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Twenty women in a basement help make Beirut green

Twenty women in a basement help make Beirut green
During a precious tea break, three of LiveLoveRecycle’s participants explained why they refer to themselves as an army.
If you visit LiveLoveRecycle’s Beirut warehouse, it is clear that the women working there do so with military precision. They have to, otherwise their intricate operation with dozens of moving parts simply does not function. They compare themselves to an army, providing assistance to their male colleagues on the front lines fighting a war against otherwise discarded plastic, paper and tin.

This year, the World Food Programme (WFP) invested in a Beirut-based recycling project which has been around for a while but struggled to find funding and support to get off the ground. Based around an app, it both allows Beirutis to request recycling pick ups and directs drivers on electric bikes to their homes or offices around the city. It is completely free to use and after being launched in April, it has over 2,000 regular users.

WFP’s funds came from Germany’s Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the project is owned by LiveLoveLebanon, a Beirut-based organisation that promotes the best of the country. It’s sibling, LiveLoveRecycle is the first-of-a-kind project in the country which has long sought to both find a sustainable recycling initiative and to tangible solutions to few employment opportunities for its vulnerable communities.

The unsung heroes of a greener Beirut

LiveLoveRecycle has two major benefits: it addresses a lack of accessible recycling opportunities in Beirut while also providing training and employment opportunities to some of its most vulnerable citizens. Four months into the project, the male drivers — the public faces of the project — have had their fair share of publicity. They have also been present at dozens of high profile events, advertising the initiative. But, there is a less visible female contingent there too which plays numerous vital roles.

Performing a variety of cleaning, maintenance and catering functions, the twenty female participants work up to 60 hours each month in exchange for US$ 200. That cash is loaded onto red electronic cards from WFP each month and can be withdrawn from any ATM.

Productivity and efficiency

“I spend mine on food and rent,” explained one participant Yasmine. “Both are expensive in Beirut.”

“I’m earning money and supporting my husband— that was unexpected when I came to Lebanon,” explained Nadia whilst Waffa nodded in agreement, adding, “life is a bit more equal now.”

I joined the three women as they took a break around a plastic table. They explained how their work days are rooted in routine and run with military like precision. The warehouse doors open at 7:00 a.m. As there is not much spare space in the warehouse basement, organization is key. There are methodical daily safety checks to perform on all of the electric bikes and the kits get a once over and a clean too.

At 8:00 a.m. sharp, the first of three shifts of drivers arrive. Like warriors preparing for battle, they pick up their equipment and begin strapping on knee pads and tightening helmet straps. The major difference however, is that these soldiers wear reflective vests.

From 9:00 a.m., phones ping and pick ups begin. The drivers depart on electric bikes rather than horses, into Beirut’s streets. Meanwhile, the women at base put down the cleaning apparatus and unpack boxes of food. They start to prepare nourishing meals for the first shift drivers on their return. “The food packaging gets recycled too!” explains Yasmine and she lobs one plastic container into a recycling bin.

A hive of efficiency
“We feel productive,” explained Nadia. “We are also meeting people now. I didn’t have a social life before I started working here.”

“I never expected to be doing something like this. Life is full of surprises.”

None of the three women want to stay in Beirut. They describe their lives here as transitory and are confident that they will return to Syria when possible.

“There were similar recycling concepts in Syria,” Nadia continued, “but nothing like this. When we go home, we can make it successful.”

From the outside, the concrete ramp down into a dark basement seems ominous. But down inside, the army of women have transformed it into a hive of efficiency. They’re playing their part in Lebanon’s recycling journey, soldiering on with the ambitions of a greener Beirut and eventually a greener Syria.

Read more about WFP’s work in Lebanon .