GO FOR GREEN

Lebanon 2018 | GREEN ECONOMY | REVIEW

Though still reeling from an unresolved three-year trash crisis, Lebanese companies and NGOs are picking up the slack in providing much-needed waste management and energy solutions through decentralized and eco-friendly methods.

Though the “You Stink!" campaign failed to bring down the government at the height of the summer 2015 trash crisis, the political and ecological fallout from that year's aestival stench did not end there. While much-needed structural reforms have yet to be made to national waste management, the protests that began three years ago have sprouted in various directions: first, a considerable political movement in the capital, Beirut Madinati, which won its first seat in parliament in May 2018; and second, the Waste Management Coalition, a vocal new civil society organization campaigning against the government's proposals to use trash incinerators.

Equally important, it has led to a flurry of new eco-friendly companies and NGOs working to resolve Lebanon's chronic waste and environmental problems the Lebanese way—i.e. on their own. TBY talked with one of the country's leading organizations, Cedar Environmental, and its director Ziad Abichaker to discuss how Cedar's two sister companies, Greenius and Green Ideas, were doing their part. Apart from composting at its material recovery facilities throughout the country, Greenius has patented its own technology that recycles plastic bags and scraps into palette boards and set up its own in-house-produced street recycling bins across the capital, whose bottles are then transported to the southern Lebanese town of Sarafand and repurposed by local glass-blowers. The company also builds urban green walls and implements urban farming structures, using eco-boards in production facilities of which the firm is undertaking a USD1-million investment. As Abichaker told TBY, the technology is already there to recycle 90-95% of all the country's waste, which is why burying or burning it no longer makes any sense.

Overall, his vision of a far more decentralized set of solutions to greening Lebanon's waste and energy sectors already seems to be the wave of the future. Within Beirut, an organization called Recycle Lebanon is on the verge of opening its first Ecosouk, a hub where eco-friendly residents can take their rubbish to be sorted and processed. Working with local businesses, schools, and restaurants, you ring them up and they come and take your recycling off your hands, employing Syrian refugees in the process and providing much-needed source of income for some of the country's most vulnerable inhabitants.

On the other side of Mount Lebanon in the Bekaa Valley, the town of Zahlé is doing with green energy what the rest of the country has even failed to do with diesel: supply residents with electricity 24 hours a day. Three years ago, the same time the trash crisis was suffocating the country, the local private utility Electricité de Zahlé (EDZ) leased a string of generators from a British-based firm, pumped the energy into the local grid, made up the difference lacking from the state utility, and consolidated into one what had previously been two utilities bills for each consumer—one paid to the state and the other to expensive local generator operators, disparagingly known as the “generator mafia."

Though threatened with violence and even the occasional gunshot, EDZ persisted and hundreds of residents with solar panels now sell electricity back to the grid. It is the only city in the country with the necessary legal arrangement (“net metering") necessary to do so. Indeed, a solar panel installation company that TBY spoke with, Green Essence, said it went from two or three installations in 2013 to over 150 in 2017 alone. Though the energy-sharing arrangement of Zahlé's micro-grid has been notoriously difficult to reproduce outside its own geographical remit, it still offers a promising alternative to hundreds of towns and municipalities around the country.

With 300 sunny days a year, Lebanon cannot afford to miss out on the bevy of opportunities provided by solar solutions. According to Pierre El Khoury, general director of the Lebanese Center for Energy Conservation, an offshoot of the Ministry of Energy and Water, the central bank has launched a low-interest loan program for solar projects that has already led to hundreds of installations. And in February, the Energy and Water Minister announced the country's first public-private partnership agreement for three wind farms in the northeastern province of Akkar. According to Khoury, the country is on track to provide 12% of all its energy needs with renewables by 2020.