AUB USP scholars take on Lebanon’s trash problem with Compost Barja project

​​​​Sari Monzer, Office of Communications, media@aub.edu.lb

In 2015, the Lebanese government shut down the landfill in Al Naameh that had been accumulating around 2,500 tons of waste generated daily from Beirut and the Mount Lebanon Governorate. In the absence of a contingency plan, waste was sporadically being dumped in rivers, on beaches, and at random dumping sites located in Beirut and surrounding areas. In response, pioneering scholarship student’s from AUB’s USAID-University Scholarship Program (USP) decided to take matters into their own hands as they tried to find a way to ameliorate the situation. These students originally from Barja, a neighboring town of Al Naameh, teamed up and devised a plan. Their proposed intervention was called Compost Barja.

Supported financially and logistically by USAID-USP, AUB’s Center for Civic Engagement and Community Service (CCECS), the Municipality of Barja, and Compost Baladi SAL, Compost Barja aimed to introduce and facilitate composting in the Barja community. As part of the initiative, the team went on a door-to-door campaign to promote and educate the community about waste sorting at the household level. Brochures, biodegradable bags, and large, 240-liter waste bins were distributed throughout the community. At the same time, a full-fledged composting system was installed on a plot of local land under the supervision of Compost Baladi SAL. 

According to the Mayor of Barja, an estimated 30 tons of waste are produced daily by the community of Barja. This waste was being dumped on local land without treatment and was having detrimental environmental effects that, in turn, were posing health hazards to the community as a whole. The air was being polluted as the waste either rotted or was being incinerated. Unsanitary waste disposal was also leading to the contamination of the groundwater that was the main source of drinking and irrigation water for the town. And when it came to composting, the Mayor of Barja stated that the municipality had neither the capacity nor the know-how to solve the accumulation of waste in the village. 

The project, which began in April 2018 and ended in June, culminated in the successful conversion of heaps of organic waste into fertilizer that was distributed throughout the community for use in gardening. “This project is evidence of the pioneering work that the USAID USP scholars have been accomplishing across Lebanon as well as a clear indication of how these scholars have grown to become agents of change in their respective communities” said Prof. Malek Tabbal, director of USAID-USP VI and AUB’s Leadership, Equity, and Diversity (LEAD) initiative.  

Compost Barja is one of many initiatives supported as part of AUB’s vision for cultivating leaders who have the public interest in mind. Funded by the American people, USP is the result of AUB’s partnership with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) which aims to provide deserving students the opportunity to study at AUB and to give back to their communities in the form of designing and implementing community service projects. According to USAID Counselor Thomas Staal, who spoke at the 2018 USP graduation ceremony that took place at AUB’s West Hall, “The USP is a model for a way of life that brings out the best in individuals so they can reach out to others to advocate for worthy causes and for their communities.”​