The Garbage Warrior

post 257/365


“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark”

William Shakespeare, Hamlet

There is definitely something rotten in the state of Lebanon. It is ever present on our streets, in our sea, in the air that we breathe, in the water we bathe in, and dumped in the beautiful valleys that surround us.

After the end of the civil war, due to incompetence and corruption, the Lebanese government failed to develop a modern solution to manage the country’s waste, and resorted to burying it in landfills with little to no downstream processing.

It failed on many levels. It failed to create a public transport system that ironically existed long before the war. It failed to safeguard the beauty of the city and Beirut saw itself little by little loose its so called demure of “the Paris of the middle east” to becoming a concrete jungle with no urban planning whatsoever. Those are just a few pointers on the long list of what not to do in reconstructing a city after a war.

The Lebanese government and the private contractor Sukleen, which was paid hundreds of millions of dollars to collect rubbish from Beirut and Mount Lebanon, acted little more than a “garbage taxi,” in the words of Ziad Abi Chaker, one of Lebanon’s leading environmental entrepreneurs. Up to 80 percent of waste is buried and little of the remaining 20 percent is recycled or composted.

Ziad Abi Chaker and others have instead proposed decentralizing rubbish collection and downstream processing by working with local municipalities. Municipalities, together with citizens and environmental NGOs, can handle the sorting and collection of waste and then sell it to private recycling businesses for some revenue that goes back into improving infrastructure

Ziad Abi Chaker, dubbed the garbage man is more of a garbage warrior, a multi-disciplinary engineer who specializes in building Municipal Recycling Facilities on the communal level going against the trend of a centralized recycling plant, is the country’s voice on recycling and sustainability. While doing research at Rutgers University in New Jersey, USA, his team developed the technology to accelerate the composting cycle of organic waste in an odorless manner to produce high-grade fertilizer.

After returning to Lebanon in 1996, Ziad started Cedar Environmental, an environmental and industrial engineering organization that aims to build recycling plants to produce organically certified fertilizers. The plants do not produce waste material to be disposed of because the waste is recycled into a new form of product to be used again. Most municipalities in Lebanon and the Middle East cannot afford to buy recycling plants, so Ziad arranged for local banks to give his company soft loans to build the recycling facilities and municipalities would only pay for the service of recycling/composting in comfortable monthly installments not exceeding US$4 per household per month.

Their aim is to group as many municipalities as possible and build local recycling plants for them, trying not to exceed the amount of 50 tons per day for a community larger than 100,000 residents.

Faced with many challenges like finding a land where to erect the facility as no one wants a recycling plant in their neighborhood and finding enough municipalities able to pay them for the recycling service rendered, have pushed them technically to research new methods and technologies to eliminate odors from the process and most importantly to reduce to ZERO the remains of untreated waste which would go to a landfill.

Recently, Ziad and his engineering team developed new technology to transform plastic bags into solid plastic panels used in the outdoors to replace wooden and steel panels.

They say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. So it is for Ziad Abi Chaker. While the general public is reduced to the role of a passive observer who sits and watches what his fate will be, there are a couple of people and NGOs in Lebanon who are working tirelessly against the corrupted minds of the ruling parties to bring positive change to this country of many facets.

It is not the deeds done in prosperous times that challenges one’s resilience, but the ability to swim against the tide holding a flag of hope while actively seeking, fighting, and trying to make a change that puts one’s might to the test. There is a beautiful Native American proverb that says: we do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.

This post is dedicated to those who actively seek to make my children’s world a better place…

Please Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle

TedxBeirut with Ziad:


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