In a country where composting isn’t common, social enterprise FERN has come up with a solution

Until recently restaurateurs in Lebanon who wanted to dispose of their organic waste responsibly didn’t have many options. FERN (Food Establishments Recycling Nutrients) is taking on this challenge

What’s the background? Lebanon is experiencing a waste crisis, where one company ‘manages’ waste for more than half of the population.

Recycling rates are not published, and composting is not common.

FERN works with restaurants to analyze the waste stream, train staff to sort waste into organic and recyclable categories, and collect all waste for environmentally responsible treatment.

We wish to create a linkage in the long-broken agricultural chain, reconnecting food waste with regeneration by transforming discarded organics into organically certified fertilizer with one of our collaborating companies.

We hope to create employment opportunities in the ‘green’ sector here in Beirut, where sustainability is more often used as a marketing ploy than as a true method for environmental stewardship. Working with restaurants allows us to advocate for improved waste treatment procedures, operating in the public sphere without immediately requiring wide-ranging behavioral change.

Give us the low-down on how the initiative was implemented We launched operations in November 2012 in five locations and have since begun negotiations and analysis with 10 more locations.

After analyzing the waste stream, we organize staff training sessions with management, where we sit with all staff to describe the program and explain the sorting process.

All Lebanese people are aware of the presence of garbage on streets, beaches, and in forests, and the most effective engagement method is to explain the potential impact of this project on the surrounding urban environment.

Staff training utilizes a waste sorting exercise during which we call on staff members to determine the proper category, either ‘organic’ or ‘recyclable’ for different items that are commonly found in the waste stream at each establishment.

After implementing sorting, incorporating color-coded categories with differently colored garbage bags, signs, and bins, FERN begins daily waste collections. Organics are transported to a nearby facility where one of our partner companies transforms the waste into organically-certified fertilizer and compost. We further sort all recyclable materials in our warehouse, and re-sell these materials through a growing informal recycling network that exists in the Beirut area.

What impact has your initiative had on your business and the environment? A commercial (non-industrial or municipal) solution for environmentally responsible waste treatment does not exist in Lebanon. Most municipalities do not take proper precautions when managing household and commercial waste, and the waste management companies themselves do not have reporting requirements and it is therefore very difficult to discern the work that they are doing to reduce wastefulness and improve recycling recovery rates.

FERN has allowed restaurants to adopt responsibility for their own waste. Rather than depend on the insufficient solutions of a corrupt government, establishments that participate in FERN’s program directly help to support the costs of composting and recycling activities.

We collect data on the waste stream in all participating establishments, and will soon report on the volumes of waste generated and average percentages of different materials discarded. We hope that by acting and disseminating information, we can shed light on the massive amounts of organic waste that are wasted rather than returned to the agricultural cycle.

We hope to develop collaborations with local farmers that can help to close the loop with us.

We would like to thank our partner, The British Embassy in Lebanon, for their early support and encouragement. We are also greatly appreciative of our collaborators, Cedar Environmental, beirutrestaurants.com, beirut.com, and 961 Beer, for making composting and recycling a reality for food establishments in Beirut.

This article forms FERN’s (Food Establishments Recycling Nutrients’) submission into the Waste & Resource Management category of the 2degrees Sustainability Champions Awards 2013. It was written and submitted by Meredith Danberg-Ficrelli, co-founder and CEO, FERN.