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Mazen Bachir Household Waste: Exporting is not an Option - Part 1 

Household Waste: Exporting is not an Option - Part 1

Reduce, Sort, Recycle, Treat, Landfill

Not so far away from the political tug of war, driven by adverse interests, there actually does exist a substantially developed and world-proven, tried and tested methodology for handling municipal solid waste in countries, irrespective of their development levels. If one is able to step above the political turmoil and man-made confusion, the concept and principles of Integrated Solid Waste Management actually make for an extremely effective method of handling solid waste, not in Beirut alone, but across the whole country. After all, cities, with populations 6 or 8 times the whole of Lebanon are able to handle municipal waste with almost no fuss… Aren’t we, as Lebanese, big enough to be able to emulate?

Solid waste management may be defined as the discipline associated with the control of generation, storage, collection, transfer and transport, processing, and disposal of solid wastes in a manner that is in accord with the best principles of public health, economics, engineering, conservation, aesthetics, and other environmental considerations, and that is also responsive to public attitudes.

In its scope, solid waste management includes all administrative, financial, legal, planning, and engineering functions involved in solutions to all problems of solid wastes. The solutions may involve complex interdisciplinary relationships among such fields as political science, city and regional planning, geography, economics, public health, sociology, demography, communications, and conservation, as well as engineering and materials science… basically everything Lebanese.

Without any doubt, the most effective way of reducing the dangers of waste are:-


1.     to avoid waste wherever it is possible

2.     to establish effective recycling and re-use systems.


That means, such systems have to be developed and people have to understand the nature of their waste. They have to be convinced that a participation in such a system is a public responsibility and duty.


The basic concept behind waste management is the waste hierarchy, where the most effective approaches to managing waste are at the top. It is a well-established principle, recognized and applied world-wide. Broadly summarized as:




Clearly the disposal (dependence on landfills is the least preferred option, therefore any ISWM plan will focus on reducing this activity. Second least preferred option is in fact treatment, which is the subject of scrutiny…. However, waste management starts from home and specifically with waste minimization or avoidance… even before sorting at source, which is the basis for reduction, re-use and recycling


This article aims to provide the technical base and backdrop to enable and empower people to make sound judgements, while considering the above factors, in determining the preferred way forward finally solving (or beginning to solve) the waste file in Lebanon.

Integrated Solid Waste Management in Lebanese Context

Given the diversity of localities in Lebanon (ranging from remote, small villages, to bigger cities, and ultimately, Beirut), with the given logistical constraints and challenges, it is apparent that a mixture of approaches will be necessary; and the waste management method of choice in the given locality will be context-dependent.

Notably the bottom two slots in the pyramid (ie the least preferred options) are indeed landfills and treatment. It is no coincidence that the Lebanese public has been driven to oppose both, in favour of recycling, and terms like sorting at source. However, the mis-conception has developed to blur the line between rejection and control.

Whilst the principles Integrated Waste Management do not advocate landfills, they certainly do not reject them, but in fact aim, especially in the cases where land availability is scarce, minimizing the dependence on them.

Hence, the plan is developed in accordance with priorities; the following diagram illustrates the general approach to Solid Waste Management. In order to solve Lebanon’s garbage problem, we will need to integrate all these elements into the masterplan, in accordance with the waste management hierarchy and suitable treatment option for the locality considered

As seen above, the preferred waste management method of choice is avoidance, or reduction at source. This activity is primarily the task that starts with all of us at home. It even precedes the now popular “sorting at source” promotion.

Waste minimization is a process of elimination that involves reducing the amount of waste produced in society and helps eliminate the generation of harmful and persistent wastes, supporting the efforts to promote a more sustainable society.

Waste minimization involves redesigning products and/or changing societal patterns, concerning consumption and production, of waste generation, to prevent the creation of waste

The most environmentally resourceful, economically efficient, and cost effective way to manage waste is to not have to address the problem in the first place. Waste minimization should be seen as a primary focus for most waste management strategies.

Proper waste management can require a significant amount of time and resources; therefore, it is important to understand the benefits of waste minimization and how it can be implemented in all sectors of the economy, in an effective, safe and sustainable manner.

It is imperative to accept that the handling or management of solid waste world-wide is indeed done primarily by landfills (needless to say, when and if implemented, these need to be designed and operated as sanitary landfills).

Already, globally, it is more and more difficult to find areas for landfills (just as the case in Lebanon is):-

· where the geological site is suitable i. e. geology as a barrier,

· where land-use is limited or non-existant,

· where residential areas are not in the immediate vicinity.

Crucially, treatment technologies, have advanced to limit the impact on landfills (both rendering the waste less harmful to the environment – harmless; and saving on the need for valuable space)…. Products of treatment are either geared for re-use, recycling or indeed minimized to lessen the burden on landfills.

Read Household Waste: Exporting is not an Option - Part 2:



Dr. Mazen Bachir is lecturer at the American University of Beirut school of engineering, and an independent consultant in the areas of environment, wastewater treatment and renewable/alternative energy.


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