Solving Two Crises at Once: Refugee and Waste

Startup Spotlight

Recycle Beirut is employing Syrian refugees to recycle waste in Lebanon. It was one of the seven winners at the MIT Enterprise Forum Innovate for Refugees Competition in partnership with Zain Group and MBC Hope.


By Maya Sioufi


Lebanon has countless issues to deal with, chief amongst them the garbage crisis which has been ongoing since July 2015 as well as the Syrian refugee crisis with over 1.5 million refugees in Lebanon amounting to 25% of the population. One startup is looking to address both crises at once.


Recycle Beirut employs Syrian refugees to collect recyclables (paper, plastic and glass) from households and businesses in Lebanon. The startup was selected as one of the winners at the MIT Enterprise Forum Innovate for Refugees Competition which took place in Jordan in October of this year.


How it all started


Palestinian founder Sam Kazak used to live in the Shatila refugee camp. A database engineer with a degree from the Beirut Arab University, Sam works at the non-governmental organization Première Urgence Internationale as a database engineer. A refugee himself, Sam was keen on developing a solution that would empower the refugee community.


“I wanted to create jobs for refugees. Given that recycling is one of the biggest industries in the world in terms of jobs created, I thought that would be a good way to create jobs” says Sam.


The idea for the startup started about a year before the garbage crisis and involved in depth research including interviews with waste collectors. Operations were launched one month after the start of the garbage crisis.


In Lebanon, Syrian refugees are only allowed to work in a limited number of sectors: agriculture, construction and cleaning. This law enabled Recycle Beirut to legally register 17 Syrian refugees. The founders want to partner with development agencies to expand reach of employment and employ over 50 refugees next year.


In the near term, Recycle Beirut wants to expand to cover other areas in Lebanon as well as develop a tile business from green glass and construction waste. The tiles are currently at the American University of Beirut being tested for strength of material and safety. They also want to partner with municipalities to manage their waste and turn products into higher value materials such as tiles.


Looking forward, the startup has bigger ambitions: to provide material for LEED certified buildings. LEED is a certification program that recognizes the best-in-class building strategies and practices.