Bourj Hammoud Garbage Mountain, Lebanon

The Bourj Hammoud Landfill, which started as an uncontrolled dumpsite during the Lebanese Civil War, persists to this day without rehabilitation, spreading its smells and harmful effects over tens of thousands of citizens and non-citizens living nearby.


The origins of the waste crisis in Lebanon date back to the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990), when various governmental agencies and other groups began dumping garbage in a plot of land in Bourj Hammoud, a densely populated and commercial area inhabited by a majority Armenian population as well as working class Lebanese, migrant workers, and refugees. [1] By the end of the war, tons of waste had piled up by the Bourj-Hammoud seashore. However, the majority of the waste was dumped after the war, when the uncontrolled dump started being used as an official landfill, this time by governmental decision*. After the civil war, around 3,000 tons of waste was thrown daily in the landfill.**  By 1997, the dump had far exceeded its capacity and had become an environmental and public health hazard. [2] The situation became unbearable, with putrid smells and uncontrollable fires in the area, and opposition started by the Tashnag party to close the landfill.*   On May 30, 1997, the Cabinet advised the closure of the Bourj Hammoud landfill and the establishment of two new waste treatment centers, Karantina and Amroussieh. However, the government delayed the implementation of the decision, and the Armenian Tashnag party, as well as the Matn deputies, called for a strike on June 5, 1997. The protesters declared during the strike that it is unacceptable that people have to resort to strike in order to demand the “lifting of garbage that threatens their lives." [3] The Bourj Hammoud landfill was not only a dumpsite for the region, but also for all the suburbs of Beirut and Matn, and people protested that they are not obliged to bear the trash of other regions. [3] Meanwhile, the governmental plan to open an incinerator in Amroussieh failed due to protests from the community- including setting the incinerator on fire- despite threats from the government that the garbage would spread on the roads. The Amroussieh and Karantina incinerators were functional from 1993 to 1997, and were used to incinerate hazardous hospital waste, hazardous plastic waste, household toxic waste, and industrial toxic waste, releasing carcinogenic atmospheric emissions, including dioxins and furans. Moreover, the toxic ash from these incinerators was dumped in the Bourj Hammoud landfill.[4] By July 19,1997, “the streets of the southern suburbs of Beirut and the Southern Matn coast had turned into dozens of landfills, and the residential neighborhoods were sinking in heaps of trash… The waste begun to burn, causing the spread of methane gas and an outbreak of fires threatening the health of residents in the area." [3] In this way, the government was using the same strategy to be repeated in the garbage crisis almost 20 years later: extortion of people by leaving the garbage on the streets and the imposition of solutions with prices and conditions dictated by the crisis. Eventually, the government responded due to popular pressure from the communities near the landfill, and the Bourj Hammoud landfill closed in July 20, 1997, without rehabilitation [3]. However, rather than developing a practical and sustainable solution to the solid waste management problem, the government simply created another landfill- the Naameh landfill. [3] Moreover, today the Bourj Hammoud landfill releases an estimated 120,000 tones of leachate annually, corresponding to more than half the leachate produced by three major coastal dumpsites in Lebanon (Tripoli, Bourj Hammoud and Normandy). [5] As such, the dumpsite still persists and spreads its smells and harmful effects over an area where tens of thousands of citizens and non-citizens live.  *Interview with Bourj Hammoud municipality   **Interview with activist Raja Njeim

Basic Data
NameBourj Hammoud Garbage Mountain, Lebanon
ProvinceMatn District
SiteBourj Hammoud
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Waste Management
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Specific CommoditiesIndustrial waste
Domestic municipal waste
Chemical products
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsThe site is a non-engineered landfill with a surface area of 16.3 hectares and rises up to 55m above sea level with extremely steep side slopes. The waste is estimated at 6 million cubic meters, and consists of demolition debris, excavation material, municipal solid waste, industrial waste, and hospital waste.[7] Control measures implemented at the site have been limited to the deployment of a soil cover along with drilling of several penetrating gas vents.[8] Slope failure is highly likely because the slopes are unstable, and also because the subsoil underlying the waste is a layer of soft clay, creating severe stability problems. [7]

In 1987, 15,800 barrels of toxic waste were illegally exported from Italy to Lebanon, and some of these barrels were dumped in Bourj Hammoud. An army report states that 2,000 barrels of this toxic waste were burned at the waste dump of Bourj Hammoud.[9] Another report states that there are actually 5,000 barrels of toxic waste in the landfill (with the possibility of the presence of nuclear waste). The toxic waste consists of the explosive substance nitrocellulose; outdated adhesives, organophosphate pesticides, solvents as well as outdated medication; oil residues and highly toxic heavy metals like lead, mercury and cadmium; arsenic; chlorinated substances; PCBs, and other substances. Hundreds of barrels contained extremely high concentrations of the lethal substance dioxin. Greenpeace reported that these substances can cause skin and eye irritation, and damage the liver, kidney and reproductive systems.

Researchers have identified extreme marine pollution around the Bourj Hammoud landfill, due to solid wastes dumped on the coast, as well as wastewater, oil residues, and chemicals dumped in the sea.[9] Large volumes of gas and leachate are generated from waste decomposition.[7]
Project Area (in hectares)20
Level of Investment (in USD)Not clear
Type of PopulationUrban
Potential Affected Population350,000
Start Date01/01/1975
End Date20/07/1997
Company Names or State EnterprisesSukleen from Lebanon
Averda from United Kingdom - Averda owns Sukleen
Relevant government actorsMinistry of Environment

Ministry of Interior and Municipalities

Council for Development and Reconstruction (CDR)

Office of the Minister of State for Administrative Reform

Bourj Hammoud Municipality
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersThe Tashnag Party
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingLocal government/political parties
Forms of MobilizationStreet protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Fires, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Global warming
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Potential: Infectious diseases
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Loss of livelihood
Project StatusStopped
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseUnder negotiation
Project cancelled
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.Although the landfill was shut down, it was not remediated, and there is now a governmental decision to open another landfill next to the old one (see next case story). A consulting firm, Associated Consulting Engineers (ACE), is involved in a project to rehabilitate the old landfill (LINORD development project). The project plans to solve the problems of soil instability, as well as leachate and gas generation. In addition, it plans to beautify the visual impact of the landfill by transforming it into a district park.[7] However, measures to solve slope instability include reshaping and lowering the height of the dump, and transporting the excavated waste to the new engineered sanitary landfill near the fishing port. Environmental experts and activists find this extremely dangerous due to the presence of barrels of toxic (and possibly nuclear) waste, which can become a public health crisis if poked, and need a special archeological excavation method. The municipality of Bourj Hammoud and the State are denying the existence of these barrels in the landfill.
Sources and Materials

10. Shaban, A. (2008). Use of satellite images to identify marine pollution along the Lebanese coast. Environmental Forensics, 9(2-3), 205-214.
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2. Abu-Rish, Z. (2015). Garbage politics. Middle East Research and Information Project. Vol. 45
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4. Masri, R. (1999). Development at what price? A review of Lebanese authorities’ management of the environment. Arab Studies Quarterly, 21(1), 117-134.

8. Abi-Esber, L. & El-Fadel, M. (2012). Economic Viability Of LFG Recovery Under The CDM Mechanism. WIT Press, 163, 83-92.
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1. Wilson, Susan. (2015, April 24). Burj Hammoud: Lebanon's Little Armenia. The Daily Star.
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3. Joelle Boutros. 2015. Garbage crisis in Lebanon- 1977: Same Policy, Repeated History. The Legal Agenda. 15 September 2015
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5. Support to DG Environment for the development of the Mediterranean De-pollution Initiative “Horizon 2020”: Review of Ongoing and Completed Activities. European Commission. 2006.
[click to view]

6. Yassin, A. (2014, November 26). What is the secret behind Bourj Hammoud waste mountain’s “endurance”? Green Area.
[click to view]

7. Project to rehabilitate Bourj Hammoud Landfill by Associated Consulting Engineers (ACE)
[click to view]

9. Hamdan, F. Waste trade in the Mediterranean. Greenpeace Mediterranean. August 1996
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Other Documents

Fires at the Bourj Hammoud garbage mountain
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A view on the mountain of garbage in Bourj Hammoud
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Meta Information
ContributorCatherine Moughalian, The Asfari Institute, [email protected]
Last update02/11/2016