Lebanon takes out the trash

The streets of Beirut are finally getting cleared of the heaps of trash that have mounted ever since Lebanon’s largest landfill closed nearly a year ago.

The country temporarily opened three landfills to address the problem. But what will happen next? Lebanon’s garbage crisis has many people thinking about better ways to recycle and manage the things we toss away.

The people speak

Protesters in Lebanon holding up signs (© AP Images)
The sight and smell of the trash sparked popular protests, including this 2016 rally, and even a movement called “You Stink” that took to the streets to demand solutions. (© AP Images)

Mountains of trash

Work vehicles and street filled with bags of trash (© AP Images)
Sanitation workers in March began removing mountains of trash from the suburbs of Beirut in what residents hope marks the end of Lebanon’s garbage crisis. (© AP Images)

Packed for transport

Packed waste at the Beirut port (© AP Images)
A pile of packed waste lies next to the port in the Lebanese capital, Beirut. (© AP Images)

Landfill reopens

Man looking at landfill in Lebanon (© AP Images)
A Lebanese man stands on a hill overlooking the landfill in the suburb of Naameh, south Beirut, Lebanon, that reopened in March 2016. (© AP Images)

“All for the country”

Five people in uniforms sitting against concrete wall (© AP Images)
Workers for a waste management company sit under a placard with Arabic that reads “All for the country, All for the Army, All for Lebanon” in Beirut, Lebanon. (© AP Images)

Piling up

Man near overflowing trash bins in Lebanon (© AP Images)
Trash bins continue to overflow in parts of the city. (© AP Images)

Public health concern

Man in lab coat looking at screen next to man in medical bed (© AP Images)
Some doctors are concerned that the increase in respiratory illnesses is directly related to the ongoing trash problem. (© AP Images)


Crowd and man holding up sign that says ‘I AM VERY UPSET’ (© AP Images)
Protesters are looking for permanent solutions to the trash crisis. (© AP Images)

Road block

Trash overflowing into streets in Lebanon (©AP Images)
“This used to be such a beautiful place, but look at it now. We can’t even walk by it,” Jawanah, a local resident who didn’t want to give the rest of her name, told CNN. (© AP Images)

Looking to solutions

One “waste to energy” idea for Lebanon — and other parts of the world — comes from Tom Henderson of the design firm Arcadis. He visited Lebanon in April 2016 to discuss the waste disposal system that he helped design in Florida that combines recycling with electric power generation.

Landfill and waste processing (Courtesy of Solid Waste Authority of Palm Beach County)
Left: A huge landfill at the Solid Waste Authority of Palm Beach County, Florida. Right: A grapple moves a pile of garbage to an incinerator to be converted to energy instead of being added to a landfill. (Courtesy of Solid Waste Authority of Palm Beach County)

Much of the trash at the Florida facility never ends up in a landfill because it can either be recycled or used to generate electricity. A giant, claw-shaped grapple scoops the nonrecyclable garbage into boilers, which produce steam that turns turbines and generates electrical power. Advanced scrubbers minimize air pollution while methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is collected from the landfill and used to generate additional electricity.

The facility in Florida keeps 3,000 tons, or 90 percent, of trash from the landfill every day and converts it into enough electricity to power 40,000 homes and businesses.

“The primary purpose of these facilities is to eliminate the need for a landfill,” Henderson said.

This article draws on reports from the Associated Press.