Yesterday July 6th, 2011, I went to Tyr in South Lebanon to a Green Jobs workshop held by the ILO at a lovely resort called Rest House. There were 15 or so people in attendance, some social innovators and entrepreneurs, some producers, two organic certification organizations, and myself. I wish I understood Arabic (again. always) so I could have gotten more out of the workshop, but I got some translations along the way and understood the big picture.
Lebanon is chugging full-steam-ahead towards a space and waste crisis — there is not enough space for more landfills, and the environment cannot continue to absorb uncontrolled dumping. The economy is in dire need of dependable jobs, and the government isn’t helping.
What is a “Green Job?” 4 Criteria:
- Decent working conditions
- Sustainable employment (the job will still be there xx years down the road)
- Locally feasible
- Must encompass organic production
The idea: open waste processing facilities that are maintained and operated by local residents, which recycle 90% of incoming waste and sell the reusable, recyclable, and composted products generated during processing. Plastics and metals can be resold in local an international markets, and linkages are being created with agricultural cooperatives in South Lebanon that could “go organic” by using organic fertilizer from the facilities. Organic crops are better for the environment because of the nutrient-rich natural fertilizers that are used, and the resulting organic crops have higher market value, in turn benefiting the farmers.
The workshop involved separating the group into three small teams, one focusing on “Waste Collection,” one on “Waste Treatment,” and one on the “End Product: Organic Fertilizer.” Each team discussed and recorded 1. the internal and external factors facing this step of the waste management process; 2. supporting factors; 3. regulations and public/social behavior relating to each category.
Collection: financial means to build collection infrastructure in the Sour area are nonexistent, combined with zero competence from the local authorities on developing a plan. Security could be an issue in this unstable region, and there is a major lack of data on the amount of waste collected, the composition of that waste, and any projections for the future are also nonexistent. Municipality workers are not supported by the government, and antiquated internal regulations from 1964 are still the basis of all regulatory action regarding waste management. Additionally, there is a complete lack of public awareness surrounding waste management and the importance of preserving the environment, and local residents have no incentive to sort their waste.
Treatment: local resistance exists to building processing facilities — the NIMBY (not in my backyard) syndrome was discussed more than once. Past failures in regulation and cases of major pollution in all parts of Lebanon (famously the Beirut slaughterhouse dumping all waste into the Beirut River near Bourj Hammoud), are common and painful reference points for the Lebanese people. Most importantly, however, there is no clear, responsible entity for waste management or treatment, and therefore nothing is done.
One of my team members cited a treatment facility that he oversees that was donated with USAID funds which is completely ill-suited for its placement — the technology provided requires sorted waste, and because sorting is not a practice in this part of the world, the capacity of the machinery (which is already too small for the tonnage produced in the area), is further reduced. The municipality ended up spending almost $2 million on a project that was not supposed to cost a penny.
Employment opportunities exist at every step: truck drivers, sorters, recyclable product manufacture (outdoor furniture, vegetable crates, etc), fertilizer production, refinery, packaging and sales. Boiling it down to a few essential factors; support for innovative waste management practices is needed at both municipal and social levels in order to build the necessary political will and popular understanding of the benefits that can be generated from efficient waste treatment practices.
Final Product: Organic Compost: quality is the top priority, and the common understanding is that compost produced from municipal organic waste is of very poor quality. Here’s why:
2,200 tons of compacted waste are collected on a daily basis by Sukleen, but the processing facility can only process 400 tons per day. The 81% of waste that cannot be processed is baled, wrapped in plastic, and tossed in Sukleen’s overflowing landfill, also known as “trash mountain.” The 400 tons has a different life - and this is where the unfortunate truth about compacted waste enters the picture. If waste is compacted, as it is in any conventional garbage truck, organic waste is combined with shattered glass, plastic, metal, toxins, and anything else that might end up in a trash bin. Sukleen “separates” the recyclable materials from organics, shreds the organics, (without removing numerous foreign objects like batteries and other debris), and then packages it and sells it. Poor quality? Duh.
Cedar Environmental’s model is different, beginning with the trucks. Waste is NOT compacted, and therefore it still has value when it enters the processing facility. The process is greatly simplified if waste is sorted on-site before being discarded, but CE’s currently operating Municipal Recycling Facilities sort all waste on-site. And it’s working - the resulting fertilizer product receives the highest quality ratings possible under USEPA, EEC, and Canadian standards.
At the “Final Product” phase, public perception needs to change. Labels, quality certification, and marketability need to become a constant presence in order for this alternative to catch on. The entire cycle of collection, treatment, and resale can bolster local economies, but a massive information campaign must come first in order to educate the public on the rationale behind waste treatment. Some are optimistic, but most are skeptical, saying that the Lebanese people will not consider “sorting waste” to be an acceptable employment opportunity.
The hope is that creating suitable work environments, building employment opportunities that will last long into the future, and strengthening local organic food production will show job-hungry Lebanese the value that can be generated through sustainable waste treatment.