ECODIT: Innovating Local Solutions to Solid Waste Management in Lebanon

Feb 11 2022

Lebanon is famous for its Mediterranean views, sprawling mountains, and miles of countryside. But one problem threatens the natural resources, health, and prosperity of the country and its people: trash. Lebanon’s trash crisis began in 2015 when a large landfill site closed and dumping and burning waste on the streets became widespread, leading to civil unrest. Unfortunately, the country still lacks an integrated solid waste management (SWM) strategy. The situation became even more dire on August 4, 2020, when a tragic explosion at the Beirut port generated massive amounts of broken glass and other solid waste. To solve this problem sustainably, local governments, communities, civil society, and the private sector will need to come together to design and implement integrated SWM solutions. That is where USAID and ECODIT come in. 

In July 2020, USAID/Lebanon awarded ECODIT the Diverting Waste by Encouraging Reuse and Recycling (DAWERR) Activity, a five-year, $15 million project that will establish sustainable and replicable integrated solid waste diversion and valorization solutions in rural areas of Lebanon. The DAWERR activity is part of the USAID/Lebanon Initiative to Deliver Essential Assistance and Services (IDEAS) Broad Agency Announcement (BAA), a funding mechanism that addresses the challenge of improving essential service delivery through clusters of municipalities in partnership with the private and not-for-profit sectors.

ECODIT is implementing DAWERR with three local partners: (1) ECODIT Liban, ECODIT’s sister company in Lebanon, which implements environmental projects with development partners; (2) Compost Baladi, a social enterprise that enables the recovery of organic waste and its valorization via composting; and (3) Berytech, an NGO that helps develop and nurture startups. These organizations actively engaged in the project’s design phase and participated with ECODIT in the co-creation process under the IDEAS BAA. 

“ECODIT’s emphasis on utilizing local solutions and developing local capacity has always been a core tenet of our work. We pride ourselves on the strong partnerships we have with local organizations in Lebanon, and are committed to collaborative action that achieves much-needed and sustained progress in the country’s SWM sector.”

ECODIT President Roula Attar

The DAWERR Activity is now working with local authorities and communities in seven municipalities to devise and pilot novel SWM solutions, and to enhance these by engaging private and public sector entities. For example, the Activity facilitated public-private partnerships (PPPs) between several municipalities and FabricAid, a Lebanese social enterprise that collects, sorts, upcycles, and redistributes clothes to disadvantaged communities. 

In addition to municipal pilots, the Activity is working to mobilize young entrepreneurs to contribute fresh perspectives and new solutions to SWM. The project launched a five-day “Ideathon” that convened Lebanese entrepreneurs and startups to learn more about SWM challenges in Lebanon, receive support from mentors and experts, and pitch creative SWM ideas to a jury of experts. The winners, Lebanese University Environment, a team of students that will make biochar from organic waste by pyrolysis to be used as fertilizer, and EcoFriendlyConcrete, an enterprise focused on replacing concrete constituents with recycled materials, will receive grants and technical support from DAWERR. 

The DAWERR Activity also worked with the Lebanese private sector and startups to develop the DAWERR Clearinghouse, an online platform for source-separated recyclables to match demand and supply while ensuring transparency across the solid waste Recycling Value Chains.

To launch the Clearinghouse, encourage participation, and foster innovation, the Activity held a four-day bootcamp in which private sector companies had the opportunity to network, receive coaching from local specialists, explore the market, and develop a valid business model for an e-commerce platform. At the end, entrepreneurs pitched ideas for online businesses to a jury that selected Live Love Recycle, a mobile application that connects people to recycling collection services; Nadeera, a social enterprise that designs rapid, fit-for-purpose, and citizen-centric SWM masterplans and deploys technology to support their implementation; and VerdeTech, Lebanon’s first full-service licensed recycling company, which will campaign to raise awareness on the problem of electrical and electronic waste. The Activity will provide financial and technical support to these winners to help them launch and sustain their products and services, while building up the Clearinghouse as a dynamic online platform.

“We are pleased with the results that our partnerships with local organizations are producing, both in terms of increased local capacity for effective SWM and positive impact on communities and livelihoods,” said DAWERR Chief of Party Jad Sakr. “What we have here is the potential for empowered communities and determined innovators to revolutionize SWM in Lebanon, and that is truly exciting.”