In the past weeks, the streets of Beirut saw an evolving amount of debris, a mountain of broken glasses and crumbled bricks. The waste that is estimated to weigh at around 200,000 tons has been growing since August 5th, a day after the explosion in the port of Beirut.
The responsibility of the enormous amount of glass and concrete waste lies with the Municipality of Beirut and the Ministry of Environment. However, no official solution has been presented.
The lack of efforts from the government to fix this issue, combined with Lebanon’s history of poor waste management, came about a new Lebanese initiative called “Rubble to Mountains.”
Its aim is to collect and reuse the debris from Beirut’s damaged areas to rehabilitate excavations and rebuild mountains.
As well as this, the plastics and glass will be recycled and made into park benches and bins for the city.
“I started the project out of anger to try and do something for these people,” Daoud, head of the Rubble to Mountains’ initiative said. “I did not wait for government approval to begin dealing with the growing pile of debris.”
Next to other NGOs on the ground, Daoud chose to put his professional knowledge of recycling into use with the help of experts from the environment and engineering departments at the American University of Beirut (AUB).
The project has received financial help from the UN Habitat and internationally recognized companies, such as Nestle and Diageo with an estimated cost of $2.3 million.
Daoud expressed his fear that the debris waste would be removed in the easiest way possible, which, according to him, would open doors for waste management companies to exploit the situation and charge up to $266 per ton of debris while adding to the country’s hazardous waste dump issue.
“It was a lengthy process to locate a safe area to store the waste in the city. The dangers to public health were high,” Daoud said. “It took a meeting with the Municipality, the Lebanese army, and the port authorities before a decision was made.”
Mona Hallak, director at AUB who has been working with Daoud on the project, explained that there was an initial idea to transfer the waste to Naameh, 20 km south of Beirut, or to Chouaifet, where an old garbage site exists near the city’s airport.
“The constant attempt to move the debris and sort it to another land outside Beirut, we resisted it. Otherwise, we would have transported the problem to another place.” Hallak said.
However, leaders of the Rubble to Mountain’s initiative came to an agreement with the Municipality, which offered a plot of land in Karantina, opposite the Bakalian flour mill.
Over the past months, the Rubble to Mountain team has been separating the glass and concrete debris into piles, along with the thorough task of removing every bit of garbage or plastic.
After that’s done, they test for any traces of contamination, with samples sent off to specialist laboratories in France.
Issam Srour, Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at AUB became involved in the initiative. In a public statement, he explained the reason behind Lebanon’s poor waste management:
“One reason is economics. The cost of getting rid of waste is almost zero. People will hire someone who will for very little take the material and most likely dump it on the side of roads, causing all sorts of environmental problems.”
Rubble to Mountains’ main end-goal is to use the waste to rehabilitate the country’s crammed mountainsides.
AUB has expressed hope that this project might lead to a change in legislation within the Ministry to manage future waste in an environmentally conscious means.
Rubble to Mountains has been estimated to take around eighteen months to complete. However, without the initiative, the waste could have once again been thrown away in our beautiful mountains, polluting nature and ecosystems.