There is no doubt that the study of Economics serves as more than just a simple theory, or a mere study of resources and their allocation. By forming theories to describe economical phenomena, economists study the whole of a community’s behavior, as well as the impact that each action has on the community itself. Because its main purpose is studying the most effective way of allocating scarce resources, Economics has a vast horizon when it comes to possibilities. It comes down to two central questions: what happens if this is done, and what happens if it isn’t? Despite the fact that this area of study is highly based on theory and day-to-day experience, it is still one of the most reliable forms of understanding how communities function.
Despite its natural beauty, the Mediterranean country of Lebanon is plagued by several infrastructure issues, most of which arise from the countries complex political situation and economic difficulties, including a sizeable debt. In the summer of 2015, Lebanon faced a particularly concerning crisis when citizens in the Naameh region pressured the government to stop using a landfill that was in the vicinity of several villages. Despite having a grace period in which to find a replacement landfill, the Lebanese government was unable to secure a new landfill space, and as such the Sukleen Corporation (which had been awarded the waste management contract for the Greater Beirut Area) was unable to dispose of waste. This situation has not been properly resolved, as the government is not able to reach a consensus on a sustainable waste management solution, which in turn changed the streets of Beirut to a landfill. The failure in finding a solution by the government made the people start revolting in the streets of downtown Beirut.
The riots going on in the country aren’t just about the garbage crisis, however the garbage crisis made people fed up with all the problems faced by Lebanese citizens, depriving them from their primary humanistic rights (water, electricity etc…).
Having lived in Lebanon for 17 years, I find commonalities between each and every other citizen around, having constant and repetitive thoughts, such as “Is it safe to go there?” and “Do we have electricity or is the generator still running?”. Lebanon is going through a stage of violent turbulence because of the issue of governance to the problems Lebanese citizens face in their everyday life such as running out of water; and now on top of all of that the garbage crisis.
The government hasn’t yet come up with an applicable solution that is environmentally friendly and doesn’t add an economic burden to the country. The unfortunate truth is that in advanced countries garbage is considered a valuable resource, in countries such as Sweden, as they generate it into energy and use it for their benefit in other fields. On the other hand, Lebanon is still at a stage where dumping, burying or burning the garbage are their only methods of garbage disposal leading to negative externalities, external costs that damage third parties (Blink & Dorton, 2012) , causing an environmental catastrophe.
This catastrophe triggers a sense of concern on a national level as well as on a personal one. Having been exposed to several cases of cancer and other diseases which very often are a result of the environmental situation in the country, I find it crucial to further investigate possible solutions in order to secure the future of the coming generations as much as possible.
A method of garbage disposal that is both beneficial for the Lebanese economy and is environmentally friendly must be implemented in Lebanon. The scope of this paper will be evaluating the best course of action for addressing the garbage crisis in Lebanon, taking into account the ethical and social implications.
The majority of this study is based on data collected from interviews conducted with Sukleen, an environmental specialist and a government official, in addition to secondary sources from Sukleen’s website, newspaper articles and publications relating to the garbage crisis.
Sami Atallah, the executive producer of the Lebanese Center for policy studies, relates in his article (Atallah, 2015) the current issue the government faces with Sukleen to the contract that was signed in the mid-1990s. The terms and conditions of the contract included gathering waste in the city of Beirut at double the price the municipality was willing to pay. At that time, the numbers weren’t the government’s major concern, which resulted in the negligence of possible consequences. Ever since, it can be noticed through records that the value of the contract increased rapidly, in contrast to the ambit of work that was originally meant for Sukleen to follow, with a change as drastic as an increase from 3.6 million dollars in ’94, to 150 million dollars as of today. Moreover, the contract set high standard barriers which omit any possible competition to take place. In addition to that, the further details of the contract remain confidential, which arises suspicions as to what is kept hidden from the records. As a result, Lebanon is paying one of the highest costs per ton waste assembling worldwide.
Creating mayhem amid times of desperation with the lack of a president, the country’s one and only Waste Collection Company, Sukleen, is having difficulties in renewing their contract, leaving Lebanon almost literally drowning in trash. At first, the main motive behind Sukleen’s protest-manners was the absence of a proper landfill area which, after the closure of the Naameh Landfill, has indeed become inaccessible. However, as Sukleen’s contract with the government came nearer to the end, considering Lebanon’s unwillingness to renew it, Sukleen’s motives changed rather drastically; from a mere geographic and infrastructural barrier, to claims of underpayment and unjust treatment from the government’s side.
On the other hand, the Lebanese government stands strongly supportive of its position regarding the topic, accusing Sukleen of ‘draining the state’s money’ (“Sukleen: Trash Crisis not our fault”, 2015), according to Sami Gemayel. Adding up to the many struggles Lebanon faces, the Garbage Crisis falls under the category of ‘negative impacts’ on both the economy as well as the environment.
Sukleen behaves as a monopoly, which is a type of market structure in which there is only one firm supplying the good or service, there are barriers to entry and in addition the monopolist may make abnormal profits in the long run (able to set their own prices), given that they have no competition at all (Blink & Dorton, 2012) . One of the reasons as to why Sukleen is able to act this way is the fact that corruption is evidently present; Sukleen’s connections allow them to benefit from monopolistic characteristics which otherwise would not be available for them. Furthermore garbage disposal and collection has an inelastic demand, a change in its price will lead to a relatively small change in its quantity demanded, which means that the firm will not hesitate to further raise their prices. The real role of price mechanism is shown in this case; the constant demand of garbage collection by the Lebanese government regardless of the price changes acted as a ‘signal’ to Sukleen that the government will wish to consume this service regardless of the changes in their prices. This served as an incentive for Sukleen to seek the highest possible profit making methods; raising their prices to a point where their costs per ton waste collection are of the highest globally.
The main problem with privatization includes the fact that private companies often have one goal in mind: profit. The unfortunate case is that a lot of the times those companies overlook or completely neglect ethical and environmental implications. This could very well be the case with Sukleen.
Not fulfilling the terms of the deal on Sukleen’s end resulted in many negative externalities. Sukleen, as mentioned before, was supposed to use landfills, while working on an environmentally friendly disposal method. In addition, they had to dump 10% and recycle the remaining 90%.
In contrast to what they were supposed to do, the lack of complaints and supervision over Sukleen allowed them to settle for dumping the garbage, minimizing their costs and reaching approximately 90% dumped rather than recycled- based on what Colonel Joseph Kallas said. This high percentage of dumping resulted in the release of toxic fumes that caused many diseases to the people living in that area as well as a lot of waste was transferred to the sea water near the beach where many people swim. The government should ban swimming in that area, however their lack of concern towards the people leads to their negligence of the whole matter.
This crisis is not merely a political crisis, but also a health one, and the magnitude of the health impacts outweigh that of the political ones. Lebanon has not relocated their landfill, the Naameh Landfill, since the 1997 emergency plan (Habib Maalouf, 2015). In addition, Lebanon’s daily garbage production is approximately 3000 tons per day (Habib Maalouf, 2015). As a temporary solution municipalities are dumping the waste in locations filled with nature and empty rivers.
An empty river called Nahr Beirut has garbage blocking the path of the rarely flowing river. Heavy rainstorms will definitely cause the piles of harmful and toxic garbage to overflow all over from the roads to the water sewers of Beirut. This will cause many diseases including water and air pollution, mutated insects and vegetation. Moreover in the long run this may cause plagues due to a large amount of rats roaming the streets feeding on garbage.
Rain does not only affect the garbage dumped in rivers however it also causes the garbage to be absorbed by the soil reaching underground water reserves, which are a main source of water in Lebanon. This will lead in the outbreak of many diseases as people are drinking polluted water. The garbage disintegrated into the soil will in addition damage the soil becoming a source of toxicity for the fruits and vegetables that we consume, leading to “typhoid fever, food poisoning, gastroenteritis, enteric fever and other major illnesses”. (“Lebanon’s garbage crisis: Your health in focus, 2015)
In addition the garbage dumped in the forests ‘temporarily’ can easily catch fire in the hot humid days in Lebanon burning with it thousands of trees which are the source of oxygen to human beings. Toxic fumes released in the air are “bound to become our daily breath of air” (“Lebanon’s garbage crisis: Your health in focus, 2015). These toxic fumes include carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane which as a result lead to respiratory diseases. The outbreak of these diseases will have a negative impact on tourism in the country.
Lebanon being a beautiful country with several touristic places to visit, such as Jeita Grotto, with satisfying weather conditions, several tourists from neighboring countries as well as much farther ones highly impact the economy. However the media coverage of this crisis is portraying an unsightly Lebanon and this will has a drastic effect on tourism in the country. Recently CNN released an article about the garbage crisis in Lebanon, portraying the country as a disgusting one (Hume & Tawfeeq, 2016). Being on CNN, a globally popular news channel, foreigners will avoid visiting the country due to the pictures of a disgusting Lebanon. This will, as a result, decrease the number of tourists that enter the country.
The decrease in the number of tourists will decrease the aggregate demand, which is the total spending on goods and services at a given price level at a given time period (Blink & Dorton, 2012), in the economy and shift its curve to the left. In addition it will decrease the government’s profits from tourism and as a result decrease government spending, which is also a one of the factors used to measure the aggregate demand of the country.
The decrease in the usage of raw materials in production due to paying for the ‘green dot’ will decrease the amount of pollution in the country. This could be very beneficial for Lebanon as 3000 tons of garbage is being produced daily, causing many negative externalities as mentioned before.