The Use of Refuse-Derived Fuel in Lebanon



The responsibility of solid waste management (SWM) in Lebanon is assigned to municipalities just like in most countries. Municipalities have found this responsibility quite daunting for various reasons. According to The Lebanon Brief (2015), Lebanon and its municipalities are suffering from the lack of know-how, weak tax system, and insufficient sanitary landfill facilities. As a result, again like in most countries, open dumping and burning are the most common methods (Modak, 2012). In Lebanon, a few municipalities have the right equipment and use the proper techniques. There are over 700 illegal and unsafe dumping sites across the country (The Lebanon Brief, 2015). The largest of these are becoming increasingly a menace, and ultimately such poor methods are an environmental hazard, especially considering that most plastics and related materials disposed of are non-biodegradable. Open burning also has significant adverse effects on the environment.

The State of SWM in Lebanon: Proactive (Legislative) Response and Reactive Response, and their Environment-Related Limitations

As the government of Lebanon has expressed the need to address the problem of SWM, one of the alternatives that have been touted about is refuse-derived fuel (RDF). The main advantage of RDF is that it utilizes – thereby reducing – solid waste to generate energy. In other words, it significantly facilitates the reduction of solid waste, but with an extra value of energy, which can be used in power plants, co-firing plants, mono combustion and material industry, among others (Van de Klundert & Anschütz, 2001). However, RDF as SWM method also has its limitations, particularly adverse effects on the environment. While the method does solve the problem of SWM, it does not solve the ultimate problem that is the dangers that poor waste management methods pose to the environment and public health, which is why the government of Lebanon should not accept it in the country

SWM entails two levels of intervention: proactive and reactive. The proactive response has to do with what is done to create an environment that enables proper SWM, and reactive intervention involves those activities that are directly undertaken in the process of managing waste.

The critical part of the proactive response is the legal context. In Lebanon, there is a general lack of legislative texts that specifically address SWM. Instead, there are only fragments of these as well as general guidelines. The main ones are Decree 8735/1974; Decree 9093/2002; Law 216/1993; and Law 444/2002; and Decree 8003. These decrees and laws have covered: pollution resulting from solid waste and wastewater; financial incentives to the country’s municipalities to host waste management facilities; assessment of all sources of solid waste; and the setting of landfill standards and promotion of recycling (Massoud et al., 2016). These decrees and laws have, however, largely remained ineffective. This is because, among others, their roles and implementation responsibilities are unclear and as such their enforcement has practically been nonexistent (Mandloi, 2015). These failures can be blamed on staffing constraints, political interference and lack of training, among others (Massoud et al., 2016). This is why SWM have remained the responsibility of municipalities, without much support from the central government. 

Regarding reactive response, municipalities have faced significant challenges. The first one has to do with the exorbitant amounts of waste. For example, according to Massoud et al. (2016), in 2010 the rate of waste generation in Lebanon varied (depending on whether one was living in the rural or urban areas) from 0.8 to 1.1 kilograms of waste per person every single day. In 2013, the average rate rose to 1.05 kg/p/d. In other words, each municipality realized as much as 2 tons of solid waste every day, which was/is to be collected by public and private haulers (Massoud et al., 2016). These figures revealed a lot of waste municipalities have had to deal with, and therefore how daunting the responsibility of SWM is to them. 

Individual municipalities have initiated some strategies toward SWM. For example, in 1997, a relatively advanced SWM system was installed in Beirut and a few parts of Mount Lebanon. The system manually and mechanically sorted, separated, balled and wrapped waste compost and landfill waste rejects and inserts (Van de Klundert & Anschütz, 2001). However, this system also faced significant challenges. Notably, it could not handle the vast quantities of wastes generated.

Other areas have managed to use different methods, such as controlled dumps. However, a vast majority of municipalities still use archaic methods, particularly open dumping and burning. These methods have not only proved to be inadequate SWM methods, but “carry extremely high risks for contaminating natural resources with harmful and potentially toxic pollutants that increase the likelihood of nearby inhabitants contracting chronic, and potentially lethal diseases and infections” (Massoud et al., 2016). Open dumping, for example, is associated with the absorption of toxic elements into the soil; foul odors and gases; contamination of water (ground and surface); greenhouse gases; loss of recyclable and/or reusable resources; multiplication of disease vectors; increase in microbial threats; and fire and security hazards, among others. As for open burning, it leads to the production of toxic residues as well as fumes that can cause respiratory problems; it poses risks of fire spreading and explosions; it releases harmful substances (including greenhouse gases and dioxins, among many others); it increases the risk of cancer in communities nearby, among others (Massoud et al., 2016). In other words, the current methods are ineffective in many ways. They cannot handle the amount of waste generated; they do not add any value to the communities, and instead, they pose environmental and public health risks. The question, then, is whether RDF as an alternative SWM method is any better. 

Refuse-Derived Fuel as an Alternative SWM Method

With the increasing populations, the need for energy is also expected to increase significantly. The human need for modernization and industrialization is the contributing factor to this phenomenon. Since these activities need power or fuel, the responsible countries use conventional methods to satisfy this need. According to Mondloi (2015), this need for electricity can be satisfied by non-renewable sources of energy as they are affordable and environmentally friendly. The industrialization activities leave undesirable effects on the environment. Some of these activities lead to high levels of solid waste. By the use of refuse-derived fuel, the world would be able to kill two birds with one stone (Poornima, and Srivastava 2017). This statement means that they would be able to get rid of the solid waste and also contribute to the world’s need for energy through the use of RDF. 

 Various countries such as India have developed the use of RDF as means of solid waste management. Studies from these countries suggest that India is one of the countries with the highest levels of solid wastes in a year. Nonetheless, they manage to dispose of it without many environmental effects safely. In the process, they can make energy to drive their industries (Pathak, Singh & Kumar, 2011). This technique is being proposed in Lebanon which is also growing regarding solid waste products in a year. Initially, most of India’s solid waste was dispossessed of by the municipal. The municipal solid waste was found to be the most degradable and therefore easily turned into RDF. For this reason, various scholars have been proposing for the application of the same strategy in their countries. 

 The processing or making of the Refuse Derived Fuel involves the several mixing types of waste among them solid, plastic and polythene wastes and burning them up to release energy. This method was not known until the late nineteenth century. According to studies by Hasan and Hassan (2016), European countries such as Germany and Canada adopted this system in the 1890s. In this system, the byproduct of the RDF was used as another raw material of the system and then re-burned to make electricity. This method was perfect for SWM during this time, and it slowed down in the 20th century after the discovery of fuel. The next time this strategy was used was in the mid-20th century after the price of oil, as well as its transport, rose. Therefore, various countries were in need of an alternative form of energy. They, therefore, turned to RDF. Hasan and Hassan (2016), argue that this was not surprising as the move was driven by two reasons. These reasons were ” 1) a sizeable fraction of the waste depending on the country can consist of combustible components… 2)incineration of municipal waste and the use of waste heat produced from that place had been practiced in Europe for many years” (Hasan and Hassan, 2016). They, therefore, had a way of biologically convert the degradable waste into energy while managing the wastes. 

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There are also various reasons why this system, did not catch too much attention. Mainly, it was because of the lack of proper technology and machinery of making this idea work. Secondly, the fact that fuel became accessible and cheap made the adoption of the RDF unnecessary. Nevertheless, the recent changes in the environment and environmental degradation which is said to have a possibility of causing global warming lead to a shift in ideologies and policies. The global scene is now focused on adopting measures that reduce the release of toxic gases into the air (Merhebi, and Massoud, 2016). Sustainability efforts are also hitting top gears as world leaders step-up the fight against global warming (Merhebi, and Massoud, 2016). Also, the cost of fuel, oil to be specific, is getting higher and leaders need a new way that can reduce the cost of fuel and also aid in sustainability efforts. This is the reason why countries such as Sweden, Indian turned to RDF. 

In the year 2008, Sweden introduced their modernized waste treatment plant which turns both the municipal and industrial solid waste into energy. This strategy is better known as refuse-derived fuel. Israel followed this trend in the year 2013 whereby her waste treatment plant was introduced in the Hiriya Recycling Park. This facility is made to process or convert over five hundred thousand tons of wastes into fuel, and it should operate for the next twenty years. Other countries such as Australia, Japan, Czech Republic and Hungary among others are in the process of realizing or revolutionizing this idea. Nonetheless, Lebanon, neighbor to Israel, is proposing this strategy. However, some scholars have highlighted both benefits and drawbacks of RDF, and considering the two this paper concludes that it should not be implemented in Lebanon. 

The main advantage of RDF is that it enables sustainable development. The concept of sustainability is multi-dimensional. In this particular case, it covers two areas that are critical: the need for proper solid waste management, and alternative sources of energy (Russell, 2011). Both of these issues are important in significant ways. Since it has a plan for disposing of waste products without using the traditional method of a landfill, this is the most environmentally-friendly SWM system. Also, it creates fuel which means that it does reduce the country’s dependency on fossil fuel for energy. By the fact that it is a way of recycling waste products, it says that it contributes to the sustainability dream. The general exercise and process of disposing of wastes are expensive and costly to a municipal council. Therefore, RDF comes up with a cheaper and readily available alternative to waste management. This will save the country much-needed revenue which can be used for other activities. 

Evidence shows that municipalities are increasingly generating more and more solid waste as economies continue to prosper and urban populations continue to grow. Solid wastes (that is, refuse) include everyday items that people discard. These typically vary from country to country as different populations use different kinds of products and foods more. Regardless, these wastes are likely to include foodstuff and packages, used items and products, among others. Many of these are likely to be made of non-biodegradable plastics. The refuse can be categorized into four major categories: readily degradable; combustible/long-term degradable; recyclables/combustibles; and other materials (Van de Klundert, and Anschütz, 2001).Regardless, these refuse have significant impacts on the environments. Even the easily degradable refuse tend to accumulate faster than they can be disposed efficiently and this can lead to hygiene problems, which pose a risk to public health.

There has also been the rising need for electricity. The modernization and industrialization processes need too much electricity that cannot be produced from dams only. Solar energy has not been actualized yet and therefore, any other form of energy will be useful for the course (O’teele et al., 1981). Without electricity, industrialization becomes challenging and expensive. Since RDF presents the world with a cheaper option for power, various scholars and academicians have been advocating for its introduction in the global arena. This is because of its contribution to the sustainability efforts. However, RDF does not come without its challenges.

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Some of the limitations or drawbacks of RDF include the following. The countries that have already adopted RDF have been reporting high cases of fires in the RDF waste management plants. This does not only lead to loss of property but also the loss of life (O’teele et al., 1981). This is a drawback and a step back for any country with the hopes of industrializing. Also, for a developing country, such fires lead to loss of property which takes it steps back from achieving industrialization.

Another limitation of RDF is the level of corrosion in its systems. According to studies, RDF has been found to be more corrosive as compared to other means of waste management. Studies indicate that high levels of chloride corrosion are associated with RDF, and it is mainly found in the boiler’s fireside. This corrosion is as a result of the polyvinyl-chloride polymer which is found in polythene bags and plastics. Also, during the large combustion process, this corrosion becomes more severe (Russell, 2011). According to studies, less knowledge and research exist concerning the chloride corrosions form this process and therefore, it is said to be more unreliable or toxic to the environment. 

The initial cost of staring or constructing an RDF system is too high for a small or developing country like Lebanon. The extra handling costs are also yet to be discovered, and therefore, there is no telling what financial drawback this may have to these countries (Russell, 2011). Regardless of the benefits associated with this process, this is a risk that only the developed countries like the United States should take but not a developing country. The ideal particle size is also not known and also, for processes such as the suspension firing. Also, the operation of the traveling gate firing requires a specific particle size which is yet to be established. For this method to be efficient, these uncertainties should be resolved.


After careful consideration and assessment of the benefits and drawbacks of RDF, this paper concludes that it should not be adopted in Lebanon. The environmental effects and risks associated with this process are too high for a country like Lebanon. Therefore, alternative sources of energy and solid waste management should be sought after. The nation can result in recycling some of these products and wastes to make other reusable products. The cost of the plant is also expensive as compared to the municipal waste management procedures(O’teele et al., 1981). Lebanon is a developing country and adopting this system will put a dent in its financial position, an event that will not be good for the development and growth of the country. Also, there are some uncertainties concerning the required particles for some of these processes and adopting RDF without definite knowledge about it is a significant risk to take for such undeveloped country. 

This paper recommends that further research is done on the technical and economic viability or feasibility of RDF and how it can be adapted to clear out the uncertainties. The required particles for small boilers or a specific size of boiler also need to be researched on. The direct combustion of RDF is also another area of development and should be researched to ensure its feasibility in developing countries. Remedies to chloride corrosion, stack emissions, combustion efficiency and fires need to be researched (O’teele et al., 1981). The future of RDF looks bright, and this paper predicts diversification of the process as well as the introduction of new technology that increases the efficiency of the process. This technology is also expected to reduce the named uncertainties.

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