Posted by Rawan Elbaba on November 06, 2015 in Blog

lebanon_trash.jpgWith Beirut literally drowning in garbage, Lebanon’s trash problem has continued to worsen. Refuse has been piling up most notably alongside Beirut streets for the past few months due to the closure of Lebanon’s largest landfill in July of this year. The divided parliament has yet to designate new dumping grounds. For a country of 4 million people, plus an added 2 million refugees from neighboring countries like Syria, the trash is making daily life more and more difficult.

Wiith a spectrum of ineffectiveness in service delivery including regular electricity and water cuts, the trash problem in Lebanon is just another item on a long laundry list of things in fix in the country. However, 28 miles south of Beirut, the city of Sidon has come up with a solution to their mounting trash problem. They’ve transformed a 190-foot trash dump overlooking the Mediterranean into a seaside park, proving that the trash issue can in fact be resolved. Officials overseeing this ambitious eco-makeover hope that others will become inspired to successfully deal with Lebanese dumps as well.
The notorious “mountain of trash” in Sidon was a byproduct of rubble from the 1975-1990 Lebanese civil war. After first sorting through the heap in 2013, tests showed that an estimated 60 percent of the rubbish was made up of material from war-torn buildings. The other 40% consisted of recyclables and non-recyclables alike. The project halted dumping and instead sent the new deliveries of refuse to a new processing facility further south; all recyclables from the mountain were reclaimed.

The project began with the building of a seawall to prevent waves from taking the trash out to sea; the war rubble was reclaimed, treated, and used as building materials for the wall. Reports showed that trash from Sidon had previously reached as far as the coast of Cyprus (160 miles away). Carried out by Sidon’s municipality and overseen by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) this eco-makeover cost more than $25 million. Within the next year, part of the reclaimed land will open as a public park while the other part will serve as a sanitary landfill, equipped with gas-filtering pipes. The landfill, however, will not open to the public for another 8 years while the material underneath the new land decomposes.

Looking at the garbage crisis in Beirut, a lot can be done to preserve the environment by ridding the city of extreme waste accumulation. Taking Sidon as an example, the Lebanese people need to come together to create city beautification projects. Relying on a divided government won’t get the country any further in eco-development. Sidon’s example shows that trash can indeed be cleaned up, new processing facilities can be opened, materials can be recycled, and Lebanon can return to being the green gem of the Middle East.

Rawan Elbaba is an intern with the Arab American Institute