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The less we buy, the less we waste

Can the socio-economic crisis help solve the waste crisis?

by Alexandre Boustany

Although waste has started to pile up again on the streets due to the fuel crisis and the ensuing logistic difficulties in collection, recycling companies, environmental and activist organizations, including the community-based platform Froz, are noticing a reduced amount of the overall waste generated by citizens and businesses.

The reason behind that? The current socio-economic crisis.

Shifting consumption habits

There is a direct link between consumption rates and waste generation. The higher our income per capita is, the more we consume, and the more we generate waste. One of the most devastating consequences of the current socio-economic crisis is the reduced purchasing power of the Lebanese people.

Instead of throwing huge amounts of food (which, according to the Waste Management Coalition, constitutes over 50 percent of Lebanon’s waste) like they did in times of “plenty,” people at restaurants are making sure not to over-order and to ask for the leftovers to go. In turn, the restaurants themselves are reducing costs by reducing waste. For example, they are reducing the availability of paper napkins and replacing paper menus with digital ones, although that is mostly in order to avoid the prohibitive cost of printing new menus every week due to the ongoing currency fluctuations. Rather than buying bottled water, a number of people are now shifting to water coolers and reusable bottles, saving around LBP 112,000 and 112 single-use plastic bottles per individual every month!

Other examples of reducing waste abound. Instead of showering their customers with plastic bags, many supermarkets are now making sure each bag is fully loaded, while some markets even charge a small fee for the bag, reducing the amount of single-use plastic bags being thrown away.

Rather than using virgin materials, a number of small local manufacturers are opting to source their materials from recyclable waste. Instead of sending their waste to landfills, a number of companies and organizations are opting to sell their recyclables to manufacturers as raw materials for new products – a win for both their pockets and the environment.

We are buying less: we have started to think about what to buy, how to reuse what we have, and what to give away. In short, our consumption habits are changing, which has reduced the amount of waste we generate. According to Froz’s e-commerce metrics, for example, sales of reusable menstrual cups have recently increased. Due to the increase in price of single-use pads, many women are now shifting to reusable alternatives, saving both money and the environment. Today, Froz’s platform promotes a large variety of products made mostly by local independent artists and small businesses from different recycled materials such as Dhalu’s recycled glassware, terrazzo plant pots incorporating shredded plastic by JP Recycle, BTDT’s recycled paper notebooks, and others. Such products not only make reducing waste convenient and engaging, but also create income for small businesses.

Furthermore, the “Shop Local” movement has soared. Due to the high prices of imported goods, people are opting for local more affordable brands. This not only encourages local brands to improve the quality of their products, but also helps reduce large amounts of CO2 emissions from international transportation of imported goods.

A crisis to solve another

The current socio-economic situation is by no account a good thing, but we can’t ignore the fact that we can use it as an opportunity to build better consumption habits – habits that help us solve the waste crisis.

Reducing waste seems promising, but what happens when the socio-economic crisis is over? Shall we go back to overconsumption and generating high amounts of waste? We are creatures of habits, so it depends a lot on the habits we build today.

We can use this crisis to our benefit and take the small steps required to build these new positive habits:

1.     Purchasing local and eco-friendly products

2.     Recycling household waste through Cedar Environmental, Recycle Beirut, and others.

3.     Following social media awareness pages like “gogreensavegreen” for tips and hacks.

4.     Reducing food waste by saving leftovers or donating excess food close to its expiry date to people in need through the FoodBlessed NGO.

5.     Buying spices, grains, and other groceries in bulk from local stores.

6.     Buying fresh produce and preserves from local producers directly or through markets like Souk El Tayeb or the Arcenciel NGO’s Beit el Mouzareh.

What new habits are you willing to build?

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Alexandre Boustany

Co-founder of the Froz waste-reduction social enterprise

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