The Lebanese do not have a good record when it comes to the environment. There are few facilities for disposing of your waste in an environmentally-friendly manner, and those that do exist are often underused. But have you ever wondered what happens to the leftover scraps of food on your plate at a resturant or what pubs do with all their empty bottles? A new scheme aims to ensure that none of that waste ends up as landfill.
Food Establishments Recycling Nutrients (FERN), a nonprofit social enterprise based in Lebanon and advocating for environmental stewardship in food establishments, works with hotels and restaurants to help them both compost and recycle. Established less than a year ago by Meredith Danberg-Ficarelli and Naji Boustany, FERN aims to encourage establishments to reduce waste through a “multistep process beginning with a chat with the food establishment owners to explain what we do,” Danberg-Ficarelli says.
Once the restaurant is on board, FERN then conduct a waste analysis where they weigh the garbage and assess how much the venue generates every day. “The average resturant usually generates from 60 to 100 kilograms per day, with about 75 percent to 95 percent of that of organic nature,” Danberg-Ficarelli says. “Imagine how useful that would be as fertilizer for a greener Lebanon, instead of going to a landfill.”
The final step of the process is the staff training which, aside from going over the importance of recycling environment-wise, also involves training on recycling plastics and metals as well as organic items. “A challenge we face is to get staff on board as some just don’t care. But there are many who become very enthusiastic after our training and adopt the project wholeheartedly,” says Boustany.
Once a restaurant signs up, FERN collects waste twice daily and takes it to their small warehouse for further sorting. Organic wastes are sent to Cedar Environmental, a waste management company run by their collaborating partner Ziad Abi Chaker, who is offering them his services free of charge. Recyclables are sent to various end-line recyclers in Lebanon.
The company is already working with Hotel Gabriel in the Ashrafieh area of Beirut and with seven other restaurants in the city (Casablanca, Tawlet, Angry Monkey, Lux, Couqley, Mayrig and Pacifico). They are currently in the process of adding three new venues: Dragonfly, The Gathering and Urbanista. The majority of these restaurants are located in the Gemmayze area as it is part of FERN’s long-term plan to make it Lebanon’s first environmentally responsible community.
The main expense for FERN is gas for their collection truck, but there are also small salaries for their four staff members and driver, as well as the cost of the garbage bins they loan to the restaurants and the bags they provide them with.
The group’s funding comes mainly from the monthly donations made by the participating food establishments, but they have also received a grant from the British Embassy. They also run regular events the first Thursday of every month at Tawlet restaurant in Mar Mkhayel, with a different chef every month. “Though these events only raise enough to cover our operational costs, we want to have those events because we want people to learn about what we do, have fun and get excited about composting and recycling in Lebanon,” says Danberg-Ficarelli.
According to Boustany, incentives for restaurants, other than some minimal cost reduction that comes with more efficient waste management, are mainly social promotion through the exposure they get with FERN and being part of a community of environmentally responsible restaurants committed to social change.