Tuesday, September 6, 2016

To solve the garbage crisis, Lebanon needs a Sorting & Recycling law

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Illustration borrowed from Hummus For Thought

Everyone in Lebanon has their own solution to the never-ending garbage crisis that’s been plaguing the country for over a year. We’ve been bombarded with so many of them, we don’t know anymore which is which. But there’s one simple and obvious solution that could easily end the crisis.

How many different solutions to the Lebanese garbage crisis have we heard about during the past year? Each politician, each NGO, each activist group has their own. And each is convinced that theirs is the only one capable of solving the crisis.

The debate seemed endless and the government lost in translation, not knowing what to do. So it did what it has always done: give in to the mafias. And now, everyone is busy trying to fix the unfixable and reduce the harm that will undoubtedly be caused by the current short-term quick fix!

Yet there’s one obvious solution that could end all debates, or in fact turn them into mere discussions about logistics, and offer a long-term answer to Lebanon’s garbage problem: a SORTING & RECYCLING LAW.

You may think: what is he talking about?, almost everybody has been advocating sorting and recycling, and some municipalities and many NGOs are already doing it. And you'd be right. But not entirely.

Recycling directory published by Lebtivity
- click here to download pdf -

So far, sorting and recycling has been advocated as a principle. Something highly recommended but not mandatory. Sadly, it's not working. Most Lebanese are still throwing away their trash as they used to before the crisis started.

Therefore I'm proposing to turn it into an abiding and enforced law, mandatory to everyone: individuals, companies, municipalities and government.

In other words: throwing our garbage randomly, as the overwhelming majority is currently doing, or adopting any solution that doesn't have sorting and recycling at its core, would be against the law.

If sorting and recycling were made mandatory by law, the actual waste left to get rid off would be nothing in comparison to the tens of thousands of tons we’re crumbling under today.

The waste, already sorted at home by people and companies, would reach sorting centers already separated into different parts. From there, each part would go to its relevant destination. The recyclable materials would go to recycling factories, while the organic waste would be disposed of.

And that could be done in many different ways.

It could be used as a source of energy or sold to countries that use it that way. It could be buried in eco-friendly landfills, without doing any harm to the environment or creating overflowing problems as we faced in Nehme and we’re currently facing in Bourj Hammoud – the lesser the amount of buried waste, the faster nature absorbs it.

If there were a Sorting & Recycling law, any way of disposal of organic waste adopted by the government and the municipalities would work just fine.

One can argue that the law in Lebanon is not the same for everyone. Politicians, their patrons and clients are too often above any law. But if such law existed, the people breaking it would be a minority.

The majority of Lebanese would abide by it – not willingly maybe, but heavy fines and severe sentencing would surely overcome reluctancy.

Having the overwhelming majority sorting at home would be a huge step forward. The law-breaking minority would be dealt with in many different ways: court cases, media and social media campaigns, protests, etc. But these would remain “anomalies”, the major part of the problem being de facto solved.

So how can we make it happen?

First, we obviously need to rally around the idea of a Sorting and Recycling law – by we I mean the different components of the Lebanese civil society (NGOs, activists or activist groups, intellectuals, journalists, bloggers, private citizens, etc.)

Then, we need to lobby political parties to present such law to parliament and vote for it. In parallel, we could organize large sit-ins to pressure both politicians and parliament to make this law a priority.

Solving the garbage crisis is, today, more urgent than anything else. It should take precedence over the haggling on who’s going to be president or on what to argue about at the infamous “dialogue table”.

Lebanon and Lebanese have no longer the luxury to indulge in byzantine debates. We need to be focused and single-minded. A Sorting & Recycling law can be just the way to end the garbage crisis once and for all.

© Claude El Khal, 2016