SUN 20 - 9 - 2020
Apr 12, 2019
The Daily Star
No easy solutions at Waste Management Expo
Jacob Boswall| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: “We aspire to treat 80 percent of our waste and landfill 20 percent,” Environment Minister Fadi Jreissati announced Tuesday at the opening of this week’s Waste Management Expo at the Hilton Beirut Metropolitan Palace. It is a grand ambition; Lebanon currently landfills 80 percent of its waste and treats roughly 20 percent.
Over the course of the three-day conference, which closed Thursday, stakeholders discussed “ideas in a scientific way far from political outbidding ... to see what is best suited for our country,” Jresissait said.
But the variety of possible treatments showcased during Tuesday’s expo highlighted the lack of political consensus on the long-overdue response to Lebanon’s waste crisis. Notably, significant disagreement remains on what to do with items that cannot be recycled or composted.
The conference hosted a series of technical presentations alongside 38 local and international firms specializing in various fields from awareness-raising to vermicomposting.
A priority of the UNDP and Environment Ministry’s new “Integrated Solid Waste Strategy,” developed over the past four months in line with the Solid Waste Management Law of 2018, is to “promote waste management hierarchy,” the UNDP’s Solid Waste Management Coordinator Basma ElArab told the audience.
Waste management hierarchy ranks solutions in order of preference, with waste prevention at the top followed by reusing, recycling, energy recovery and finally disposal.
Expo attendees showed broad consensus on the hierarchy’s importance.
In line with these priorities, the strategy sets out the following 10-year goals: reducing total waste production per capita by a minimum of 3 percent; recycling at least half of urban and rural waste; providing 80 percent of the population with separate waste collection systems; and landfilling a maximum 20 percent of total waste.
But exactly how the goals will be achieved is less clear.
Early in her presentation, ElArab stated that the strategy “does not define technologies; define location of facilities; [or] define waste management costs and tariffs.”
Jreissati, like his predecessor Tarek Khatib, has promoted waste sorting as the most immediate solution to the chronic garbage crisis.
Although the strategy recommends creating a “Law for Financial Incentives” to encourage sorting at the source, it does not suggest what sorting facilities should do with waste that is neither recyclable or compostable.
One solution for “rejects” proposed by the Beirut Municipality is incineration, a suggestion met with fierce opposition by environmentalists and many residents of Beirut, who fear incineration would be used for all waste without being sorted.
Although the strategy sets a 10-year target of treating 25 percent of all waste with methods including “energy recovery,” ElArab told The Daily Star that the UNDP has “no position” on incinerators.
Nonetheless, proponents of waste-to-energy technology, which recovers metals such as iron, copper, aluminum and gold in addition to energy, were well-represented at the expo.
“The metal recovered is enough to produce 890 locomotives, 95 Airbuses and 20,000 wedding rings,” said Cleantech Alps Chair Edi Blatter, referring to the 3.8 trillion tons of iron, copper, aluminum and gold recovered in Swiss waste-to-energy plants every year.
The value of these metals represents roughly $60 million per year, he continued. As for energy production, waste-to-energy contributes to 44 percent of Swiss district heating and almost 4 percent of Swiss electricity consumption.
“Lebanon could achieve these goals. It is a little bit different - they do not need as much district heating as we do in Switzerland. But [Lebanon] could ... have a very high electricity production,” Blatter said.
“All it requires is common sense,” said Nabil Zantout, general manager of IBC, a firm which owns and operates Sidon’s waste-sorting plant.
The facility replaced Sidon’s infamous dump in 2013. Zantout believes that small-scale incineration is the best solution for non-recyclable and non-compostable waste.
“Why go build huge incinerators? ... If you want to build incinerators, incinerate whatever you can’t do anything with,” he told The Daily Star.
Zantout is currently negotiating with the Energy Ministry to use refuse-derived fuel in cement kilns, but said that lack of legislation is the project’s main barrier. “You talk to the ministry and they tell you, ‘Do the test then we’ll do the legislation.’ But to do the test properly, I have to invest maybe a $1 million.”
“[The Environment Ministry must] come up with the legislation. Usually you go by the EU norms. You say these are the rules for [us] as the government. You come up with those numbers ... and criteria. But now they want to do it the opposite way.”
Legislation is important in part since using refuse-derived fuel releases flue gas, a byproduct of combustion which contains harmful fly ash. Concerns remain over the rigor of Lebanon’s regulation of flue gas treatment.
Blatter believes that strict regulation is a crucial first step to winning public trust in waste-to-energy projects. “If the flue gas is not treated, the factory’s reputation is bad and everyone is against it.”
He added that in Switzerland, waste-to-energy plants have become so accepted that “it is easier to build one than a football stadium or a shopping center.”
The strategy also identifies rehabilitating “dumpsites [by priority] and [rehabilitating] 50 percent of dump sites before 10 years” as a target.
Despite “Landfill Management Systems” being ranked lowest in terms of desirability, the conference devoted a whole session to the practice, suggesting that landfills may continue to play a large role in Lebanon’s waste management.
These talks included topics such as “What is a controlled landfill?” according to the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals and included discussions on ways of capturing greenhouse gases emitted by landfill sites.
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