A computer science student at the American University of Beirut, Ayman Bitar recycled his home’s garbage through a special program at the university. He took plastic bottles in bags and dumped them into the recycle bins at AUB.
He had to carry bags full of empty plastic water bottles into his car, hold them while walking around the AUB campus and eventually dump them in the special containers.
But Bitar’s enthusiasm slowly dwindled at the thought of having to go through this cumbersome process every time he collected sufficient recyclable items. Eventually, he decided to terminate a habit which he had carried out for years.
“I would have continued to contribute had there been bins across the street from my home or just nearby,” Bitar said, referring to the recycling bins which were removed from the narrow streets of the Mar Elias area in Beirut. “It [recycling] is a good activity after all.”
Considering the small percentage of recycled items out of the total waste generated on Lebanese soil, recycling is growing at a snail’s pace in Lebanon. According to estimates by the ministry of environment, around 4 to 6 percent of the total amount of collected waste in the Greater Beirut area and its surroundings is recycled.
In collaboration with municipalities in Mount Lebanon and Beirut, Sukleen, a daughter company of Averda, supplies the streets with recycle bins.
Sukleen recycles ecofriendly waste and collects material to be recycled at other companies, in collaboration with the Lebanese government. The relatively low number of these bins, however, is blamed by many as a reason for the general lack of motivation to recycle.
Operations supervisor at Sukleen, Nivine Zarzour, admits that the private company needs to add to the 44 bins that are currently distributed among the regions for which Sukleen is responsible.
“We are planning to add more bins. It needs time but it will happen so that we can cover all of our areas,” Zarzour said.
The small openings of Sukleen’s recycle bins have irritated some. Standing in front of the bin with dozens of recyclable material, one has to insert one item at a time.
When Sukleen had recycle bins with larger openings available in the streets, Zarzour explained, the company found that people inserted items into the wrong bins. That made Sukleen revert to bins with smaller openings.
Meanwhile, in an effort to diminish the size and number of chaotic dumping sites, the ministry of environment has recently collaborated with the Office of the Minister of State for Administrative Reform in Lebanon (OMSAR) to publish “Management of Recyclable Material for Lebanese Municipalities.”
The publication aims to guide municipalities to prepare, handle, process and sell recyclable material.
Environmental specialist Souraya Ataba says that the Ministry of Environment hopes to fix the situation of open landfills and has plans to turn waste into energy.
“The ministry had prepared a master plan for the closure and rehabilitation of uncontrolled dumps in Lebanon, which helps the ministry in its consultative role to any executive company,” Ataba, who works at the ministry’s urban environment pollution control department, said.
“The ministry aims to solve the problem of waste in the Greater Beirut area and big cities by adopting ‘waste to energy’ technology,” Ataba added. “Incinerated waste will solve the lack of space problem in the big cities. Landfilling will stay the main way of disposing waste in the rest of Lebanon.”
Other than the ministry of environment and a few institutions, which are affiliated with the ministry, a handful of non-governmental organizations –national and international– work on projects related to recycling.
Working together for the common purpose of implementing sustainable solutions for environmental issues, some NGOs have joined forces to create the Zero Waste Coalition. The alliance is contesting the ministry’s effort to find a law which allows the burn of waste, insisting that ecofriendly alternatives do exist.
“We are working as part of a Zero Waste Coalition to oppose a recent government law that would construct incinerators in the country to burn our waste,” Rayan Makarem, a campaigner at Greenpeace Mediterranean, said. “We are instead proposing the Zero Waste Solution for waste management, which relies heavily on re-use, recycle and composting of organic materials.”
Lebanon’s waste production are estimated at 4,000 tons per day. With industrial and slaughter wastes galore at the repulsive open dump sites, the need for additional plans to deal with garbage is evident.
Ahmad Houri, associate professor of chemistry at LAU, underlined the importance of recycling, saying that it allows the country to reap both environmental and financial benefits.
“Composting allows the reuse of organic waste as a fertilizer,” Houri said about the technique which Sukleen currently implements for treatment of organic waste. “Paper, plastic, glass and aluminum recycling create a great opportunity for income generation and reduction of imports. It provides local labor and reduces stresses on landfills.”
Houri added that organic waste composting greatly reduces the amount of garbage going to the dumps since this organic matter constitutes 50 to 60 percent of our waste stream. “This will readily double the expected life time of available landfills,” he explained.
In an effort to encourage recycling, Servi Corp, sister company of Sukleen, has recently initiated the Reverse Vending Machine (RVM). The machine offers a water bottle for every person who uses it to recycle forty plastic bottles.
Houri believes that providing households with waste collectors would facilitate the process of recycling and allow a larger number of participants to take part in it. “Recycling is most successful when everybody is involved,” he explained.
The idea of providing the citizen with a modest return for recycling will be very effective for lower income families but will not be as effective for rich households.
“Minimal effort but plenty of awareness will be needed for everybody to get involved,” Houri said. “The main focus should be on facilitating the removal of recyclables from the houses by the garbage collectors.”
Bitar agrees. “I think I will go back to recycling very soon,” he said. “I just wish they make it easier for us to recycle.”
By Zahi Sahli
LAU Tribune staff