corruption,” he said.

Saluting the “30 Northern Metn municipalities that laid the groundwork over the past four weeks by launching awareness campaigns, finding land lots and preparing for the creation of sorting and composting plants,” Gemayel blasted “corruption” in the government’s contracts for “waste collection, waste sorting and treatment, the construction of the two landfills, the construction of the breakwater, and the land-filling of unsorted waste.”

“That’s why they were insisting on blocking decentralization seeing as it would halt suspicious deals at all levels,” the Kataeb chief added.

“Through our protest, we have broken the siege and the municipalities have started waste sorting,” Gemayel noted, vowing that Kataeb and the civil society groups would “confront anyone who might try to stop municipalities from setting up sorting and treatment plants in their regions.”

“What happened is a first round in a long war and more rounds will follow. We will not let them rest and we will confront corruption and suspicious deals,” the Kataeb leader added.

A spokesman for the environmental groups, Marc Daou, meanwhile said that the decision to suspend the sit-in was taken after several protesters were hospitalized as a result to their exposure to pollution emanating from the landfill and after garbage accumulating on the streets started to pose health and environmental risks.

“We are against the plan that was devised by the coalition of corruption, against the land-filling of the sea, against random garbage dumps and against suspicious deals. We support environmental solutions that would be in the interest of the country and its citizens and we have achieved some progress in our confrontation,” said Daou.

He also vowed to “follow up on all tenders” and “maintain the direct confrontation – from the gates of landfills to the gates of the Council for Development and Reconstruction.”

The government has vowed to shorten the so-called transitional period in its waste management plan from four years to one year. Under the new agreements, a committee comprising lawmakers, municipalities and civil society representatives would also oversee the transition to waste management decentralization.

Kataeb and environmental groups had accused authorities of seeking to “land-fill the sea” with unsorted and unrecycled garbage in a manner that poses environmental and health risks and violates the Convention for Protection of the Mediterranean Sea against Pollution.

The country’s unprecedented waste management crisis erupted in July last year when the country’s central landfill in Naameh was closed amid the government’s failure to find alternatives.

The crisis saw streets, forests and riverbeds overflowing with trash for several months and triggered unprecedented street protests against the entire political class that sometimes turned violent.

Experts have long urged the government to devise a comprehensive waste management solution that would include more recycling and composting to reduce the amount of trash going into landfills.