| 12 January, 2018

Lebanon's cabinet approves plan to expand Costa Brava landfill

Cabinet approved several major steps aimed at dealing with Lebanon’s waste crisis

Former Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Hariri is seen at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in The Hague J. To match INTERVIEW LEBANON-GOVERNMENT/HARIRI REUTERS/Dalati Nohra/Handout via Reuters

Former Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Hariri is seen at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in The Hague J. To match INTERVIEW LEBANON-GOVERNMENT/HARIRI REUTERS/Dalati Nohra/Handout via Reuters

REUTERS/Dalati Nohra/Handout via Reuters
BEIRUT - Cabinet Thursday approved several major steps aimed at dealing with Lebanon’s waste crisis, including controversial plans to expand Beirut’s once temporary Costa Brava landfill and create a new sanitary landfill in Tripoli, next to the city’s old, overcapacity dump. The Costa Brava landfill, part of an emergency 2016 waste management plan, will also begin to accept waste from the Aley and Chouf regions, in addition to continuing to accept waste from Beirut and Mount Lebanon.

Cabinet also approved a Council for Development and Reconstruction plan to establish a composting facility for organic material at the site of the Costa Brava landfill, and develop the waste sorting plants in Karantina and Amrousieh, according to a statement from Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s office.

The additions represent a major step toward reducing dependence on landfills.

The two waste sorting plants are currently working at only 5-10 percent of their capacity.

Work on the plants must be completed within nine months of Thursday’s endorsement, the statement said. If works are not completed within that time frame, the municipality of Aley’s Choueifat may submit a proposal for the establishment of an additional sorting plant at the Costa Brava site.

Ziad Abi Chaker, the CEO of Cedar Environmental and a veteran of Lebanon’s environmental movement, told The Daily Star Thursday that there was something “very weird” about this aspect of the plan.

“This is the first time they ever gave the CDR a deadline. ... Who’s got the might, the money and the know-how to carry out such a project?” he asked. “Most probably [local politicians] got sick and tired of government promises and decided if they don’t deliver in due time, they will take matters into their own hands – which I think is an even worse catastrophe than what is going on now,” Abi Chaker said.

Cabinet has set the limit on the amount of waste the Amrousieh plant will receive once it is developed at 1,400 tons per day – a number Abi Chaker said was feasible.

The quantity of waste dumped at Costa Brava “shall not exceed 1,000 tons per day from the beginning of 2019,” the statement from Hariri’s office stipulated.

Choueifat’s municipality will have the right to use the landfill site once it closes, except for those areas of the site allocated for a wastewater treatment plant. This mechanism of handing over land reclaimed through landfilling to local municipalities is also employed at the coastal Burj Hammoud landfill site, on the other side of Beirut.

Cabinet also committed to launching a tender for controversial waste incinerators within six months.

The plan, opposed by activists and environmentalists, would see hundreds of tons of waste burned per day. Abi Chaker criticized the move, saying noxious fumes and dust emanating from the incinerators would contaminate the low-income Karantina area – speculated to be the future site of one incinerator – even if some of the smoke and particles are treated.

He said Lebanon did not have the “professionalism” to run such a complex plant, saying the project would cost the state at least $250 million, if not more if there is corruption.

Environment Minister Tarek Khatib hailed the approved plans, which his ministry crafted, as a “sustainable policy to manage solid household waste in Lebanon,” and said further details would be discussed in a news conference soon.

But Abi Chaker said the developments left Lebanon “further away” from a sustainable solution.

“We are still thinking in a centralized way, while any country that has solved their waste problem went through full decentralization – reducing the loads of waste being taken to one or two specific areas,” he said. “It’s a plan that’s going to go wrong.”

With regard to Tripoli, Cabinet approved a CDR plan to develop a sanitary landfill next to the city’s dump. Once completed, the old landfill is to be closed “immediately,” and then rehabilitated.

Labor Minister Mohammad Kabbara said the site would be developed “in accordance with environmental and health standards and international standards,” though coastal landfilling is generally not considered to conform to high standards or best practices. He also said that the future of Lebanon’s waste was with “thermal decomposition plants in all Lebanese territories.”

While the statement from Hariri’s office referred to maps delineating the newly approved developments, none of these maps have yet been made public.

Separately Thursday, Health Minister Ghassan Hasbani issued an order requiring local physicians across the country to monitor and report illegal waste dumping and the burning of waste. Hasbani could not immediately be reached for comment on the order. It was not immediately clear how the order would be implemented or enforced.

The Syndicate of Physicians head Antoine Bustani Thursday told The Daily Star he had not yet heard of the order but that it was “ridiculous.”

“[Hasbani] hasn’t talked to us. ... What are they talking about? What are doctors supposed to do around dumps?” he said.

Despite confusion over Hasbani’s move, it was welcomed by the regional deputy director of Human Rights Watch, Lama Fakih, who said it was an important step toward halting the open burning of waste, which occurs “on a regular basis at more than 150 open dumps across the country.”

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