True||Three private consortiums offered eligible bids to manage Beirut’s waste, Environment Minister Mohammad Machnouk announced Friday, raising the possibility that waste management in Beirut and Mount Lebanon could resume normal operations within six months.||

BEIRUT: Three private consortiums offered eligible bids to manage Beirut’s waste, Environment Minister Mohammad Machnouk announced Friday, raising the possibility that waste management in Beirut and Mount Lebanon could resume normal operations within six months. But the consortiums did not state publicly where they would find landfill space. Officials across the country have steadfastly refused to bury any of the capital’s waste, much to the consternation of Beirut officials, who say they require municipalities to cooperate in order to resolve the ongoing trash crisis.

The government may be able to secure a disposal ground next week, Machnouk said at a news conference at the Council of Development and Reconstruction after he received the bids.

“We are working on locating a landfill, and we have something that perhaps we can announce in two or three days,” he said.

Municipalities have been dumping loose garbage in valleys, forests, and populated areas since late July, after the Environment Ministry failed to open a replacement for the overfilled Naameh landfill. Sukleen, the incumbent waste-management contractor for the region, has been gathering Beirut’s trash in a lot in Karantina. Many of these dumps have caught fire, exacerbating the environmental calamity.

An ad hoc ministerial committee headed by Prime Minister Tammam Salam will evaluate the bids next week. Two of the bidding consortiums told The Daily Star Friday they could begin their operations within six months if they win. The Daily Star was unable to reach the third consortium for comment.

With the Karantina lot expected to reach capacity within a few days, officials are scrambling to arrange to export Beirut’s garbage in the interim, among other solutions. Otherwise, trash may spill onto the streets again, as it did when Sukleen had to halt collection in July for 10 days.

At Friday’s news conference, a defiant Machnouk said, “What we have accomplished is a response to those who doubted that we would see these tenders through to the end. Today, we have bids on the tenders for all areas of Lebanon.”

The Cabinet ordered the Environment Ministry in January to decentralize the country’s waste management, but the ministry was unable to attract any firms to bid on the new contracts until mid-July. By that time, it was too late to forestall the collapse of the Beirut and Mount Lebanon garbage operations, triggered by the deadline to close Naameh.

At last, the ministry along with the CDR has managed to collect bids for Beirut and its southern suburbs, after it opened the tender three times.

A company taking part in one of Friday’s bids said it lacked confidence in the government to bid earlier. “I had realized that the tenders were written for Sukleen and nobody else. Now, Sukleen is no more. This is a big change,” said Riad Asaad, CEO of South For Construction. SFC was joined by Egyptian firm AMA in its bid.

The two other consortiums to submit bids were a joint venture between BATCO, Lavajet, and Daniko as well as a joint venture between CET, West Cost, and Soubermecher.

Representatives from two of the consortiums told The Daily Star their waste-management plans would dramatically reduce the amount of material sent to landfills, compared to the amount Sukleen used to send to Naameh.

“We plan to reduce landfilling by 75 percent,” said Teddy Barhoun, business development and operations manager at Lavajet. “And what we do send to the landfill will be inert, non-organic, and stable.”

Asaad said SFC planned to landfill 8 percent of the garbage it collects. Reports indicate Sukleen landfilled around 80 percent, though the firm has not publicly shared data.

The two representatives said they had found landfilling space outside Beirut, a condition of the tender’s terms. They did not say where, but they expressed confidence that the concerned municipalities would consent to the locations. “When the people and the local authorities know you have a clear treatment and landfilling plan, then you will have no problems,” Barhoun said.

The bulk of the collected waste will be repurposed through recycling, composting and refuse-derived fuel (RDF) operations. The RDF process mixes calorific waste – essentially material that burns – into a fuel that can power cement plant furnaces and electricity-generating incinerators.

The environment minister has promised to open incineration plants within five years.

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