The waste management crisis has been a good awareness campaign for recycling. In the past two months, there have been numerous reports of municipalities demanding residents sort their waste at home. Zero Waste Act — a private-sector recycling initiative reports a deluge of interest from people who want to divert some of their trash from open dumps and parking lots. Ditto Arcenciel, an NGO with a recycling program. Both are also working more with municipalities since the crisis erupted. This is encouraging, but let us not be fooled. Well-intentioned interest will not be enough to get recycling going. To be an effective part of our future waste management, recycling needs an entire infrastructure and the number of local governments and individual people recycling must grow substantially.
The national waste management plan Lebanon may soon begin implementing envisions training municipalities on modern trash treatment practices and giving them funds to implement new projects. They will need legal tools as well. Lebanon does not have a single law for trash, so municipalities will be limited in how they can incentivize behavior change and punish non recyclers. Parliament must take any law it approves seriously, unlike the way littering was treated in the new traffic law. While the legislation banned throwing rubbish from a moving vehicle, it did not punish violators with points on their licenses. If people have not yet learned that their trash is their responsibility, we must have rules in place to force that lesson on them.
The private sector has a role to play too. Local industry buys recyclable materials. The Association of Lebanese Industrialists should do a demand survey and publish the results so the markets for various recyclable materials are clear. Sorting garbage is one thing, selling it is something else. The association and the Ministry of Industry should also encourage more manufacturers to see waste as an economic resource. Workshops would be one way to raise awareness.
Finally, we must all accept the challenge of properly managing waste. The first task municipalities have under the new national waste management plan is joining together to create service areas. This will require coordination and cooperation. Petty disputes must not derail this plan. Next, municipalities must find locations for waste management facilities. For this, we all must be willing to sacrifice. Each one of us must be willing to have a modern waste treatment facility in our backyard. If not, we’ll end up with more open, burning dumps.