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Beirut incinerators expansion plans and wastepickers struggle, Lebanon


Since August 2015, Lebanon has been facing a continuous waste management crisis. In a bid to solve this problem, the Municipality of Beirut has put forward a plan to construct a waste incinerator (waste-to-energy plant). On October 10, 2016 a conference was held along with the head of the municipality of Copenhagen in a bid to share experience in the waste management sector, and in which the Municipality’s plan to launch a tender to convert waste into energy was presented. [1][2][3]

On April 6, 2017, the Beirut Municipality launched a tender for waste collection and the establishment of the necessary infrastructure for waste separation while firms interested in investing in the incinerator were expected to apply by the 2nd of May. [1]

This raised the fears of the residents of Karantina, and industrial neighborhood of the capital, where an incinerator was first proposed and protested in 1997. They held a protest along with political representatives on August 30, 2017 to affirm their opposition to a waste-to-energy project promoted by the municipality, which they say is no different from an incinerator and therefore poses a health hazard. Residents of Karantina – an area where the air is already polluted by the two open-air dumps nearby – oppose the proposal in fear the incineration of waste will result in even greater damage to the environment. [4][5]

Among the concerns raised by the project’s opponents are the environmental risks implicated by ash byproducts from the combustion, which require appropriate treatment, as well as the goal of the project. They argue that plants like these produce heat and, to a lesser extent, energy, which is of no use in Lebanon since the country doesn’t have a cold climate. [5]

A group of academics at the American University of Beirut, united in the Collaborative for the Study of Inhaled and Atmospheric Aerosols, held a conference in presenting scientific evidence against the adoption of incinerators. [6]

The president of the Municipal Council dismissed the resident’s concerns, claiming that “the location will be risk-free to the people in the area and all measures will be taken to ensure that it will not bother residents but instead enhance the economy of the area.” Local activists in the area voiced suspicions of a possible connection between the choice of Karantina and the presence of Jihad al-Arab’s company – Al-Jihad for Commerce and Contracting – among the four joint ventures pre-selected as bidders. JCC has been awarded several public construction projects in the past – some of which have been in or adjacent to Karantina – including the former Normandy dumpsite, the Karantina and Amrousieh waste sorting plants, as well as a storage facility and the Coral composting facility in Burj Hammoud. All of these projects have been subject to public criticism over alleged mismanagement, sparking debate as to whether JCC should be empowered to operate yet another facility. Alongside JCC, the other local pre-qualified contractors include Wassim Ammache’s Ramco, Antoine Azour’s Batco and Michel Abi Nader’s Man. They have each partnered up with international companies – respectively Doosan (Korean), Hitachi (Japanese), and Vinci (French). JCC has partnered with Suez (French) and another international company. [7]

More recently, and after the release of a Human Rights Watch report on burning of wastes in Lebanon, the Waste Management Coalition was created in Lebanon which aims to pressure the government to find sustainable solutions for the still-unsolved trash problem. The coalition's main objective is to pressure the authorities responsible for solid waste management in Lebanon to produce and apply a sustainable strategy that relies on integrated solid waste management. The group is demanding that the government implement the reduction of waste generation at the source, the reuse and recycling of waste and finally disposal using the appropriate techniques that comply with national and international environmental regulations. The coalition recently launched a petition to try and pressure the government to properly manage the country’s waste and to stay away from incinerators claiming that they do not constitute a reasonable and sustainable solution to manage the country’s waste. [8][9][10]

In early 2018, a documentary called “An Incinerator For Beirut? A Documentary” was released, in a bid to make the population well informed about this technology and to be able to form their own opinion about its feasibility in Beirut and its impact on their immediate living environment and health. [11]

Despite protests and clear-cut demands put forward in a petition to the government in 2015, national authorities confirm that plans to increase the amount of waste-to-energy plants in Beirut are advancing with the cooperation of the United Nations Development Programme [12].  Apart from that, a 2019 interview with Fadi Jreissati, Lebanon’s Minister of the Environment, reveals that the government’s two-year waste management roadmap will introduce a household taxation system. Each household will be subject to a tax of 10,000 Lebanese pounds per month (approximately $6.63 dollars). The funds of this tax will then be used to by municipalities to improve their sweeping and waste-collection activities [13].

After Sukleen suspended its operations in 2017, solid waste in Beirut and almost all Mount Lebanon districts is currently collected and managed by Ramco [19], a large private corporation that also has engineering and real estate interests. Ramco has boasted about its line of environmentally-friendly technology, notably its Euro 5 emission-standard vehicles [20].

A 2017 report on waste management, published by Lebanon’s ministry of environment, reported that Ramco’s districts produced 2,850 tons of waste a day, roughly 51 percent of all waste in Lebanon [14].

Even if collection bins of three different kinds have been placed in both under- and above ground collection points [20], observations and videos that have circulated in activist networks show that Ramco’s standard practice seems to be to dump all garbage from the separate bins into the same truck [14]. “This makes recycling and composting virtually impossible since broken glass bottles are mixed with organic material” expressed environmental engineer and activist Ziad Abi Chaker [14].

Both the continuation of waste-to-energy projects in cooperation with the United Nations, the proposed taxation system and Ramco’s faulty recycling efforts fail to address a very important group when it comes to recycling waste: wastepickers.

In Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, there are hundreds of disadvantaged Lebanese and Syrian refugees who recycle to put food on the table and are able to do so, precisely because the Lebanese government has grossly mismanaged its solid waste streams [14].

Many of the wastepickers are children like Omar (alias), a Syrian refugee who collects tin cans and brings them to an empty lot in a neighborhood in Beirut called Zuqaq al-Blat. The owner of this lot pays those who bring him waste 1000 Lebanese pounds ($0.66) per kilogram of tin cans. The labour these minors perform is subject to long hours rummaging through the garbage without masks, gloves, or any safety equipment [14]. The reason this situation is especially prevalent among Syrian refugees is linked to the fact that the Lebanese ministry of foreign affairs order the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) to suspend refugee registration in May 2015 [15]. In a number of cases, Syrian refugees have also been required to sign commitments to not work [16], which obviously increases the financial pressure on families and explains the high amount of child labour in the informal recycling sector.

Fortunately, a multitude of NGO’s and businesses attempt to fill the gap left by the state when it comes to the consideration of the informal waste sector in Beirut. An example is Recycle Beirut, one of several initiatives that arose after the metropolitan area’s largest landfill was closed and garbage piled up in the streets of Beirut, spurring a wave of protests. Recycle Beirut has a small underground warehouse in Bir Hassan, just south of Beirut. Its staff of Lebanese and registered Syrian refugees (approximately 20, of which nearly half are women) pick up, sort and process reclycable materials and send them to factories for which they are paid a living wage, receive basic health insurance and social support [17].

Recycle Beirut has been praised by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. But it and other NGOs can’t solve the whole city’s garbage problem, and a network of informal trash-recyclers has emerged. Due to the limited cooperation with municipal government, NGO’s like Recycly Beirut face constraints in how much they are able to recycle and the amount of wastepickers they are able to employ in their facilities. Given that their collection programs are opt-in, their expansion fully relies on an increase of the households and firms that subscribe to them, most of which are from the middle- and upper-class neighborhoods in Beirut [18]. While this is an esteemed effort at autonomously tackling a waste problem, it’s questionable whether it can be scaled up within sufficient amount of time.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Beirut incinerators expansion plans and wastepickers struggle, Lebanon
State or province:Beirut
Location of conflict:Beirut
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Waste Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Waste privatisation conflicts / waste-picker access to waste
Specific commodities:Domestic municipal waste
Recycled Metals
Plastic, Paper, Textiles, Glass
Rare metals

Project Details and Actors

Project details

There are two different projects embedded in this case, the first is related to the projected establishment of an incinerator in Beirut and the second regards the recycling efforts by Recycle Beirut, in cooperation with refugees.

When it comes to the incinerator, in 2018, the municipality of Beirut has confirmed that the plan to build the incinerator will move forward with the help of the United Nations Development Program. Even if local experts and environmental activists continue expressing the risks and unfeasibility of this project. After the release of the "Requirements Definitions Document", The Doosan Group, Hitachi Global, Vinci and CNIM are posed to deliver their bids for constructing various incinerators in Beirut apart from the one in Karantina [12].

When it comes to recycling, Recycle Beirut offers the service to pick up recyclable material in homes and offices of the Beirut, Baabda and Metn districts for a price of approximately $10 for 3 tons of waste [21,22]. They accept and recycle the following materials: plastics, nylon, metals, pallet wood, paper and cardboard, household appliances and electronics, batteries, clothes, glass bottles and specific types of furniture [24]. In their warehouse Recycle Beirut conducts the following activities: 1) Sorting waste and extracting recyclables 2) compressing different kinds of plastic in the shape of thin plates [3]. After this process the sorted materials are sent to recycling factories in Lebanon [21].

Level of Investment for the conflictive project100,000,000
Type of populationUrban
Affected Population:500,000
Start of the conflict:01/08/2015
Company names or state enterprises:Ramboll from Denmark - Drafting of tender documents
Al-Jihad for Commerce and Contracting from Lebanon
Ramco from Lebanon
Batco from Lebanon
MAN Entreprise from Lebanon
Doosan Group (Doosan) from Republic of Korea
Vinci Group (Vinci) from France
Suez Environnement from France
Recycle Beirut from Lebanon - Offers contracted jobs in the waste sector to refugees
Relevant government actors:Municipality of Beirut
Ministry of Interior
Ministry of the Environment
The Council for Development and Reconstruction
City of Copenhagen
International and Finance InstitutionsThe United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNHCR) from Switzerland -
International Labour Organization (ILO) from Switzerland
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) from United States of America - Cooperates with and sustains the Beirut municipality's plans for incinerators and waste-to-energy projects
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:GreenArea:
Waste Management Coalition:
Recycle Lebanon:
Badna Nhaseb:
Beirut Madinati:
T.E.R.R.E Liban:
AUB Nature Conservation Center:
Cedar Environmental:
You Stink:
Muntada Insan:
Our Children's Health is a Red Line:

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Landless peasants
Local scientists/professionals

Artisanal miners
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Fisher people
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Industrial workers
Forms of mobilization:Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of alternative proposals
Official complaint letters and petitions
Hunger strikes and self immolation
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Boycotts of companies-products
Boycotts of official procedures/non-participation in official processes
Shareholder/financial activism.
Street protest/marches


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Global warming, Soil erosion, Waste overflow
Potential: Air pollution, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Genetic contamination, Soil contamination
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution
Potential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Occupational disease and accidents, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..)
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Violations of human rights
Potential: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Increase in violence and crime
Other socio-economic impactsThe illegal employment of children in the informal recycling sector


Project StatusUnder construction
Conflict outcome / response:Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Strengthening of participation
Under negotiation
Fostering a culture of peace
Proposal and development of alternatives:Opponents of this projects are proposing an integrated solution to the waste management crisis that has plagued the country since 2015, rather than focusing on this specific project.
Their demands were put froward in a petition, asking the government to:
- Stop the extension of coastal dumps and the pollution of the sea;
- Stop the open burning of waste in Lebanon;
- Refrain from adopting incinerators to dispose of Lebanon's municipal solid waste;
- Adopt an integrated solid waste management strategy taking the different types of waste into consideration and based on the following principles:
Upholding the right of every citizen to a clean and healthy environment.
Protection of the common (public) goods for current and future generations.
The importance of addressing economic and social value in addition to waste management in terms of job creation & income generation.
All citizens contributing to the growing problem and the potential to be a part of the solution.
Primary focus on the promotion and implementation of the 3R principles. (Reduction, Reuse, Recycle)
Awareness and education with a focus on resource reduction & waste-to-resource conversion.
Building upon existing local capacities and experiences.
Strengthening public-private partnership including community-based waste management process.
Putting the necessary policy and institutional framework in place.
Developing a built-in adaptive mechanism for the continuous monitoring and improvement of the system.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:In 2018, the municipality of Beirut has confirmed that the plan to build the incinerator will move forward with the help of the United Nations Development Program [12].
When it comes to wastepickers, environmental justice is far from served, though small steps are taken by Recycle Beirut. Their goal is courageous but the impact so far has been minimal. Beirut has approximately 231,000 registered Syrian refugees, the unregistered amount being higher of course [25]. Recycle Beirut is currently only employing 20 workers as refugees and marginalized Lebanese in Beirut are still operating in the informal recycling sector.

Sources & Materials

Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

[18] - Recycling in Beirut falls to activists and refugees (01/2017)

[19] - Ramco to collect Beirut municipal waste (09/2017)

[20] - Ramco picking up Beirut trash as of May (05/2018)

[21] - Company website Recycle Beirut (11/2016)

[22] - Recycle Beirut: give recycling a chance (03/2019)

[24] - Recycle Beirut: Breaking the trash cycle in Lebanon one pick up at a time (07/2017)

[25] - Operational Portal Refugee Situations (UNHCR, 08/2019)

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[6] - Does it matter where in Beirut we put the incinerators?

[8] - "As If You're Inhaling Your Death"

The Health Risks of Burning Waste in Lebanon

[11] - An Incinerator For Beirut? A Documentary

[1] - Beirut Mayor Touts Waste-to-Energy Plan

[2] - Waste incineration: Copenhagen vs Beirut

[3] - Dear Beirut… How will you fight newly expected Incinerators?

[4] - Greenpeace demonstration at Karantina incinerator. Lebanon.

[5] - Karantina residents protest incinerator project

[7] - Itani denies intent to build incinerator in Karantina

[9] - In Lebanon, Civil Society Groups Are Launching a New Waste Management Coalition

[13] - Lebanese environment minister Fadi Jreissati: “We have to implement the polluter pays principle” (07/2019)

[14] As Beirut’s Trash Crisis Drags on, Children Recycle to Survive (11/2018)

[15] - Lebanon: New Refugee Policy a Step Forward ( 02/2017)

[16] - Lebanon: New Refugee Policy a Step Forward. Open the Door to Legal Status for All Syrian Refugees (02/2017)

[17] - Recycle Beirut (10/2016)

[19] - Ramco to collect Beirut municipal waste (09/2017)

[20] - Ramco picking up Beirut trash as of May (05/2018)

[21] - Company website Recycle Beirut (11/2016)

[22] - Recycle Beirut: give recycling a chance (03/2019)

[24] - Recycle Beirut: Breaking the trash cycle in Lebanon one pick up at a time (07/2017)

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[10] - #StopThem - End Waste Mismanagement in Lebanon

Meta information

Contributor:Rania Masri and Chandni Dwarkasing - EnvJustice ICTA-UAB
Last update17/11/2019
Conflict ID:3310



Greenpeace demonstration at Karantina incinerator. Lebanon.


Greenpeace demonstration at Karantina incinerator. Lebanon.


Boy searching trash pile

A boy scavenges through trash near mannequins displaying clothes for sale in a market inside the Palestinian Sabra refugee camp in Beirut in 2016. Source: Alia Haju/Reuters

Overflowing waste dumpsters

Dumpsters in Beirut overflowing with unsorted trash. Source: Kareem Chehayeb [1]

Recycle Beirut

Worker in Recycle Beirut warehouse. Source: An-Nahar News Agency [24]