BEIRUT: Somehow, across Lebanon’s capital people are finally feeding coins into parking meters, and – some might say miraculously – the recently introduced smoking ban is holding.
On the basis of this, Fadel Fakih of Green Line, a Beirut-based environmental NGO and member of the zero waste coalition, contends that the only real way to institute a culture of recycling in Lebanese society is to legislate for it. “The first thing we need is regulations from the government to force people to recycle,” Fakih says.
At present, with the nation’s municipalities responsible for waste management, open dumping remains the main disposal method for trash in Lebanon. And while a number of recycling operations are now active in some parts of the country, these have yet to be embraced by many of Lebanon’s citizens.
Currently, there is no law that obliges people in Lebanon to recycle waste.
“There is no current legislation forcing municipalities to recycle,” says Ziad Abichaker, the CEO of waste management company Cedar Environmental. “The only law in progress is the solid waste management law which has been sitting in Parliament for more than eight years now or something like that.”
According to the Environment Ministry’s website, a draft law on integrated solid waste management, which was prepared in 2005, received approval from the Cabinet this year and now awaits the same from Parliament.
While Fakih says that there is certainly an appetite in Lebanon for the instigation of more environmentally friendly waste-disposal systems, he says there is also a portion of Lebanese society with no interest in the issue.
The experience of Sukleen, Lebanon’s largest waste management company, which operates in Greater Beirut and Mount Lebanon, attests to this. The company has placed designated recycling bins at some 45 locations throughout their area of operation, but despite their availability these specialized containers for paper, glass, plastic and cans remain under-utilized and mistreated.
These special trash cans ask citizens to sort their recyclable waste into two categories: paper and cardboard; and glass, tin cans and plastics. The contents is then collected and taken directly for recycling. However, a communications officer at Sukleen, says that people regularly put inappropriate waste in these bins, rendering their contents non-recyclable.
Describing how passers-by often deposit food and drink waste in the bins, the officer says “you cannot recycle paper if you find liquid in it.”
The result has been a decision on Sukleen’s part not to expand the number locations of these bins for the present. Instead, the company has decided to focus on education as a means to changing consumers’ waste disposal habits.
“We are at an early stage of a big improvement considering environmental issues in Lebanon,” the officer argues, with a nod toward the increased prevalence of the word “green” in business and advertising literature.
“A lot of people are concerned,” he continues, “a lot of companies are willing to go green.”
“But we still need time, because it is very hard to change the habit,” he says.
A further testament to the difficulty of altering ingrained practices is evidenced at Brisk, a Hamra street self-service cafe where customers are encouraged to sort their own waste into food, packaging and liquids once they are finished eating. The cafe’s owner, Dany Mansour, says that less than 60 percent of customers actually take their trash to the bins, and of those that do, less than half succeed in putting the various types of garbage in the correct receptacles.
For Lama Ghaddar of IndyAct, another NGO committed to the promotion of the zero waste movement in Lebanon, the key to altering attitudes toward waste disposal is “having a strong legislation so that people start believing in this concept.”
People need to state seeing “waste as a resource which they can benefit from,” she says.
Both Sukleen’s communications officer and Green Line’s Fakih place strong emphasis on the role of school-based educational programs as a conduit to changing people’s sentiments toward waste.
Sukleen, which serves the Greater Beirut and Metn areas, has chosen in recent times to expand its programs in both public and private schools.
“We are working with more than 200 schools,” Sukleen's officer says, describing the various tailored programs the waste management company has developed for students of different ages.
“For the younger age category, students attend a special play that talks about recycling, “Teta” by Gisele Hashem Zard. They also attend special workshops where students can learn ways to reuse things and make out of them interesting items that they can use every day,” she explains.
“For the teenagers, we are addressing them through educational sessions, with a professional training team, by giving up to six sessions around the year, and a competition at the end that will take place between all the schools participating in the program.”
Additionally, the officer adds that Sukleen receives groups of students at their headquarters for a presentation on waste flow, and through visits to Recyclo [Sukleen’s recycling plant], they are introduced to the plastic and nylon recycling processes. The company also provides schools with special bins, posters and water/energy tags, to remind both students and teachers about what waste should go where and what the benefits of recycling are.
However, Sukleen, while able to provide details of its education program, was unable to disclose to The Daily Star figures for the amount of waste it actually collects and recycles.
Fakih also highlights the need for increased education on the issue, particularly in public schools, but also for parents and teachers too. Green Line has in fact run several projects at various schools.
He adds that in general “people are willing” to learn and recycle, mentioning that there are “some villages in the south where ... people are fully recycling waste themselves.”
Meanwhile, IndyAct’s Ghaddar, while lauding the interest of civil society, officials and citizens in the zero waste campaign, says that in addition to introducing legislation, it is important for people to lead by example.
“So once we start changing our behavior toward waste management, change will be visible and clear from the start. After a long term commitment to sustainable change we will gradually see a big visible difference as it will only grow with time,” she says.
“Our behavior toward waste management will eventually lead to a chain reaction producing a more aware environmentally-friendly society.”