BEIRUT: Approximately three tons a day of recyclable trash are exempted from the inevitable fate of being burned or dumped in a landfill or in the Mediterranean Sea, courtesy of Recycle Beirut, a startup that saw the trash crisis as something that could be solved by starting small and growing larger..
The CEO and founder Kassem Kazak, a Palestinian national, said that Recycle Beirut contributes to the "social stability" of the local refugee community in the southern suburbs and works to help reduce the negative impacts of the ongoing trash crisis in the country.
"In Lebanon, there isn't a proper waste management process or a recycling culture coming from the government or its citizens," said Kazak, who added that the underlying "panic" of people with the word "trash" comes within the lack of a recycling mentality. The company aims to challenge the semantics used to describe trash. "What people often do not realize is that trash or garbage does not include recyclable material."
The startup makes a point of hiring refugees who range from materials sorters, warehouse workers, and managers, operations managers, drivers, and outreach coordinators. The initiative welcomes volunteers that can raise awareness within their various surroundings.
The enterprise started its operations in late 2015, the recycling venture rents a warehouse space in Ouzei where the collected recyclables are sorted by two Syrian refugee women. The refugees, Haela and Fatima, who live in the same area, said, “We come here from 9 A.M to 3 P.M, we sort the plastic, glass, and paper. We get paid on a weekly basis and the salary is relatively good." This part time work helps them provide for their children and for themselves.
“We pick up non-organic material from businesses, residential buildings, embassies, organizations in the Beirut, Metn and Baabda area,” said Kazak. The recyclables are dropped into the warehouse where they go into sorting lines to then be packed with plastic compressing machines. “We send them to manufacturing companies in Lebanon that include Elie Debs for plastic and Sipco for paper so that they are used to make other products. We send the metal to scrap yards in Shatila,” continued Kazak.
Currently, the company is picking up non-organic trash for more than 1200 clients and 250 businesses and organizations. Kazak mentioned that they also have clients delivering recyclables to the warehouse. Recycle Beirut charges 10$, a pickup per household or business and 5$ per household if the whole building wants to sign up.
Not all of the material is sent to manufacturers, Recycle Beirut is also launching a tile business: “We recently bought a crushing glass machine from Hong Kong, after the glass is crushed, it will be used as a substitute for sand in tiles with the white cement aggregate. This is an eco-friendly way of saving the sand from the mountains in Lebanon.”
Make Sense, an international organization helping social entrepreneurs, organized two workshops to study the tile project’s business model. The MENA’s community developer’s Elsa Abi Khalil said: “In both of the workshops, we invited engineers, architects, and businessmen to brainstorm marketing ideas and study the market feasibility of this project.”
Recycle Beirut decided to test the eco-friendly tiles by renovating Haela’s house. In addition to that, they are in the process of renovating a house in Akkar and a renovation center in Ouzei. Kazak is still looking for a marketing plan to make the business self-sustainable.
Aside from the tile business, Recycle Beirut is building furniture out of used wood and as an alternative to recycling, Kazak prefers reusing: “We have loads of books in our warehouse and we invite people to come and choose books for free.”
The Municipality of Beirut is helping the business by transporting recyclables from 40 buildings in Verdun, this contract is for two months and a half but Kazak hopes that this collaboration will continue.
The company is hoping to change warehouse location but the renting prices elsewhere in Beirut are expensive. The working conditions in the warehouse are not the best as there is not enough ventilation and a musty smell from the humidity. Kazak added that the low ceiling doesn’t facilitate loading and unloading pickup trucks.
“Our goal is to reach zero waste by composting, recycling and reusing," the startup founder said.
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