Red, blue, green, grey and brown. A series of colored bins rests on the cobbled walkway of Downtown Beirut, almost mocking the nature of an age-old and possible outdated infrastructure. The red bin is marked with the plastic bottle symbol, the blue with a picture of an aluminum can, the green with glass bottles, the grey with paper and the brown with the image of a hand throwing away regular unsalvageable trash. Is recycling really as simple as this? Is this all that goes into the process? What exactly signifies “going green” and how can you apply simple techniques into everyday life? Here are two young initiatives helping to answer these questions.
ACT Now, A mission for positive change
Paula Sroujean Abdel-Hak, president of Active Advocacy for Communities of Tomorrow (ACT) explained that the objective of her NGO is to encourage individual and group initiatives aimed at the well-being of general society. Their aim is to start small, taking recycling one step at a time. They strive to teach people firstly how to sort paper, before moving on to paper and plastic, and then paper, plastic, metal and so forth, until it becomes a natural and internalized process.
Everyone can play a role in protecting the environment by recycling at least half of their waste through the proper channels. ACT is now working on improving the primary system of reducing and reusing by helping people learn what can be recycled, (e.g. fabrics, copper and other metals) and what can’t be recycled, (e.g. soiled candy wrappers, apple rinds, certain plastic and paper items). Abdel-Hak clarified that people simply require a little bit of guidance when it comes to new endeavors, especially when a “don’t know, can’t do” attitude is prevalent. Awareness is key, because sorting at the source (i.e. in the HOME) is the bulk of what recycling entails.
“Everyone can play a role in protecting the environment by recycling”
Every six months, ACT holds a campaign to encourage people to dispose of whatever unwanted electric equipment they have, whether they are functioning or not. A pickup truck comes to a designated address and collects any unwanted electronic device, be it an old mobile phone, an MP3 player, a remote control, an emergency flashlight, household items like broken juicers or blenders and delivers them to specialized recycling companies. The money received from this campaign goes toward organizing activities for deaf children, who are given sessions to learn about graphic design and expand their educational horizons.
Recycle Today for a Better Tomorrow
Rima Salameh Aboulmona, an online news desk journalist, had been an avid recycler for many years. Witnessing yet another Lebanese generation blindly ignoring the sanctity of earth and its resources ignited in her a steadfast mission to change her country’s attitude.
“The problems resulting from people’s neglect of our natural environment are a powerful reminder that we all have a contribution to make, not just recycling advocates. So I took the initiative to promote a better understanding of nature in order to ensure more security for our children and grandchildren.”
In coordination with L’Ecoute Association, which helps the deaf and disabled, Aboulmona has been trying to recruit volunteers from the American University of Beirut, the Lebanese American University, the American University of Science and Technology and various secondary schools in Beirut to participate in her project. These volunteers will be trained in recycling safety and hygiene protocols, such as ensuring that everything inside collecting bags is dry and clean, as well as perfecting the concept of blue (recyclable) and black (organic/ not recyclable) bags. They must abide by a schedule, according to the implementation of re-sorting materials one by one and day by day.
“I didn’t give up,” Aboulmona explained, “I tried for days, weeks, until finally I found someone who listened to me. Father Jean-Marie Chami of the L’Ecoute Association, which values the environment for the sake of human beings, did not hesitate for one moment to join hands with me. He showed great support for my initiative: Recycle Today for a Better Tomorrow, a project that aims to involve homes, businesses, restaurants, cafes, shops, cinemas, schools, pharmacies, spas, beauty centers, etc. on Verdun’s main street in recycling.”
She explained that recycling protects our habitat and saves energy, water and resources such as trees and metal ores. By recycling paper, cardboard, metals, plastics and glass, we can help reduce the harmful impacts associated with the extraction of the raw materials used to make these resources. Furthermore, manufacturing products from recovered recyclables is less polluting than producing the same products from newly harvested or extracted virgin materials.
“I wanted to start by changing my close circle, so I arranged once-a-week recycling pickup from my home building and a couple of adjacent buildings. Everyone expressed a positive attitude. It motivated me, realizing that sustainable development goals are achievable when everyone is playing a role.”
The project, though still in its infancy, will be launched in the coming months, under the auspices of Beirut Governor Ziad Chebib, who not only gave his blessing to the plan, but offered incentives to the people in order to encourage them to recycle. If there is one thing Aboulmona has taken away from her experience, it is that setting your mind on a goal and keeping it firmly and diligently in sight, you can work wonders.
“If every person gets involved we can have a powerful effect on our environment in a positive way. I’m sure everybody is aware by now that the right to life is dependent on the environment. People want to recycle. They just don’t know where to begin, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
It takes effort, it takes work, but Lebanon is developing a clearer conscience. These are projects to highlight what each person is capable of doing, because in the long run, they all add up. One person’s actions can change the course of another’s. This, in turn, becomes an expanding cycle, first a group, then a community, and then a society recognize the value of their lives and invest in the futures. Everyone can do their part to change their own small corner of the world.
To Be Recycled:
Newspapers, magazines, office/school paper, photos, books, calendars, milk or juice cartons, cigarette packages, cereal boxes, cards, corrugated or thick cardboard boxes (flattened), cores from toilet paper, cores from hand paper towel tubes.
Not To Be Recycled:
Organic and bathroom material/facial tissues
Leftover food (i.e. fruits and vegetables, meat, poultry, bones, eggshells, rice, beans, cheese, seafood, tea bags), greasy pizza boxes, tissue paper, toilet paper, paper towels, diapers, sanitary pads, wet wipes, napkins.
To Be Recycled:
Aluminum cans, glass and plastic bottles or jars, milk/juice/water bottles (with caps), milk/juice cartons, beverage cans, cups, trays, cleaned plastic cutlery, food tin cans (tuna/hummus/sardines, etc.), plastic buckets, kitchenware (pots and pans), yogurt/labneh/pudding cups, pastry trays, laundry/detergent/ cleaning bottles, shampoo bottles, all types of plastic bags (shopping/ grocery bags, laundry detergent bags, etc.) straws, deodorant sticks, facial cream jars, cosmetic tubes, cooking oil gallon, CDs/DVDs and their plastic cases, Take-away plastic/ aluminum containers/trays.
Tips on how to reduce and reuse
Reduce water and electricity consumption e.g. Turn the tap off when brushing your teeth so it doesn’t run needlessly and waste a gallon of precious water down the drain.
Recycle plastic and paper e.g. Avoid carrying multiple plastic bags from the shop. Try to put everything in one bag.
Reuse items in innovative and creative ways e.g. Make garden pots out of old soda bottles to plant vegetable seeds, fruits, spices, herbs and flowers.