Lebanon’s Innovative ‘Drive-Throw’ Recycling Aims to Tackle Garbage Crisis

A unique “drive-through” recycling initiative has emerged, allowing motorists to exchange empty bottles and cardboard for cash. The country has been grappling with waste management issues, with overflowing landfills, illegal burning of waste at informal dump sites, and rubbish floating in the Mediterranean Sea.

The economic collapse that has persisted for three years has taken a toll on state-run recycling efforts, leaving the responsibility to private initiatives. One such initiative, Lebanon Waste Management, was founded by Pierre Baaklini, 32, who recognized the urgency of the situation. Approximately a year ago, he established the first “Drive Throw” recycling station and, in February, opened a second one in Burj Hammoud, a suburb of Beirut known for its proximity to a landfill.

With over 80 percent of Lebanon’s population living in poverty, the most vulnerable members of society resort to sifting through dumpsters in search of recyclable items they can sell for a meager income. Baaklini’s recycling stations primarily attract environmentally conscious individuals who have sufficient means to participate.

Upon arrival at the recycling station, customers register their details and place bags and boxes of loosely sorted recyclables on the counter. The station’s workers accept a wide range of materials, including cardboard, plastic, glass, metal, e-waste, batteries, and used cooking oil. Prices for each recyclable item are listed, with cardboard fetching 2,000 Lebanese pounds (approximately two cents) per kilogram and aluminium cans valued at 50,000 pounds per kilogram.

Rony Nashef, 38, highlighted the importance of recycling in addressing Lebanon’s trash problem and expressed optimism about its potential impact.

In 2015, Lebanon faced a waste crisis due to incompetence and corruption, leading to protests and damaging the country’s reputation. Unfortunately, no viable long-term solution has been implemented since then, and the catastrophic explosion at Beirut port in August 2020 further exacerbated the issue by destroying two sorting plants.

Beyond its economic benefits, the Drive Throw initiative emphasizes education and awareness-raising, hosting visits from school students eager to learn about recycling.

According to Ziad Abichaker, an environmental engineer who heads Cedar Environmental, a “zero waste” technology group, recycling has historically been neglected by authorities. Presently, only about 10 percent of Lebanon’s daily waste load of 5,000 tonnes is recycled. Abichaker pointed out that a national waste management plan is under consideration, but progress has been hindered by institutional deadlock as Lebanon navigates a caretaker government with limited powers.

Faulty designs and corruption have contributed to the failure of 90 percent of the sorting plants built with international donations over the years, Abichaker added.

Despite initial challenges in sorting materials, participants like Renata Rahme, a 47-year-old film producer, have embraced the Drive Throw initiative, recognizing that their contributions extend beyond the monetary benefits. Rahme expressed the importance of community, country, and society in driving their commitment to better waste management.

The Drive Throw initiative’s positive impact extends beyond the monetary realm, fostering a sense of environmental responsibility and collective action to tackle Lebanon’s garbage crisis. As the country grapples with wider challenges, the hope is that such local initiatives will pave the way for more sustainable waste management solutions in the future.

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