Lebanon is half the size of Sicily and a quarter the size of Switzerland, and it has hosted over a million and a half refugees since the beginning of the civil war in neighbouring Syria. Meanwhile it faces a severe waste crisis, with a dearth of services and tons of untreated waste routinely burned or dumped in the Mediterranean. How do you start to address these problems? Recycle Beirut has created a solution for both; a social recycling business that provides jobs for refugees, mainly women, whilst building a national green economy.
Every day Recycle Beirut takes tons of waste from homes, businesses and schools to its sorting and packaging warehouse before sending it to recycling factories around Lebanon to be made into new products. Meanwhile, displaced Syrians are empowered, given social stability and the chance to get their lives back on track.
We caught up with co-founder and CEO Kassem (or Sam) Kazak. What has he learned since setting up Recycling Beirut in late 2015?
Honesty is the best policy
“We need to be very honest with our clients. We allow everybody to access our warehouse and see how it works and where the recycling goes. We show everyone our suppliers, give tours to people, and frequently post out activities on social media. So people trust us and support us and they believe that we are doing the right things.”
Be the change
“Solutions should come from individuals, because no one will come and solve the problems except you.”
A crisis is also an opportunity
“Sometimes we can create a solution from a crisis. That’s what happened with us; we merged the refugee crisis and the garbage crisis and came up with a solution, and so far it’s working.”
Build it and they will come
“When we started the recycling pickup service, some of the clients were Lebanese and some of them were foreigners. We targeted the Lebanese especially because they don’t have the mentality of recycling here. However they were convinced about this solution from the start and wanted this experience. Lebanese people want to follow others in the world in a positive social way. This helped us a lot.”
Trickle down impact
“We have 17 refugee workers and they are all now recycling at their own houses. They came from poor and uneducated families but they have started recycling because they believe it is something good. Recycle Beirut has played a role in changing their way of thinking. It has changed their mentality to be productive and responsible people towards the community, government and environment.”
Positive mental attitude
“We have to look at crises in a positive way; often the solution is very simple but you just need to look at it in the right way and be willing to work on it.”
Sorting from the source
“Sorting from the source is the only solution in any garbage or waste service. This mentality didn’t exist before because there were no recycling services here; all garbage was mixed together so recyclable materials were contaminated, low quality and expensive to sort. Sorting from the source means recycling at the beginning of the chain at houses and businesses.”
Lebanon needs to mobilise
“Many people in Lebanon are waiting for the government to fix garbage problems, but won’t do anything themselves. We are working on raising awareness about the garbage crisis here – everyone needs to sort from the source.”