Agriculture Minister Akram Shehayyeb announced Monday that a “solution” has been reached for the country’s renewed waste management and collection crisis, following a meeting with two Free Patriotic Movement officials.
“We have managed to reach a solution through negotiations,” said Shehayyeb at a joint press conference with Education Minister Elias Bou Saab of the FPM and MP Ibrahim Kanaan, the secretary of FPM’s Change and Reform bloc.
“I support any proposal that boosts the removal of garbage from the streets,” Shehayyeb, who is in charge of overseeing the government’s emergency waste management plan, added.
“Decentralization means that every region must become prepared for waste sorting and land-filling,” the minister said, noting that “decentralization does not mean that some towns can commit land-filling violations.”
He also called on the Kataeb Party to “help us remove the garbage from the streets.”
Kanaan for his part announced that “the ongoing debate over the waste file has started to reach a place that gathers all the parties concerned.””
“The proposed formula involves both a temporary solution and a permanent solution. We are seeking to shorten the period of the temporary solution as much as possible until the municipalities become ready” to assume waste management responsibilities, Kanaan said.
“This period ranges from six months to one year at the latest, but municipalities that become ready in a shorter time can leave the plan and treat their waste independently,” the MP added.
“We have endorsed the proposal of setting up a supervision commission comprising the region’s MPs and municipalities, the civil society and the executive authority,” Kanaan reminded, stressing that “there should be cooperation among everyone.”
Bou Saab meanwhile announced that “it is possible to expedite the decentralized plan.”
“Metn and Keserwan are ready to start sorting waste as of today,” he added.
“Each municipality that becomes ready to receive waste and set up a sorting and composting plant can immediately start implementing the first phase of the plan we are trying to push forward,” the minister said.
“We are trying to find a solution through decentralization in sorting and we can benefit from the funds that were supposed to go the firm that won the sorting tender,” Bou Saab explained, stressing that “it is necessary to treat and sort the (old) ‘garbage mountain’ in Bourj Hammoud as happened in Sidon and central Beirut.”
According to media reports, the latest solution is based on reopening the Bourj Hammoud waste storage site and shortening the transitional period from four years to one year.
Protesters from Kataeb and several environmentalist and civil society groups have been staging a sit-in outside the Bourj Hammoud site for several weeks and on August 11 students from Kataeb managed to force the suspension of works aimed at setting up a new seaside landfill.
The protesters and activists have accused authorities of seeking to “land-fill the sea” with unsorted and unrecycled garbage in a manner that poses environmental and health risks and violates the Convention for Protection of the Mediterranean Sea against Pollution.
The Bourj Hammoud Municipality has also prevented garbage trucks from accessing a temporary storage site in the area, accusing the government of failing to respect the agreement that preceded the emergency plan.
The closure of the temporary storage site has prompted the Sukleen waste management firm to suspend garbage collection in several areas in Mount Lebanon and Beirut, which has resulted in a new pileup of trash on the streets.
The country’s unprecedented waste management crisis erupted in July last year when the country’s central landfill in Naameh was closed amid the government’s failure to find alternatives.
The crisis saw streets, forests and riverbeds overflowing with trash for several months and triggered unprecedented street protests against the entire political class that sometimes turned violent.
Experts have long urged the government to devise a comprehensive waste management solution that would include more recycling and composting to reduce the amount of trash going into landfills.