Guest Blog | Solid Waste Management within Lebanon’s Public Up-Rise

Rami Nassif is a founding member and the newly elected President of ISWA Lebanon. In this guest blog he discusses the extraordinary social phenomenon of waste management initiatives that have emerged during the Lebanese up-risings.

20 Nov 2019 -

As we look at Lebanon as a state over the past month, a public up-rise against corruption on various government levels has arisen. This up-rise resulted in daily protests throughout the country primarily against corruption, and the bad economic situation. Up to this point the situation is perceived as a democratic interaction between the public, government, and politicians. However, what is exceptional in this picture is how the solid waste generated from these daily sit-ins and protests is being managed. As a common practice worldwide, waste generated from protests, public sit-ins and public up-rises, is usually managed by contractors, companies, or entities delegated by municipalities or authorities governing the sector; however, in Lebanon during the 2019 up-rise the situation was managed differently in many of the squares that hosted the public sit-ins.

Waste Management in Lebanon as Part of the Public Sit-Ins

When it comes to waste management in Lebanon, most of the waste is accumulated in a single bin and is collected and transported either to a waste management facility or an open dumpsite. There are a few sorting-at-source initiatives; however, the dominant nationwide practice is still single bins. Ironically, the public up-rise included a spontaneous intervention/initiative for waste management from the early morning (around 6:00am) of its second day (18th of October 2019), and that continued daily throughout the up-rise. This intervention was based on having people from various organizations, students, clubs, residents of neighboring areas, volunteering in collecting manually the waste and rubble, segregating it into multiple categories, and sending it to NGOs that collect sorted-at-source waste. This initiative started in a few squares at the beginning and was quickly replicated by other squares hosting protestors. After few days the intervention further developed and matured with some squares introducing multiple bins for sorting material at source, while the daily clean-up and source sorting continued. Additionally, local contractors delegated by authorities to collect the waste continued performing their activities from existing public bins. The only way to understand how this sorting-at-source intervention and initiative started is by acknowledging primarily that waste management is a function of social behavior, and secondarily a function of psychological perception. From this perspective, we can begin to address waste management from its psychological socio-political context.  

Psychological Socio-Political Context and Waste Management

In June 2015 Lebanon experienced a major solid waste crisis that resulted in the accumulation of waste within the streets for several months until the government started implementing an emergency plan in March 2016, which resulted in removing the waste from the streets and providing a transitional plan for three years. This crisis resulted in the following:

  1. Lebanese people became more aware of waste management, while many     activists promoted sorting-at-source to be the key entrance to sustainable waste management. This resulted in various sorting-at-source initiatives within the country; however, the absence of relevant infrastructure and extended awareness campaigns stalled its development.
  2. The Ministry of Environment issued two circulars (circular 8/1 of November 2015, and circular 7/1 of November 2017) and drafted a decree (decree 5605/2019) that was endorsed by the council of ministers and enacted on the 11th of September 2019. These three documents provided guidelines related to sorting-at-source, list of potential collectors and recycling entities, and potential bin colour coding.
  3. Many NGOs became involved in waste management and started providing services such as drop off centers and door to door collection of sorted-at-source material. The material they collected was eventually transported to local recycling facilities.
  4. Lebanese people correlated the waste management crisis and lack and/or delay in securing sustainable plans for waste management by the Government to political corruption. 

Consequently, when people started with the up-rise against the economic situation and corruption, they wanted to present an anti-corruption image of their up-rise. Additionally, as a consequence of the 2015 waste crisis the people correlated corruption with the country's solid waste portfolio, and since solid waste generation is a common output of any sit-in or protest they had the incentive and urge to address the solid waste generated during the protests. Since the Lebanese people were already aware of sorting-at-source, and of several active NGOs, the anti-corrupt image intervention that they sought was clear and only required volunteers to perform the task.

Analogies and Recommendations

It has been evident for those working in the solid waste sector that waste management is a function of social behavior, while location selection and technology selection, in addition to the technical and financial criteria, are related to psychological perception (this falls under terms such as NIMBY and BANANA syndrome). The sudden transition from a single bin system to sorting at source within the Lebanese up-rise embodies this. Thus, it is almost impossible to make any sudden change in waste management without amending the social behavior and the perception of people. Under regular conditions, raising awareness, communication, and/or providing incentives are key elements to enhance public perception and develop positive social behavior. However, occasionally, a shocking incident such as the Lebanese 2015 solid waste crisis can also have the same impact. Accordingly, while dealing with waste management one should always account for the following:

  1. Waste management cross-cuts with various activities and therefore, waste management techniques and practices may be incorporated in any activity including protests and up-rises, as it was the case in Lebanon.
  2. Look for, and capitalize on, the positive aspects of any unfortunate incident and try to make use of it to influence positively the perception and social behavior to further enhance and develop existing solid waste management practices.
  3. Always be open towards new and unconventional approaches in addressing public perception and social behavior.
  4. Social Behavior is subject to many interactive daily incidents whether they are directly related to solid waste or not; hence, it is always essential to capitalize on the change in social behavior and to follow up on it in order to benefit from the momentum achieved before it is diluted by other accumulated incidents.

About Mr Rami Nassif

Rami Nassif earned a Bachelors Degree in Mechanical Engineering from the American University of Beirut, Lebanon, and a Masters of Science Degree from Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden. He is a Member of ISWA since 2013, and a founding member of ISWA Lebanon. In 2019 he was elected president of ISWA Lebanon. Mr. Nassif has been active in the solid waste sector in Lebanon and Middle East area, implementing various projects, including closure and rehabilitation of dumpsites, design of MBT facilities and landfills, preparing masterplans, support in generating national strategies, optimizing existing solid waste management facilities, management of the operation of facilities, conducting audits of integrated solid waste facilities, drafting laws and decrees, and assessment of energy recovery systems (RDF co-processing, and incinerators).

back to list