Lebanon's southern city of Sidon is best known for its Crusader Castle and ancient market, but a more modern landmark has marred its Mediterranean shoreline for decades – a towering 'mountain' of trash. In the summer, reeking fumes hang over the city, and fires regularly break out at the dump. In winter, storms push the trash across the city and wash it out to sea reaching Cyprus, 260 kilometers away in the Mediterranean.
But now an ambitious project is putting an end to the towering nightmare, transforming it into a seaside park that local officials hope will inspire others dealing with Lebanon's many dumps. "We were talking about... a trash mountain right next to houses," said Mayor Mohamed al-Saudi, who came to office in the city of 200,000 pledging to deal with the dump. "It's gone from a 58-meter trash mountain to an eight-meter green mound... We've cleaned up the sewage, and the trash mountain is gone."
The project began with the installation of a seawall around the eyesore site and the coastline to the south, preventing waves from impeding work or taking rubbish out to sea. For the city's waste going to a new processing facility further south, the site was closed to further deliveries. When sorting began in mid-2013, as much as 60 percent of the heap was found to be construction rubble from the country’s 15-year civil war that began in the mid-70s. This rubble was treated and used to reclaim land between the seawall and the beach in the area south of the dump. Next year, 33,000 square meters of that land will open as a public park, planted with hundred-year-old olive trees and featuring a small amphitheater.
The rest of the dump has been ploughed into a sanitary landfill, lined and covered with protective plastic membranes. Pipes running through the landfill will filter gas and remove effluent, and grass will be planted on top. However, the landfill will be off limits to the public for eight years while the material underneath decomposes.
The project is "moving from that mountain of shame to something that Sidon will be very proud of hopefully," said Edgard Chehab from the United Nations Development Programme, which oversaw the project. In eight years’ time, the landfill site will be joined with the green park that is being constructed now, and Sidon will enjoy 100,000 square meters of green park.