A novelty in a nation long plagued by rubbish issues, Beirut drivers pull up to a drive-through counter to swap empty bottles and cardboard for cash rather than fast food. In Lebanon, which is in the midst of a crisis, festering landfills often overflow, garbage is illegally burned at unofficial disposal sites, and trash floats in the Mediterranean Sea off the shore. In a country that has been battling a three-year economic slump, state-run recycling has mostly been abandoned.
The 32-year-old founder of Lebanon Waste Management, Pierre Baaklini, said that the government used to oversee this industry but that it is now insolvent.
He established the first “Drive Throw” recycling facility around a year ago, and in Burj Hammoud, a Beirut neighborhood well-known for its close proximity to a landfill, he created a second facility in February.
The poorest people in Lebanon, where more than 80% of the population lives in poverty, make a meager income by rummaging through trash looking for anything they can sell for recycling or scrap.
According to Baaklini, the majority of his clients are the minority “with sufficient income” and are typically ecologically sensitive.
People unload their vehicles at the station, fill out the registration form, then set bags and cartons of loosely sorted recyclables on the counter. Workers will take everything, including old cooking oil and even cardboard, plastic, glass, metal, and e-waste.
A sign specifies the prices: a kilogram of cardboard (2.2 pounds) costs 2,000 Lebanese pounds (about two cents), whereas a kilogram of aluminum cans costs 50,000 pounds.
In a nation where many people drink bottled water, Rony Nashef, 38, handed out bulging bags of plastic.
Recycling, he said, “is unquestionably a much better solution to Lebanon’s trash problem.”
2015 saw a stunning waste issue in Lebanon as rivers of trash clogged the streets and spilled into the sea, sparking large-scale demonstrations and damaging the nation’s reputation.
Since then, no workable long-term solution has been discovered, and the issue was made worse by the devastating explosion that destroyed two sorting units at Beirut Port in August 2020.
for the neighborhood
At Drive Throw, the recyclables are meticulously sorted behind the scenes while the plastic is afterwards cleaned and shred.
The two facilities have received 450 tonnes of recyclables altogether, according to creator Baaklini, who also noted that the materials are sold to both domestic and foreign customers.
As school children sometimes visit the facility to learn about recycling, he said that “what we are doing here is also about education” and “awareness-raising.”
Ziad Abichaker, an environmental engineer, said that authorities had consistently disregarded recycling.
According to Abichaker, CEO of Cedar Environmental, a company that specializes in “zero waste” solutions, only “about 10 percent” of Lebanon’s daily garbage load of 5,000 tonnes gets recycled.
Due to institutional gridlock, he claimed, authorities were looking at a national waste management plan but little progress has been made.
There has been a caretaker administration with restricted authority in place for nearly a year.
Abichaker said that “90 percent of the sorting plants built over the years” using funds from foreign donors had ceased to function, blaming “faulty designs” and “corruption”.
Renata Rahme, 47, of Burj Hammoud, said she was unaware she needed to separate the goods the first time she pulled up to the Drive Throw recycling station.
Rahme, a film producer, arrived with a container filled with lights and other tiny electrical items. “Now I’m trying to do more sorting,” he said.
“Taking part in the initiative is more important than getting a financial reward,” she remarked. “We’re working to improve things for the neighborhood, the nation, and society.”