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Instruments and spaces of waste governance in Lebanon

Instruments et territoires de la gouvernance des déchets au Liban
Jihad Farah et Eric Verdeil


Cet article étudie la capacité des autorités locales à stabiliser une gouvernance des déchets et les effets politiques de cette transformation de l’action publique locale. Le cadre analytique s’inscrit dans la sociologie des instruments de politique publique et suit les politiques que les pouvoirs municipaux mettent en place sur le terrain pour faire face à un problème urgent. L’étude porte sur le Liban en raison de la crise des déchets en cours, et toujours en suspens, qui a donné lieu à de vastes protestations. Plus précisément elle porte sur trois municipalités en dehors ou aux marges de la région de la capitale, Saïda, Zahlé et Bikfaya, où différents types de solutions innovantes (technologiquement et/ou politiquement) ont été mises en œuvre. Là, nous documentons l’élaboration des politiques de gestion municipale des déchets solides en étudiant les contrats, le financement, la communication, l’aménagement urbain, les périmètres d’opération et l’environnement. Nous étudions les effets politiques de la stabilisation de ces assemblages d’instruments de gouvernance du point de vue de la légitimation du pouvoir local, de la construction d’un territoire de coopération local ou régional et les relations entre le pouvoir local et le pouvoir central. La recherche s’appuie sur une analyse de la presse et sur des enquêtes par entretiens dans les localités et les instances de définition de ces politiques publiques. Les résultats montrent que les choix politiques dépendent très fortement du type de réseaux politiques locaux, et du degré d’urgence des temporalités de décision.

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The authors wish to thank Emilio Gemayel, Rasha Ghaddar, Elie Nasr, Rita Nasr, and Hanan Wehbe for their help with the survey, and more specifically Rita Nasr for her maps. They also wish to thank Patrick Le Galès for his comments on an earlier version of the paper, and the journal’s two anonymous reviewers.
The authors thank Monica Biberson for the English translation, made possible by the funding of the grant ANR-17-CE05-0002.


1In the summer of 2015, residents living near the Naameh landfill, south of Beirut, blocked access to the site in order to put an end to the nuisances it generated due to the fact that it was not properly monitored and had reached saturation point. As a result, waste started to pile up in the streets, triggering a major political crisis which underscored the government’s poor management of the sector since the end of the civil war in 1991, as well as the poor performance of Sukleen and Averda, the companies in charge of collecting waste since 1994, and of storing it since 1997, in Beirut and Mount Lebanon. As well as expressing citizens’ concerns for their health, the protests that ensued denounced the corruption of the political class. The crisis also sparked a debate on who had the legitimate authority to manage waste. Since a law passed in 1977, municipalities have been legally responsible for this task. But since the 1990s, the state has assumed this responsibility in the capital region. Nevertheless, outside this region, municipalities have continued to manage waste, while others have claimed their right to do so since the crisis.

2The waste crisis in Lebanon is a case which raises several of the questions identified by this issue’s coordinators in their call to think about politics through the lens of waste (Maccaglia and Cirelli, 2019). Firstly, by offering the possibility to change the way the waste-management sector is governed, the crisis seems to provide municipalities with an opportunity to strengthen their power. The politicisation of waste management could enhance the legitimacy of local authorities thanks to new policies presented as effective and/or offering local benefits (improved environment, jobs). We can examine the forms of political regulation that emerge in this situation. On the one hand, this question arises in terms of the changing nature of public action, and echoes the discussions on decentralisation and the role of municipalities in relation to the functions performed by government. On the other hand, it refers to political issues in which municipal experiences help build power relations on a national scale. Finally, a third question concerns business relations between public authorities and waste operators. This market – regulated via new ways of setting up contracts with which local authorities are not very familiar – gives rise to fierce competition over profits, but also illicit arrangements that benefit private interests or political parties.

3In this paper, we argue that based on the choices made to solve this urban-policy issue, local authorities can empower themselves and enhance their legitimacy to govern by encouraging the emergence of functional local-interest communities. However, such an evolution depends on the linking up of public policy instruments put in place and political networks mobilised, as part of configurations of varying scale. We will adapt the framework of the political sociology of public policy instruments and instrumentation to an analysis of the governance of the municipal solid-waste sector. The goal is to see how and to what extent the waste-management policies implemented in three municipalities in this country – Zahle, Saida, and Bikfaya – have been built around convergent and stabilised instruments that give structure to relations between local authorities and citizens, and between national and local authorities. The article will first describe the analytical framework used, then the Lebanese context, the case studies looked at, and the methods employed. We will then present the results of our analysis.

The framework used to analyse local waste governance

4In the research conducted on politics at an urban level, the ways in which urban services are managed are most often analysed as a variable dependent on explanatory variables, which are the power struggles between representatives of different social groups, especially during elections, and the intervention of higher authorities. Urban services are often thought of as a vehicle for clientelist relations aimed at consolidating power (Post 2018). In these studies, the waste issue is rarely studied in relation to other local services (water, transport, health, education, etc.). Above all, it is rare for methods of managing a local service such as waste to be treated as a variable that can weight on regulating local politics. Some issues related to waste regulation do give rise to certain forms of politicisation: this is the case, for example, of the question of informal employment (Cavé 2015; Cirelli, Florin, Troin (eds.), 2015; de Bercegol, Cavé, and Durand 2018) or conflicts related to the nuisances generated by new facilities (Demaria and Schindler 2016; Cirelli, Maccaglia, and Melé 2017; de Bercegol and Gowda 2018). In most cases, the diversity of public actors is hardly problematised and studies most often focus on central government, who is a major actor in the successive reforms implemented in the waste sector through the promotion of public-private partnerships or, more recently, the introduction of new recovery logics (Jaglin, Debout, Salenson (eds.), 2018). Local government is generally perceived negatively as being poorly endowed with skills and resources (Katusiimeh, Mol, and Burger 2012; Okot-Okumu and Nyenje 2011; Fakoya 2014). This situation of technical and institutional inadequacy is frequently attributed to a form of cultural backwardness whereby municipalities are loci of primordial political relations closed to modernity (for a critique of this type in a regional context, but without explicit reference to the waste sector, see Salman and Baird-Zars, 2019). By contrast, we propose a dynamic perspective which focuses on the construction of local power around the deployment and management of the waste service.

5To this end, we have used the sociology of instrumentation to assess the long-term construction of public-policy instruments aimed at regulating local waste management (Knoepfel, Larrue, and Varone 2006; Lascoumes, and Le Galès (eds.), 2004; Lascoumes and Simard 2011; Halpern, Lascoumes, Le Galès (eds.), 2014). In this perspective, an instrument is “a particular type of institution, a technical device whose generic purpose is to help give concrete expression to the political-societal relationship with the support of a notion of regulation” (Lascoumes and Le Galès, 2004). Our aim is to understand the political process underpinning the way in which technical and operational processes are decided and integrated into existing institutional structures. This will involve examining a form of waste governance, that is, “a process of bringing together, coordinating, and directing actors, social groups, and organisations, with a view to achieving collectively defined and discussed objectives” (Le Galès, 2019, p. 298). In this context, we will ask two questions: how is local waste governance, understood as the joining up of several regulatory systems embodied in instruments (Le Galès, 2019, p. 303), produced and stabilised over time? And how does this waste governance help reinforce existing modes of power relations or build new ones?

6For the purposes of this article, we will focus on the types of instruments that local authorities initiate or negotiate with comparable or higher levels of government, as well as with private actors and the population, in order to manage municipal waste. The following instruments are classically distinguished: contracts between public and private sectors (choice of technology, duration, risk and investment sharing, performance monitoring); financial and fiscal instruments (taxes, state transfers); and instruments used to communicate with and mobilise the population (particularly at neighbourhood level). Municipal actors also use instruments specifically related to the local region: firstly, urban planning, which includes zoning and acquiring land for storing and treating waste, and secondly, defining the area served by the treatment facility.

7We will examine these modes of regulation and their stabilisation by highlighting the role of political actors and networks, temporal contexts, and spatialities. For greater analytical clarity, we will distinguish between what specifically concerns waste regulation and what gives structure more broadly to the way in which politics works at a local level, in conjunction with other levels.

Table 1: Factors that contribute to the stabilisation of instruments for regulating local waste management

Actors and networks…



… related to politics

  • Parties and major national political leaders

  • Regional and international authorities

  • Economic world

  • Public institutions

  • Local notables

  • Civil-society activist networks

  • Media

  • Environmental spatialities (ecosystems, drainage basins, coastline, reserves, aquifers, etc.)

  • Administrative territories

  • Identity-based territories (sectarian, political)

  • Functional intermunicipal cooperation (especially regarding urban services)

  • Elections

  • National and regional political crises

… related to waste

  • Local authorities

  • Relevant ministries and public institutions

  • Funders

  • Companies that set up and operate waste equipment

  • Local activists and NGOs

  • Nuisance spatialities

  • Spatialities related to waste collection and treatment streams

  • Waste-treatment rates and capacity

  • Contractual temporalities (duration, disputes, etc.)

  • Funding temporalities (calls for projects, Independent Municipal Fund transfers, etc.)

  • Infrastructure lifespan (saturation, life limit, etc.)

8We will then link this description of local waste governance to three types of political issues that are particularly salient in Lebanon, but are also more broadly relevant. Firstly, the empowerment of the local in relation to the government relates to the debate on decentralisation. Despite the provisions of Lebanese law granting numerous prerogatives to municipalities, in practice their managerial autonomy is hindered both by constant a priori control of their actions and very limited resources. This administrative control relates to the maintenance of mechanisms for dominating local authorities by leading political actors who share access to and redistribution of state resources (Favier (ed.), 2001; Harb and Atallah, 2015). A second issue concerns the construction of political legitimacy. It can stem from clientelist practices (e.g. distribution of jobs) (Post, 2018), or be based on a collective sense of belonging structured around a religious or local identity (Catusse, Karam, and Lamlūm, 2011; Mermier and Mervin, 2012). The legitimation of public action can also involve displaying technocratic efficiency in solving problems (Kadirbeyoğlu and Sümer 2012; Carles, 2018). A third issue relates to the construction of a territory as a local or regional space of solidarity and cooperation (Dubresson and Jaglin, 2005). Do functional territory-based cooperations allow for sustainable political structuring? In the remainder of this paper we will, drawing on three cases, explore these assemblages of instruments, showing their political effects for local authorities tackling the issue of waste.

Data collection

9The case studies were selected by conducting a press review covering the period from 1998 to 2017 (1,700 articles), and by compiling public sources on waste management at a municipal level. The analysis of the areas selected was carried out in two stages: first, there was a survey conducted by student interns, which documented the main institutional and technical aspects of municipal management, and an initial overview of local grievances (14 interviews and observations). Then the authors completed the analysis of the ways in which waste management was regulated by conducting ten or so additional interviews, which broadened the spectrum of actors encountered, and by cross-referencing this information with press reports and academic analyses available (particularly in the case of Saida). A more detailed description of how the data was collected is provided in the appendix.

10This research is not based on an ethnography of the political games played around waste management, but on a snapshot taken over a short period of time, given the relatively long history of these projects. Secondary literature – particularly press reports – has been a major source of information. The cases have been studied diachronically, focusing on the moments that favoured the crystallisation or at least the relative stabilisation of the instruments used. We will analyse this institutionalisation of instruments in connection with negotiations, power relations, and conflicts that have been reconstructed by cross-referencing various sources of information and looked at in conjunction with the existing bibliography on the balance of forces in Lebanon.

The waste crisis in Lebanon: stages, interpretive framework, and selection of case studies

11The waste crisis that has been unfolding in Lebanon since 2015 can only be understood in light of the public policies implemented in the aftermath of the civil war, in response to a first series of tensions that culminated in 1994 and 1997. Uncollected rubbish in the streets of Beirut and its suburbs already led to sometimes-violent protests by people living near improvised landfills and overflowing, pollution-generating treatment infrastructures (Huybrechts and Verdeil, 2000). The solutions adopted then determined the architecture of the system that would prevail over the next twenty years. In 1994, the Council for Development and Reconstruction (CDR) awarded Sukleen a public-service-delegation contract for the collection of waste in Beirut. It then entrusted a subsidiary of the same company (Sukomi) with setting up and managing a large landfill located in Naameh, south of the capital, as well as sorting and composting facilities. Sukleen’s licence was gradually extended, soon covering the whole of Mount Lebanon with the exception of the Jbeil Caza (Boutros, 2015). In other regions, where illegal landfills proliferated during the war and the first few years after it, waste management remained a municipal responsibility, but the government intervened, in conjunction with international aid centralised by the CDR, to set up sanitary landfills, which the municipalities generally contracted out. Overall, this situation lasted until 2015. However, the press reported on political controversies regarding the cost of Sukleen’s contracts, which was much higher than in other regions, and the low level of recycling and composting provided. It also pointed to the close connections between the Averda group (which owned Sukleen) and the Hariri family, who played a major political role throughout this period and, in particular, controlled the CDR (Rozelier, 2010; Rozelier, 2018). In the context of the 2015 crisis, other sources pointed out that other prominent politicians were also shareholders in this company (Middle East Strategic Perspectives, 2015). Despite these publicly voiced suspicions, the contracts awarded to the Averda group were repeatedly renewed, fuelling rumours of a corruption cartel (Zbeed, 2012).

12The outbreak of the crisis in 2015 had several political consequences: on the one hand, protests against the government took on an unprecedented dimension, extending to other demands (public services, corruption, deconfessionalisation). The demonstrations, which were violently repressed, weakened the government, but activist groups were divided (Kraidy, 2016; AbiYaghi, Catusse, and Younes, 2017; El Richani, 2017; Harb, 2018). After many twists and turns, Sukleen and Averda’s contract was terminated. The government awarded the collection contract to a new company, with barely any change in rate, and at the same time opened landfills at sea, on the site of former rubbish dumps. Although they were presented as temporary solutions, their operation has been extended and their areas expanded several times (Baaklini, 2020). This has led to dramatic environmental consequences and also points to an inability to find sustainable solutions in terms of both reducing the volume of waste (by sorting at source) and treating and recycling it. There have been major controversies over the construction of incinerators and the final disposal of waste on sites that are yet to be identified (Baaklini, 2019).

13During this period, eighteen municipalities in the Mount Lebanon region reclaimed the prerogative to manage waste and launched various initiatives: policies that encouraged sorting, recycling, and composting waste, as well as partnerships with NGOs or manufacturers to develop incineration solutions, sometimes by working together with several neighbouring municipalities (Figure n° 1).

Figure 1: Municipal waste management in Lebanon, areas served, and projects in 2018

Figure 1: Municipal waste management in Lebanon, areas served, and projects in 2018

Map by: Rita Nasr; Source: CERDA survey of municipalities and business managers, 2018

14In recent years, the Lebanese Parliament has passed two laws which seek to introduce new practices in waste management and the provision of public services in general: Law 48/2017 on public-private partnerships (PPPs) and Law 80/2018 on integrated waste management. The latter is the result of a long process led by the Ministry of Environment with the help of the UNDP. Its aim is to establish a regulatory framework that could push towards more integrated waste-management solutions, linking waste reduction, reuse, recycling, treatment, and disposal in landfills. However, these laws have been criticised by advocates of more decentralisation as well as by environmental groups (Abi Akl 2018). Indeed, they strengthen the role of central authorities to the detriment of local ones. Furthermore, they do not pay enough attention to cost-recovery systems, do not favour the introduction of local waste taxation, and place a lot of hope in public-private-partnership systems. Finally, they require numerous executive decrees, which runs counter to the urgency of Lebanon’s waste-management problems.

15The waste-management crisis in Beirut has been widely discussed along two main lines. The first one, which is technical and prescriptive in nature, focuses on criticisms of government plans and putting forward more efficient systems, especially from an environmental point of view (Ghadban, Shames, and Abou Mayaleh, 2017; Human Rights Watch, 2017; Morsi, Safa, Baroud, Fawaz, Farha, El-Jardali, and Chaaya, 2017; Hammoud, Kassem, and Mourtada, 2014; Karaki, 2016; Abbas, Chaaban, Al-Rabaa, and Shaar, 2017; Azzi, 2017; Massoud, Mokbel, Alawieh, and Yassin, 2019). Overall, these studies fail to take into account the diversity of technical experiments run at a local level. The second approach, which belongs more to critical political economy, highlights the links between corruption in the waste sector and the dominance by the political class divided into confessional parties. It particularly looks at the central role played by the Independent Municipal Fund: taxes due to municipalities – collected by national bodies and redistributed to them on very obscure bases – are used to pay operators appointed by the CDR, following not very transparent calls for tenders, to collect waste and manage landfills (Atallah, 2015a; Atallah, 2015b; Atallah, 2015c; Abu Rish, 2015; Chaaban, 2017). This literature focuses on Beirut and its immediate suburbs, or adopts a national perspective and therefore does not pick up on the diversity of waste-management practices across the country. That is why our article focuses on the local scale and has selected three cases that are representative of the diversity of policy choices made.

Three situations, three different instrument assemblages

16In what follows, we will discuss the cases of Zahle, Saida, and Bikfaya, presenting their regional and socio-political context, and the evolution of local waste governance, particularly the use of different public-policy instruments and its repercussions on the main political issues facing local authorities.


17Zahle is the main city in the Beqaa region, located in the middle of a large agricultural plain. It has a population of 72,000 inhabitants which, when adding its suburbs, reaches 150,000 inhabitants. The city’s economy has historically been based on an equilibrium between services, trade, and agriculture. In recent decades, industrial activity has increased due to the low cost of land. The population of the city itself is overwhelmingly made up of Christians of various rites, within a mixed urban area where Shi’ite and Sunni populations are strongly present to the north and south respectively.

18Since the 1960s, Zahle has had three successive solid-waste landfill sites. The second landfill reached saturation point in the late 1990s. In 2000, the municipality began building a sanitary landfill, a waste-sorting platform, and composting facilities in the agricultural plain, far from the built-up areas. These facilities were inaugurated in 2007 (Bluhm, 2007). This complex serves twenty-four other municipalities which send their waste to it. The development of the landfill represents an essential milestone in strengthening the ability of the municipality – and especially its president – to assert itself politically.

A network of “apolitical” actors

19Zahle was historically dominated by clan notables, staying away from sectarian political parties. Before the civil war (1975-1990), these notables controlled a bloc of members of parliament from the whole of the Beqaa region, which meant that they had a decisive say in national politics. After the war, the city’s notables and family clans gradually lost their influence in Beqaa and within the state institutions. After 2005, growing divisions among them made them dependent on Lebanon’s main political coalitions, the so-called March 8 and 14 Alliances, which, in the Christian communities, were led by the Free Patriotic Movement and Lebanese Forces parties (Chaoul, 2012). The family clans suffered total defeat against these parties in the 2016 municipal and 2018 legislative elections.

20This context sheds light on the career of Zahle’s current mayor, Assaad Zoughaib. He was elected mayor in 1998 with the support of Zahle’s Skaf clan, and remained in office until 2010 when the clan switched to another candidate. In 2016, he became mayor again, this time with the backing of a coalition of parties. However, Zoughaib, who is an engineer by training, describes himself as a non-political technocrat. In the Lebanese context, this means that he is not affiliated to any major national sectarian party. At a local level, he advocates a policy which focuses on “development” issues: efficiency of public services and infrastructure, support for economic activities, improving the quality of the urban space, and protecting the environment.

21This development effort requires considerable resources. And whilst the municipalities of large cities like Zahle can rely on a variety of local taxes (on new buildings, housing, businesses, etc.) to finance their budgets, they also need transfers from the Independent Municipal Fund (IMF) to balance their revenues and expenditures.1 However, irregular IMF payments and shifting rules for allocating the funds make it difficult to plan investments based on these resources alone. Since the 1990s, international and bilateral development organisations (including the World Bank, the European Union, and USAID) have provided US$111 million in grants and low-interest loans to help Lebanon address its waste problem, including by setting up sanitary landfills and, later, sorting and treatment facilities.2 Despite recurring controversies concerning the effectiveness of these internationally-funded projects (see, for example, Jay, 2019), these funds have been crucial to the development of many facilities, including in Zahle. Obtaining them requires expertise in drawing up projects, as well as a social capital of relations with officials from these international organisations or those from central government institutions – in particular the Council for Development and Reconstruction (CDR) and the Office of the Minister for Administrative Reform (OMSAR) – who liaise with them. The mayor and his team’s mastery of this relational and technical space and the recognition of their capacity to implement and manage the projects thus financed have ensured their privileged access to these funds.3 Thus, the site has been gradually equipped with new recycling and composting equipment with USAID funding. Strict monitoring of the companies in charge of the service – including penalties in case of underperformance – has ensured that the service operates efficiently, leading to its recognition by the funders, but also by the population.

22The mode of waste governance set up in Zahle is based on a network of actors characterised by their technical profile and a refusal to rely on citizens. During our interviews, the mayor expressed his scepticism about citizen involvement in a matter that, for him, is above all technical and managerial. Citing the failure of a waste-sorting experiment launched by the municipality in one of the neighbourhoods, he maintained that citizen involvement could work in a village but not in a city. On the other hand, the mayor did not call on networks of political actors to support the waste projects either, in order to avoid any hijacking in local political controversies. This is reflected in the form and content of the communication strategy around these achievements. The mayor is often invited to conferences and seminars within Lebanon’s local-development cooperation networks to share Zahle’s experience, while he himself organises visits from municipal delegations from all over the country (Al Binaa, 2018). He always emphasises local authorities’ ability to act independently of the central state and political tensions by adopting what he calls a “professional” approach and getting involved to master the technical aspects of a project.

Regional collaboration and land control

  • 4 A type of intermunicipal cooperation between several municipalities within the same district.
  • 5 The mayor declared to The Daily Star that, “Nobody was aware in the past of the harm that is being (...)

23The relations between Zahle and the surrounding area are another illustration of political conflicts and divisions being set aside when it comes to waste management. In the central part of Beqaa, where sectarian identities have grown stronger in recent decades and sectarian parties are vying for places in parliament and municipal councils, the concord that governs waste management is not a given. The localities included in the waste-collection area of the Zahle treatment facility do not belong to the same municipal union,4 and have populations with different religious affiliations and political leanings. Moreover, the Zahle municipality has a difficult relationship with the Zahle Caza Union of Municipalities, to which it belongs, because it refuses to be on an equal footing with village municipalities when projects are being voted on. As a result, in the past two decades it has kept withdrawing from and returning to the union. The municipality’s decision to extend the collection area to twenty-four localities demonstrates the importance that the mayor ascribes to the environmental issue. Although he is not an environmentalist, he has always upheld the importance of protecting the environment for the quality of life in Zahle, but also for the protection of agriculture, which still plays a significant role in the city’s economy. Waste-dumping and -burning practices in neighbouring municipalities heavily pollute an environment (groundwater, rivers, and atmosphere) that is shared with Beqaa’s administrative centre.5 In order to encourage these communities to use the municipal landfill, the municipality offered them very low treatment costs (around $10 per incoming tonne in 2007), which in effect only covered operational costs. However, it would be wrong to see in this extension of the waste area a political will to build an inclusive central Beqaa territory around the municipality and its mayor. On the other hand, the positions taken by political actors in Zahle, including within the municipal council, reflect a general tendency towards sectarian “withdrawal”.

  • 6 In a recent text on its website, the municipality expressed its reluctance due to the difficulty of (...)

24Furthermore, the Zahle case illustrates the fairly common crisis of sanitary landfill sites. Every two decades or so, successive sites have had to face two challenges: they are overtaken by urbanisation and become overfilled with waste. In the late 1990s, the municipality’s purchase of the current site was seen as a strategic decision. The low price of land in the isolated agricultural plain on the municipal border made it possible to buy a very large tract. The two former landfills were redeveloped and one of them became an urban park. The size of the site further allowed the Zahle municipality to take waste from neighbouring municipalities. However, at the current filling rate, the municipality estimates that the landfill will reach saturation point by 2023. The rapid urbanisation of recent decades has almost reached the site and the price of land is increasing, making it financially and politically difficult for the municipality to extend it, let alone replace it with a new facility in the municipal area. The municipality recently refused to receive waste from new municipalities in the region in order to slow down the site’s saturation rate. It is currently considering the adoption of a technology that could spare it the need for new landfill sites. During our interviews in 2017 and 2018, the mayor put forward a solution based on incineration and a public-private partnership. However, this technological choice could spark civic protests, as was the case with incinerator projects in Beirut and elsewhere in Lebanon, and could consequently put an end to the “apolitical” character of waste governance promoted by the Zahle municipality for the past two decades. More recently, the municipality has seemed more reluctant to go down this road and is still looking for alternative solutions.6

Blackboxing and anticipating as a means to control temporalities

  • 7 The site has repeatedly been visited by delegations from all over Lebanon (e.g. AlBinaa, 2018).

25Waste management in Zahle has not been affected by local election periods or national crises. Even the 2015 waste crisis, which forced many Lebanese local authorities to get involved in waste management, had no direct impact on Zahle. Similarly, although the 2010 municipal elections led to A. Zoughaib’s removal from office for six years, waste management did not change. The stabilisation of this particular system is the product of an assemblage of instruments which has helped ensure the continued regulation of contractual relations, financing, site operation, and waste collection – all this coupled with a well-oiled communication strategy which hails Zahle’s waste management as a success.7 However, the fact that the landfill is expected to reach saturation point by 2023 may present a challenge: choosing a new technology carries the risk of reopening the “black box” of waste treatment in Zahle, while a new assemblage of instruments is still to find its balance.


26Saida is a coastal town of 65,000 inhabitants, in a district that comprises 250,000. The city is the centre of the third-largest urban area in the country, the administrative centre of Lebanon’s South Governorate, and a service and commercial centre. It also includes a large industrial area. The city’s population is mainly Sunni, while the area’s suburbs, which are spread out over villages situated in the foothills, are mostly Christian and Shi’ite.

27The waste issue has long been a real blight on Saida’s municipal politics. The city’s landfill used to stretch over construction debris deposited on the coast following the Israeli invasion in 1982. It had become a “mountain” several tens of metres high, polluting the sea and the air, deteriorating the quality of life in the city’s southern districts, and affecting tourism. Starting in 2010, the landfill was treated, levelled, and turned into a park, while in one part of the site a private company began to process the waste from the entire district (Abou Afla, 2016). It sorts out the waste, turns organic matter into energy using biodigestion, and sells the other components to recycling companies. The authority officially in charge is the Saida-Al Zahrani Union of Municipalities, whose president is the Mayor of Saida. Although it has been presented as an effective solution, the new waste-treatment plant has itself become a source of nuisances and finds itself at the centre of an environmental controversy, which calls into question the municipal policy in this area and beyond.

Controversial experiment based on a highly political public-private partnership

28Saida is the stronghold of the Hariri family, whose heads – Rafik and then Saad – and their ally Fouad Siniora have been presidents of the Council of Ministers for the best part of the last three decades. Bahia Hariri, sister of Rafik, has been a member of parliament for the city since 2000. Nevertheless, there are other political forces historically established in Saida – particularly the Popular Nasserist Organisation – which have resisted the hold that the Hariri clan and its party, the Future Movement, have on the city. In fact, it was only in 2010 that the mayor’s office passed into the hands of the Future Movement and its allies. Thus, the arrival of Mohammad Saoudi, a businessman close to the Hariri clan, at the head of the municipality helped reinforce the changes introduced in Saida by Rafik Hariri after he became president of the Council of Ministers in 1992 (Bonne, 2014). There has been a shift in the historically conservative municipal policy, which has been dominated by the Nasserist movement and focused on satisfying the needs of the disadvantaged. In order to make the city more attractive to the middle classes and investors, the municipality has undertaken major development and infrastructure projects: consolidation of the agricultural plain, development and pedestrianisation of the city centre to attract tourism, projects for a new waterfront, etc. (Moussi, 2014; Makhzoumi and Al-Sabbagh, 2018). This is the context of the new solid-waste treatment facility in Saida.

29Solving the waste issue and especially treating the “waste mountain” were the new team’s priorities, as they sought to legitimise their actions by demonstrating their effectiveness (Al Moustaqbal, 2016), unlike their political opponents who failed to fix the problem for over a decade. The new mayor could count on the resources of several institutions and actors to tackle this major project. The landfill was treated thanks to a Saudi Arabian donation of US$20 million. In 2012, its transformation into an infill park on the waterfront was completed (Zaatari, 2012; Baaklini, 2016; Wehbe, 2012). The CDR oversaw the works. As for the treatment plant, it was built on public land reclaimed from the sea by IBC, a private company majority-owned by a Saida entrepreneur connected to the Hariri clan and associated with Saudi partners. The contract with IBC was signed by the union of municipalities led by the city’s mayor.

  • 8 More specifically, the municipality gave the property to IBC on condition that it should be used on (...)

30All the actors and institutions involved are affiliated with or controlled by the Hariri network. Nevertheless, relations between them have not always been easy. The issue of financing the contract with IBC is emblematic and reveals the municipality’s weakness and dependence on its political boss. This kind of project was unprecedented in Lebanon and there was no standard contract that could have been used as reference. The initial contract – signed between IBC, the municipality, and the union in 1999, and amended in 2009 – provided for the land to be supplied by the municipality,8 an investment of US$25 million by the private contractor, and the free treatment of 200 tonnes of waste per day for a period of twenty years. Expected revenues would come from the resale of recyclables and the energy produced, as well as the rate charged for any waste above the 200 t/d threshold. However, after the initial investments had been made but before operations began, IBC claimed that the projections of the economic-feasibility studies no longer matched reality because of higher-than-expected waste moisture content, and because waste pickers managed to get the most valuable waste in terms of recycling, resulting in a loss of revenue for the operator. It thus pulled out under the terms of the original contract and asked the union of municipalities to operate the service directly. This, however, was impossible due to a lack of expertise and funding (Chamseddine, 2018). After nearly two years of stalemate, in 2013, the parties reached a new agreement, sponsored by the Hariri clan, which provided a minimum supply of 350 tonnes per day and the payment by the union of a royalty fee of US$80 and then US$95 per tonne (The Monthly, 2015; Baaklini, 2012). This situation shows a clear dissymmetry in the balance of power between the local authorities and the private actor. The latter was able to get the former to sign a contract that was much less favourable to the union than originally planned. Apart from a lack of technical expertise, this situation also demonstrates the municipality’s and the union’s lack of legal and administrative resources and their strong dependence on the political clan. This restricted their ability to draw up a contract that protected the public interest and to have control over the technology chosen. In fact, the municipality and the union relied on a lawyer from the Hariri Foundation for legal advice (Chamseddine, 2018).

  • 9 This discourse around the plant has even been taken up by UNDP experts, who present the project as (...)

31This lack of human resources also concerns the technical side of things: the municipality and the union were unable to monitor the plant’s environmental performance, which turned out to be very poor, generating nuisances and causing protests. This was despite the fact that, in 2015, the municipality appointed a consultancy firm to ensure compliance with the contract, following complaints by associations and local residents (Khalil, 2015). The complaints culminated in the facility being blockaded by protesters in the summer of 2018 (OLJ, 2018; Antonios, 2018). This made headlines for over a decade (Baaklini, 2011; OLJ/agencies, 2012). The municipality and the union have let the owner of the facility take centre stage from a communications point of view. The company’s structured discourse, taken up by the municipality, has focused on the innovative processes used and the considerable amount of solid waste treated (Zantout, 2018; Zeater, 2015; Dahché, 2015; Al Charq, 2015).9 Despite similarities with the approach of the Zahle municipality – refusal to involve citizens directly and reliance on technology – the rhetoric of Saida’s actors is different in that it sees private initiative as a guarantee of innovation, good management, and efficiency. However, the lack of public engagement and transparency has led to tensions and controversies around the marine pollution, nuisances, and odours caused by infilling or the storage of untreated waste due to capacity being exceeded (Saleh, 2015; Abu Afla, 2016; Al Diyar, 2016; Khalil, 2018). Local residents, environmental groups – notably Min Ajl Baladi Al Akhdar (“in the name of a green country”) and Bahr Lubnan (“Lebanon’s sea”) – and the Hariris’ political opponents criticise the nuisances generated by the plant, the absence of a policy in favour of sorting at source, the pollution, the privatisation of services, and the infilling of the waterfront. All this weakens the credibility of the company and the municipality, the latter being accused of collusion.

Metropolitan territoriality and network spatiality of waste

  • 10 Interview conducted on 02/03/2018 with the Union board member in charge of preparing the strategic (...)

32The failures of the waste-treatment policy also reveal disagreements between the members of the Saida-Al Zahrani Union of Municipalities on the future of the area and the sharing of the waste burden. On the one hand, the union is recognised by the mayors as an institution which can legitimately think about the future of the area, particularly by adopting a strategic plan.10 The union’s oversight of the treatment plant also helps build a functional territory that can serve as a benchmark. However, the temporary closure in 2018 of a plant in Beqaa, which acted as an outlet for the final residues from the IBC facility, and the fact that, due to regulatory restrictions, these residues could not be sold as fuel to cement factories as initially planned, highlighted the need for a site where these materials could be buried. Difficult discussions were held unsuccessfully within the union to identify a site in one of the member localities. This affected an already fragile local solidarity, leading to illegal disposal in an as-yet-unfilled basin between the maritime park and the plant, which further generated foul odours. A court decision put a stop to this practice, leaving the question of the storage of these materials open (they are currently partially disposed of at a plant in Beqaa).

  • 11 See the comments of activists close to the Nasserist MP Saad in Karaki 2016, pp. 62-63.

33This unresolved issue illustrates more broadly the political tensions and contradictions that result from the network-like nature of what can be called the metabolism of waste, that is, the spatial dimensions of its circulation between the places where it is produced, treated, and stored. On the one hand, the use of final waste in coastal redevelopment operations is seen by its detractors – residents, environmental activists, civic groups such as LiSaida, or political opponents11 – as a new iteration of the infill developments on the Normandy dump in central Beirut, or the Linord project in Metn (Verdeil, 2017). They are worried that waste is being turned into land for the benefit of the richest, without regard for the environment or people’s health (Mansour, 2018). The municipal slogan “Turn the dump into a park” shows a desire to transform this area into an attractive waterfront. However, given the technical uncertainties, one may be forgiven for thinking that this option will not become a reality in the near future, demonstrating the city’s lack of control over the future of its area.

  • 12 The deal has come under attack in the press on grounds of corruption (Wehbe, 2017).

34The issue of waste circulation highlights the complexity of the reconfigurations of the political spatiality of waste in Saida. In order to ensure the project’s financial equilibrium, IBC needs to treat a greater quantity of waste than that produced by the union’s municipalities. It imports it from other South Lebanese regions, particularly Jezzine. In 2015, in the midst of the crisis in the capital, under pressure from the Future Movement, it also agreed to take nearly 250 tonnes of waste per day from Beirut. This was a way to ease tensions in the city, another key political base for the party.12 Unlike Zahle, which until now has developed its waste-management policy on the basis of local cooperation with its neighbours, the policy pursued in Saida illustrates the emergence of a network spatiality between several regions in the country, which is not immune to the disruptive toxicity of materials that are in circulation or in forced stagnation.

Temporality dependent on the tempo of a political group

35Waste governance in Saida is subject to the rhythm of local and national political temporalities. Indeed, after years of looking for a solution and the unsuccessful attempts of the previous municipal team to fix the waste problem in Saida, the project became a reality with the arrival, in 2010, of a new team supported by the Hariri clan network, which reflected a search for legitimacy based on efficiency. Although it was not directly affected by the 2015 crisis, the city played a role in it by becoming a providential outlet for the waste submerging the capital. Waste management in Saida reflects the connections between the Future Movement’s agenda for the city and its actions at the national level, albeit these connections remain unstable.


36Bikfaya is a small town in the Metn Mountains overlooking Beirut, north-east of the city, in the Mount Lebanon Governorate. Together with the neighbouring villages, it has 20,000, mostly Maronite Christian, inhabitants, although the summer population is much larger.

37Until 2015, Bikfaya’s waste was managed by Sukleen under its contract with Beirut and Mount Lebanon. When the crisis broke, local activists launched the BiClean initiative aimed at sorting and recycling waste, and, later, composting organic matter. BiClean started in an impromptu way on a plot of land in an urban area, and subsequently moved to another plot of land in Bikfaya’s industrial area, which was granted by the municipality. The arrival of Nicole Gemayel, BiClean’s main leader, at the head of the municipality following the 2016 elections formalised the initiative, which was taken in hand by the municipality.

Network based on local community and politics

38Bikfaya is the stronghold of the Gemayel family, who has given the country two presidents and whose Kataeb (Phalanges) Party is currently in opposition to the government. However, whilst the Kataeb is dominant in Bikfaya, in other parts of Metn it faces strong competition from other Christian communal parties (the Free Patriotic Movement and the Lebanese Forces), major regional figures (notably the former minister and member of parliament Michel Murr), and the anti-confessional SSNP party. The Kataeb’s strategy to “win back” the district after Syrian troops’ withdrawal from Lebanon focused on reorganising the party at a local level and mobilising for the legislative and then municipal elections. Under the presidency of Sami Gemayel, the son of former president Amine and member of parliament for the district, the party has presented itself as the champion of decentralisation. By proving that municipalities are able to deal with their waste, he hopes to demonstrate the benefits of decentralisation (RAH, 2016). Nicole Gemayel is the party leader’s sister and her municipal council is dominated by the Kataeb.

39However, the party and the party-dominated municipality aside, BiClean has managed to mobilise many of the local groups. In fact, Bikfaya’s waste-treatment system relies on its ability to ensure high primary-sorting rates, which facilitate the secondary-sorting and composting processes. To this end, the local network of community organisations (Scouts, parishes, religious schools), many of which are affiliated with or influenced by the presence of the Kataeb Party in the city, has played a central role in reaching out to the population and maintaining the sorting dynamic. This mobilisation, which is based on a sense of collective belonging, also involves punitive measures (refusal to collect unsorted bags, fines). BiClean further benefits from technical support provided by NGOs which have long been involved in recycling in Lebanon. When it was launched and before it became independent, it received funding and assistance from international organisations (UKAID, Mercy Corps).

  • 13 Heavily promoted on BiClean’s Facebook page.

40By making very active use of social networks and regularly visiting facilities, the project’s leaders have emphasised a do-it-yourself attitude, the virtues of low technology, and citizen engagement.13 The Bikfaya municipality proudly points to BiClean’s success, while the mayor promotes the project in the media and at events involving networks of development actors. This communication effort around the project at a national level has been taken up by the party, albeit for political purposes, particularly as part of its campaign for a law on further decentralisation (RAH 2016).

From the local to a political-territorialisation project, and back again to the local

41The Bikfaya municipality is part of the Union of Coastal and Central Metn Municipalities, which comprises around thirty municipalities. It is controlled by the Murr clan whose patriarch, Michel Murr, was a member of parliament and a minister. During the 2015 crisis, the union supported a project for an incinerator on the coast, which would have served the whole of Metn (Akiki and Farfour, 2017). But the project was abandoned when a private company, RAMCO, was chosen by the CDR to collect and treat waste from the Metn and Kesrwan districts. Bikfaya and Beit Meri are the only two Metn municipalities which chose to develop their own solutions, while another municipality, Sakiet El Misk-Bhersaf, joined the BiClean project.

  • 14 “They (Sakiet El Misk-Bhersaf) have just withdrawn because the state no longer gives them (like all (...)

42From the beginning, the municipality and the Kataeb Party wished to extend this initiative to other Metn localities. In 2017, the municipality started negotiations with a private company to implement waste-to-energy technology, which would have meant involving fourteen municipalities to ensure a waste volume that would have allowed an incinerator to operate profitably. But the irregular nature of the payments received from the Independent Municipal Fund, which is a vital source of financing for municipal projects, made it impossible for these municipalities to commit and even precipitated Sakiet El Misk’s withdrawal from BiClean in 2019.14 Recently, with the economic crisis and difficulties in financing imports, recycled materials have seen their prices rise. Similarly, seven Metn municipalities entered into an agreement with Bikfaya to send recyclable waste to it without breaking their contract with RAMCO (Raidy, 2020). All this means a better financial equilibrium for BiClean.

The waste crisis as a window of political opportunity, but a project limited in scope

43Of the three cases studied, Bikfaya is the one where the national crisis and politics have had the greatest impact on municipal policy and waste management. The waste crisis of 2015 was the trigger for the BiClean project. The 2016 municipal elections, which saw Nicole Gemayel join the municipality, consolidated the transition from local initiative to municipal policy. Set up in a hurry, as an experiment, BiClean was stabilised thanks to the voluntarism of a close-knit team, who managed to mobilise the local population by appealing to a strong sense of belonging. An inability to scale it up, both technologically and politically, mainly because of funding constraints on municipalities, has hindered the Kataeb Party’s ambition to make it a showcase for the decentralisation it advocates, meaning it has regained its local dimension.


44This concluding section returns to the two questions around which the study has been structured.

45First, we asked how (and to what extent) waste governance has been stabilised around the instruments developed by local authorities. The three cases studied illustrate very different combinations with regard to the weight of each instrument and its relationship with the others. The table below shows the variety of instruments used, their interconnections, and their weighting. In a context characterised by a central state that prescribes very few rules or standards in this field, and by limited financial and human resources, local municipalities come up with choices and assemblages that are explained by specific situations and trajectories. Leaving aside the size of a city, its economic wealth, and the situation of the area in which it is situated, we note two possible answers to this first question.

46Firstly, the composition of these assemblages and their stabilisation (Table 2) bear the mark of the very different types of political network that have shaped them:

  • 15 “Living zone” is the term chosen by the French statistical agency (INSEE) to translate “bassin de v (...)

47in Zahle, a technicist, even technocratic, network, which has tapped into international aid and is pragmatically built around a functional territory on the scale of a “living zone”;15

48in Saida, a network supported by a powerful national movement, which is able to raise private finance but has struggled to stabilise its local base;

49in Bikfaya, a sectarian network which is firmly rooted in the local area, but has struggled to move beyond it and is unable to raise the finance needed to change the scale of operations.

50Then, cutting across, we note the weight of temporal contexts on an area’s capacity for stabilisation, particularly the degree of urgency with which choices and political changes are made: anticipation in Zahle; stalemate and lasting crisis in Saida, unblocked by the political changeover, not without twists and turns; sudden crisis and emergence of a new-generation municipal team in Bikfaya.

Table 2: Breakdown and combination of public-policy instruments




Instruments by type of public policy

Contractual (C)

  • Management contract

  • PPP

  • Public control

Financing (F)

  • Investment: International funders

  • Operations: ZM and neighbouring municipalities

  • IMF transfers: little weight

  • Investment: Private

  • Operations: SM and neighbouring municipalities

  • IMF transfers: little weight

  • Investment and operations: local, then BM

  • IMF transfers: little weight

Engagement of local population and actors (E)

  • No engagement

  • Communication strategy focused on technical efficiency

  • No engagement

  • Communication strategy focused on technical efficiency + positive role of private enterprise

  • Mobilisation of local voluntaries and groups

  • Communication strategy focused on local empowerment

Spatial and urban planning (P)

  • Landfill on municipal land far from urban area

  • Plant part of an infill project to reclaim land from the sea

  • Sorting centre in an industrial area

Waste-collection area (A)

  • Regional

  • Multiscale

  • Local

Instruments’ respective roles in (de)stabilising local governance

Letters refer to the instruments listed in the table above

Structure of actors’ networks

  • Technicist without political support

  • Political clan + business world

  • Political clan + local groups

Determ. weight

  • (F)+(C)

  • (F)+(C)

  • (E)


  • Regional

  • Regional

  • Centred on coastal area

  • Reflecting fluctuating waste streams

  • Local

Determ. weight

  • (A)

  • <#ITALIQUES#>(A)+(P)+(F)</#ITALIQUES#>



  • Anticipation as a means to control temporalities

  • Forecasting and preparation, but adaptation difficult

  • Responsiveness, voluntarism, and adaptability, but sustainability is an issue

Determ. weight




Local municipal governance and changing political stakes

51The second question we have looked at concerns the way in which local waste governance changes political power relations, particularly in three areas: legitimation in the local and national political arena; construction of a local or regional political territory; and empowerment in relation to central state institutions.

Waste and political legitimation

52In Zahle, an ability to anticipate and the stabilisation of relations in a network of technicist actors, in a multisectarian regional space with multiple political affiliations, have allowed the municipality’s waste-management solution to be recognised as a success. The success of this waste-management experiment has come on the back of the recent success achieved by Electricité de Zahle. In a country characterised by an electricity sector in crisis and frequent power cuts, this private company has managed to ensure continuous supply and good quality of service to some fifteen localities in the Zahle region (Verdeil, 2019). In Lebanon’s current context where the political class is being seriously challenged, all this feeds into the image of Zahle as a model where local technicist governance can produce more effective solutions than those provided by the central parties and institutions. Nevertheless, waste management in this city remains a black box for the vast majority of the population. And this black box could become a Pandora’s box if the municipality fails to find an alternative solution to the landfill before 2023.

53The same sense of pride can be found in Bikfaya. However, here the subject of waste is more prevalent in the public debate, as it is a key issue and a constant challenge to which the local network of actors has no choice but to respond by continually mobilising. This mobilisation helps unite and galvanise a population that largely supports the Kataeb. On a broader scale, the experiment works as a showcase which reinforces the party’s proposal to reform the municipal law in favour of more decentralisation.

54In Saida, the network behind the municipality elected in 2010 was initially successful. The dismantling of the coastal landfill and the opening of the plant allowed the municipality and the Hariri clan’s supporters to show that a more voluntarist development policy backed by private investments could project another, more modern, image of the city. However, environmental controversies and subsequent nuisances have tarnished this image. Thus, waste has become an issue on which the municipal team and, by extension, the Hariri clan are being challenged.

Waste and political territorialisation

55At first sight, the spatiality of waste management seems to favour collaboration between neighbouring spaces, and even the emergence of a local or regional territory. Thus, in Zahle, in Saida initially, and in Bikfaya during the development of the incinerator project, the integration of several municipalities into a common waste-management system brought neighbouring municipalities closer together, which could foster concord. However, in neither of these three cases do we see their waste policies prompt the emergence of a project for a common political territory. In Zahle, the lack of interest in such a project is explained by the divisions between the city centre and the suburbs, which are reinforced by social and confessional divisions. In Saida, despite the union’s presence and the interest that the urban area’ mayors have shown in this territorial scale, the tensions linked to the search for a new landfill site for inert waste have undermined actors’ desire to cooperate. In Bikfaya, the abandonment of the incinerator project has left the question unanswered, in a local territory reduced to the Kataeb’s fiefdom.

Empowerment of the local in relation to central institutions

56The question of empowerment in relation to the central state around the issue of waste management has been understood and constructed differently depending on actors’ discourses, and has been translated into political reality in various ways. Unlike the dominant actors in Saida, the elites in Bikfaya and Zahle are much more strongly in favour of greater decentralisation in Lebanon. In fact, Saida’s network of actors has privileged relations with key institutions within the central state. These institutions, especially the CDR, provided essential support during the dismantling of the sea landfill, as well as for the municipal team’s other major projects. On the other hand, municipal actors in Zahle and Bikfaya are very critical of the way central institutions work and have been calling for a transfer of prerogatives and resources to local authorities. Of the three cases studied, Zahle is, however, the municipality which, over two decades, has asserted itself the most in relation to central institutions: in addition to waste, it has piloted wastewater-management and transport projects. Bikfaya, though, is the most dependent on central institutions and Independent Municipal Fund transfers to be able to maintain its services.

57By looking at local policy instruments used to govern waste management, this study has been able to show that, behind a diversity of technological and administrative choices, there is a desire on the part of municipal actors to use public policy instruments to assert themselves locally and nationally, and to build new relations with the population in a bid to legitimise their actions. Waste shapes political territories, whose fragility and instability, nevertheless, need to be highlighted. This points to the need for further research, particularly on the materiality of waste and its metabolism, and on the socio-technical assemblages that are evolving today around the issues of recovery and ecological circularity.

Methodological appendix

  • 16 CEDRE Project no 37355NF La crise des déchets au Liban : controverses et nouvelles formes de gestio (...)

58Research for this article was conducted in three stages. This study is part of a larger project conducted from 2017 to 2019 on municipal solid-waste management in Lebanon, its geography, and the controversies it raises.16 The first stage consisted of compiling a database of over 1,700 articles from Lebanon’s Arabic, English, and French daily and weekly press published between 1998 and 2017, which mentioned the words “waste” and “municipality”. This corpus made it possible to establish a chronology of controversies over municipal waste management in Lebanon. By compiling public sources we were able to refine our understanding of management methods at a municipal level (34 operational cases were identified).

59During the second stage, eight second-year master’sin urban planning carried out a survey designed to examine in more detail the management of these infrastructures and the issues at stake. Conducted in the spring of 2018, it describes the location of the infrastructures and how they fit in the local area, the technologies used, the treatment processes, the administrative organisation of these infrastructures and how they are connected to waste collection, as well as the efforts, if any, made to limit the production of waste or to sort it at source, the actors involved, and the economic model chosen. The survey was based on semi-structured interviews with mayors and/or council members or municipal engineers in charge of waste in the municipalities concerned, as well as operators’ representatives. Finally, the students identified the public-protest episodes, documented them using the press or social networks, and met with the protagonists of these protests (Farah, Ghaddar, Nasr, Wehbi, and Verdeil, 2019).

60The third stage focused on the three cases of Bikfaya, Saida, and Zahle, which were selected for their diversity and complementarity. A dozen semi-structured interviews supplemented the fourteen interviews and observations the students conducted in these three cities. These interviews focused on the political side of things, in particular the issues around the municipalities’ decentralisation/empowerment, the relationship with national political actors, the residents’ place and involvement, the relationship with the private sector, the prospects for the future development of the infrastructures, as well as the subjects of controversy in relation to these infrastructures, particularly in Saida’s case. Besides municipal representatives, the interviews included representatives of relevant funding agencies, local and national non-governmental organisations, as well as activists and specialists who supported or opposed the municipal projects.

61We should point out that it was impossible to access direct information on the contracts between public and private actors: in this case, our information came from interviews and press articles. Moreover, quantitative data in Lebanon are generally unreliable due to the weakness of the public statistical apparatus (Verdeil, Faour, Hamzé (eds.), 2016) and the diversity of methods employed by local authorities to produce figures.

Haut de page


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1 On average, the IMF accounts for 31% of municipal revenues in Lebanon (The Lebanese Center for Policy Studies (LCPS), 2015).

2 CDR data ( 30/11/2020)

3 In a meeting with USAID representatives (18 January 2017) and informal discussions with UN agencies (UNHABITAT) and international NGOs (ACTED), Mr Zoughaib was praised for his “seriousness and professionalism”.

4 A type of intermunicipal cooperation between several municipalities within the same district.

5 The mayor declared to The Daily Star that, “Nobody was aware in the past of the harm that is being done to the environment. The cost of these misuses of the environment was much higher than the cost of treating the waste. We paid the price with our health. We don’t know what harm we have done to ourselves in the past 30, 40 years” (Bluhm, 2007).

6 In a recent text on its website, the municipality expressed its reluctance due to the difficulty of ensuring the level of monitoring required to counter the environmental risks of incinerators, particularly in the event of a change of majority in the council. The text mentions a method for obtaining car fuel from waste as a credible alternative.

7 The site has repeatedly been visited by delegations from all over Lebanon (e.g. AlBinaa, 2018).

8 More specifically, the municipality gave the property to IBC on condition that it should be used only to treat the waste from the Saida-Al Zahrani union.

9 This discourse around the plant has even been taken up by UNDP experts, who present the project as a model worth following (Sfeir, 2015).

10 Interview conducted on 02/03/2018 with the Union board member in charge of preparing the strategic plan.

11 See the comments of activists close to the Nasserist MP Saad in Karaki 2016, pp. 62-63.

12 The deal has come under attack in the press on grounds of corruption (Wehbe, 2017).

13 Heavily promoted on BiClean’s Facebook page.

14 “They (Sakiet El Misk-Bhersaf) have just withdrawn because the state no longer gives them (like all other municipalities) their share of the independent municipal fund (IMF). So they prefer to use RAMCO’s services, paid for by the CDR, even though the cost is very high and will eventually result in a reduction in the IMF funds allocated to them. For the time being, they do not have to pay Bikfaya for the service. Not to mention that RAMCO throws everything into the sea, whereas we sort, recycle, and send the non-recyclables to plants…” Interview with Nicole Gemayel, 17/1/2019, held in French.

15 “Living zone” is the term chosen by the French statistical agency (INSEE) to translate “bassin de vie” (definition to be found at:

16 CEDRE Project no 37355NF La crise des déchets au Liban : controverses et nouvelles formes de gestion urbaine (2017-2019) (“The waste crisis in Lebanon: controversies and new forms of urban management” (2017-2019)).

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1: Municipal waste management in Lebanon, areas served, and projects in 2018
Crédits Map by: Rita Nasr; Source: CERDA survey of municipalities and business managers, 2018
Fichier image/jpeg, 633k
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Jihad Farah et Eric Verdeil, « Instruments and spaces of waste governance in Lebanon »Géocarrefour [En ligne], 95/1 | 2021, mis en ligne le 23 février 2021, consulté le 26 mai 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Jihad Farah

Lebanese University, Centre d’études et de recherche en développement et aménagement (CERDA) (Centre for Studies and Research in Development and Planning), Beirut, Lebanon

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Eric Verdeil

Sciences Po, Centre de recherches internationales (CERI) (Centre for International Studies), CNRS, Paris, France

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