The Middle East Online has reported on how Lebanon’s environmental catastrophe has resulted in widespread health problems and caused friction between the indigenous Lebanese population and, what is now, well over a million Syrian refugees. Here, Federica Marsi outlines how tentative beginnings at helping solve the problem are already showing promise.
Israeli bombardments left Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure with a $2.5 billion worth of damage nine years ago, which the country is still struggling to put right.
Among the economic targets destroyed during the 2006 war was the $55 million Maliban recycling factory, which its Indian owner opted not to restore, leaving the country devoid of facilities to recycle coloured glass.
When the Maliban glass-recycling factory was reduced to rubble by Israeli airstrikes, the environmental and industrial engineering company Cedar Environment was left with tons of glass and no one to sell it to. “I told my employees to keep stocking the glass until I found a way to recycle it”, says the company’s founder and CEO Ziad Abichaker.
Eventually the problem was solved when Abichaker met with the last of Lebanon’s glassblowers. Based in the southern town of Sarafand, the Khalife family was going months at stretch with no work to uphold the country’s 2000-year-old glassblowing tradition. After conducting a brief assessment, Abichaker developed the Green Glass Recycling Initiative (GGRIL), which breathed new life into a dying art as well as more than 12 tons of glass.
Lamps, carafes, cups and vases produced in Sarafand are now sold in 12 points of sale in Beirut. At present, the crowdfunding campaign to buy a truck is opening new possibilities to expand the business to 25 new points of sale around Lebanon.
The initiative earned Abichaker the title of Arab Innovator of the Year in 2011, but its success is a triumph of cooperation between visionary entrepreneurs who joined forces with those wishing to alleviate Lebanon’s waste management problem. To get GRILL off the ground, a local paper manufacturer donated recycled paperboard to package the new products, while others created new designs, printed the logos or agreed to provide a selling point.
In response to the environmental pressure brought about by the Syrian crisis, Abichaker is now promoting the installation of compost bins in refugee camps, which could reduce the problem by 80% by turning waste into fertiliser. “This will increase the wellbeing of the people while creating something that can benefit agriculture. It is a win-win solution”. NGO The Palestinian Welfare Association has ordered 40 of the composting units and Abichaker hopes other organisations will follow suit.
Selling waste to finance social change.
If burned, plastic produces dioxin, a highly toxic chemical that can result in heart and respiratory diseases. However, in the right hands one ton of plastic can buy a wheelchair. This is the approach adopted by Arcenciel, an NGO using waste to finance new social projects. After re-sorting, washing and compacting waste in two regional centres, Arcenciel sells different materials to recycling plants, earning as much as $900 per ton in the case of aluminium.
“The idea of the project resulted from the desire to respond to a double need”, says Olivia Maamari, technical advisor of Arcenciel. “First, the need to find a solution to waste mismanagement crisis which dramatically degrades the environment in Lebanon. Then, to support municipalities, individuals and communities in difficulty, who do not have sufficient resources to ensure the social services and actions they need”.
Each month, 30 tons of waste is collected by Arcenciel from schools, refugee camps and various collection points. The equivalent value in social services pay is redistributed directly or through other organisations, including the Red Cross and the Civil Defence, to people in difficulty in both the Syrian and the Lebanese community.
In response to the increase in Heath Care Waste generation, the association is now developing sustainable solid waste management pilot projects. “Our goal is to demonstrate the feasibility and the advantages of such systems and promote the adoption of sustainable waste management practices all over Lebanon”, notes Maamari.
“Thanks to waste, we are able to provide technical aid on a monthly basis, in collaboration with people who wish to support those in difficulty and at the same time benefit the environment. By encouraging environment preservation practices in both communities it is possible to finance sanitary products, social services and, more importantly, promote solidarity”.