Lebanon has been in a permanent state of waste emergency since the 1975-90 war broke out.
In the pre-war era, most municipalities and villages relied on uncontrolled dumping of their waste, which at the time mostly contained organic materials. But for the growing city of Beirut, more advanced facilities were built in the early 1970’s: a sorting and composting plant in Karantina and an incinerator in Amroussieh. These two facilities used to receive waste from non-compacting trucks.
During the war, this all changed: the collection trucks were destroyed, the facilities ceased to be operated, and Beirut’s waste (municipal, hospital, toxic, construction wastes) started to be dumped on the shoreline creating two coastal dumpsites in Normandy and Bourj Hammoud. During the war, barrels of chemical waste from Italy were also illegally shipped into the country and it is believed that they are still present in several sites, including the Bourj Hammoud dumpsite.
After the war the Normandy dumpsite was rehabilitated (1991-2011) by former prime minister Rafic Hariri but Bourj Hammoud coastal garbage mountain remains till this day.
In 1994, thanks to international funds, proper collection services were restored in Beirut: the waste collection contract was awarded to Sukleen and green bins were placed in the streets, ending the common practice of burning mixed waste collected at street corners by the residents, but increasing the amount of waste sent to the coastal dumpsites.
In 1997, civil protesters stood up against the disposal practices in Bourj Hammoud and the Amroussiehincinerator’s black smoke, which led to the destruction of the incinerator plant. This started the first waste crisis that led to a 7-year emergency plan designed by the Minister of Environment (Akram Chehayeb). The Averda group signed new contracts with the government: Sukleen took over waste collection and street sweeping in throughout Beirut Mount Lebanon region (except Jbeil), while Sukomi took over treatment and disposal. The Bourj Hammoud dumpsite was closed, a new sanitary landfill in Naameh (Chouf) was opened, the Amroussieh incinertor was turned into a sorting centre and Karantina still hosted a sorting and composting centre. Sukleen contracts were repeatedly extended over the next two decades and Naameh landfill was receiving waste that exceeded its initial design capacity as the governance system failed to provide an alternative to the 1997 emergency plan.
In 2014 the contract was further extended for one year and then again for six months, with the aim of finding an agreement on another landfill location. In July 2015, civil protests closed down the Naameh landfill leading to a second waste crisis with an 8-month interruption of collection and disposal services. The capital and its region were filled with garbage mountains and burning. Demonstrations by thousands of citizens took place in Beirut against the corrupted political class. During these events the high costs to Averda were highlighted compared to the treatment efficiency, corruption and the lack of transparency in the 1997 contracts.
In March 2016, the Council of Ministers adopted a new 4-year emergency plan that constituted the reopening of Naameh landfill for two months, and the construction of three new coastal dumps in Beirut. Costa Brava dump was created next to the airport and the second proposed site is the former Bourj Hammoud landfill, closed 20 years ago. The untreated waste material from the former dumpsite is being used to reclaim land on the sea for building new landfills and creating land for creation of new real estate projects (according to the Linord project dating back from the 1970s).
Today, the governmental action is preparing the third waste crisis: the urge of the real estate projects in Bourj Hammoud and Jdeideh region has stopped all recycling in the state facilities. The landfills are filling at rate that is shortening their life expectancy: if nothing changes, their closure is expected by the end of 2018.