Experts warn against waste incineration

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Incineration as a waste disposal method is both expensive and environmental hazardous when not done correctly, a panel of experts at the American University of Beirut warned Wednesday. “Incineration is an extremely expensive technology that requires a lot of investment in environmental protections,” Jad Chaaban, an associate professor of economics, said at the conference at AUB’s Issam Fares Institute. Chaaban added that the technical complexity of the process and lack of regulatory infrastructure meant the practical application was likely to be both an ineffective and potentially dangerous solution to Lebanon’s trash crisis. Alan Shihadeh, a professor of mechanical engineering, also noted that incineration would contribute to Lebanon’s already high-levels of air pollution. “In Beirut, across different sites, we had 100-200 percent above the World Health Organization recommended air pollutant concentration,” he said. “We have a very serious air pollutant problem.” Shihadeh explained that this was partly the result of widespread diesel generator use, as well as Lebanon’s climate and geography. Part of what has made incinerators an attractive option for Lebanon however, is that they can eliminate the need for landfills – one of the driving forces behind recent trash crises. In Oct. 2016, the Beirut Municipality responded to the ongoing waste problem by proposing an incinerator for the city. However the city’s mayor, Jamal Itani, declined to comment on the IFI criticisms regarding incinerators Wednesday. However, Joseph Zeaiter, a chemical engineering professor, explained that though the plants cut down on the mass of waste produced, their outputs are highly toxic and require tremendous investment of technology and money to get right. “In Europe, they implemented four to five different cleaning stages to eliminate particulates, dioxins and acids. There is also ash produced in the burning process that contains metals like lead, mercury and arsenic.” Najat Aoun Saliba, AUB professor of analytical chemistry, said that mitigating the effects of these outputs required an investment of resources that aren’t currently available in Lebanon. “These plants require highly sophisticated equipment. They need continuous monitoring, a high budget and qualified staff.” According to Saliba, Lebanon also doesn’t have the labs necessary to measure and monitor some of the more dangerous byproducts. Monitoring compliance with potential rules and regulations was another issue highlighted by several of the participants. “Do we have an independent, competent authority to do the work,” Saliba asked. “Assuming we do, how to they enforce compliance?” In addition to the potential environmental hazards of incineration, Zeaiter also noted that, given the kinds of waste produced in Lebanon, incineration wasn’t even the most effective option available. “For incineration to work, you need a waste management system to be in place – starting with source reduction or minimizing the generation of waste,” he said. “You have to rely on composting and recycling, especially because the vast majority of waste produced here is organic.” Ultimately, incinerators would only be effective for dealing with 12 to 16 percent of current solid waste production, Zeaiter said. Issam Lakkis, an associate professor of mechanical engineering, explained that these issues, combined with weather patterns that would quickly spread harmful toxins throughout the country, made incineration a poor choice. “When I saw the distribution of pollutants in all directions, I made a joke to my colleagues that the only good thing about incineration is that it will be nonsectarian,” he quipped.

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