Reducing marine litter: What are the actual challenges in Lebanon?
Lebanon is a highly urbanized country with more than half of its population living on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Managing waste – and thus preventing marine litter – is a challenge for municipalities as sound solid waste management systems are hardly in place. On average, about 8 percent of municipal solid waste in Lebanon is recycled and 15 percent composted, but 51 percent is disposed of in landfills and 26 percent in informal dumpsites. The two largest landfills are situated at the coast, which poses a risk of plastic waste entering the ocean. Moreover, the more than 940 uncontrolled, informal dumpsites in the country threaten the terrestrial and marine environment as well as public health. Also, the political situation of the country influences the waste management system: Lebanon, which borders Syria, is currently home to about 1.7 million refugees in addition to the 5.6 million residents from host communities – meaning about one in four people living in Lebanon is a refugee. The lack of adequate municipal solid waste management causes tension between refugees and host communities, as well as between political parties. This has been worsened through a socio-economic crisis, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the Beirut Port explosions in 2020, which severely damaged two major municipal solid waste facilities and affected national recycling capacities.
In the past decades, no national waste management strategy has been designed in Lebanon partly due to overlapping mandates and unclear roles of the public actors involved. But in 2018, the Ministry of the Environment (MoE) was assigned the responsibility for municipal solid waste management, and a waste management roadmap for the country was developed. This new roadmap stresses the role of municipalities, decentralization and the principle of subsidiarity, and aims to close open dumps, upgrade and build new waste management facilities, and waste separation at source.
What contribution does the project make to reducing marine litter?
ReMaL aims to reduce marine litter in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea and improve political stability in Lebanon by supporting coastal Unions of Municipalities and the national government in establishing the foundations of integrated sustainable waste management. The project intends to contribute to sustainable development by reducing the amount of uncollected municipal solid waste and by enhancing resource recovery. Moreover, ReMaL aims at creating job opportunities, fostering circular economy (business) models and increasing awareness and behaviour change.
Waste information systems in Lebanon have not been developed yet, but are necessary to gather an understanding of waste quantities to be managed, entry points of marine litter, most relevant gaps and needs, next steps and activities. Thus, the project starts with a participatory waste assessment with municipalities that includes both formal and informal actors. Moreover, ReMaL will design a national online waste observatory as a basis for continuous waste monitoring. Based on the participatory assessment, pilot projects across Lebanon will be developed and implemented with different coastal municipalities, addressing both technological and institutional improvements including financial requirements. Moreover, ReMaL plans a series of awareness activities that educate adults and children on the intertwined relation between waste management and preventing marine litter, and thus foster behavioural change. These include events, clean neighbourhood competitions, awareness activities at schools, and project communication with citizens and other stakeholders. Moreover, to ensure long-term sustainability, national policy recommendations are formulated in collaboration with the Ministry of the Environment.