FERN [Food Establishments Recycling Nutrients]

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FERN [Food Establishments Recycling Nutrients]

Beirut, LebanonLebanon
Year Founded:
Organization type: 
Project Stage:
$50,000 - $100,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

An average 80-seat restaurant discards 80 kg of waste per day, and 75% or more of that garbage is organic. FERN analyzes the waste stream, provides waste separation training activities, conducts continuous followup activity, and collects waste from restaurants to facilitate composting and recycling.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

The dependence on landfills in Lebanon is economically, environmentally, and ethically irresponsible and unsustainable. Land is limited, materials are expensive, and the negative social and environmental impacts of waste disposal are long-lasting. Topsoils are rapidly disappearing, and food waste sent to landfills rots and creates methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. Waste separation and recycling are uncommon.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

FERN allows for the environmentally responsible treatment of waste by ensuring that it is sorted at source, collected daily, and distributed to recycling and treatment facilities. Implementation in each establishment begins with waste analysis, during which the average daily volume of waste is quantified. In the following staff training session, we introduce the concepts composting and recycling, and walk through a short interactive waste sorting exercise that introduces color-coded "Organic" and "Recyclable" categories. Our team conducts regular followup visits and we develop waste reduction guidelines for each establishment. We partner with a local composting company, and host monthly public events for engagement, education, and advocacy.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

We launched operations in November 2012 with five establishments in Beirut, and have since adopted five more. We analyzed waste, met and trained the staff, continue to visit the locations to check up on sorting activities, and our team collects waste daily. Initially, the staff is always skeptical, assuming that our project will require more of their time. After a few weeks of sorting waste, the staff finds that the new system is easily adaptable, and they are often enthusiastic to play a part in a process that has a positive impact on the environment. Our logistics team, young Lebanese men that do daily collections and manage the warehouse, are proud to be part of a fledgling initiative that counters conventional opinions of trash.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

The ten restaurants that we work with generate an average of 80 kg of waste per day, and we assume that 60 or more of those kilograms are food waste that is compostable. The other portion of the waste stream is packaging, especially cardboard, aluminium, plastic, and glass. We currently collect all inorganic material, and we network with an informal industry of scrap yards and materials processing and recycling facilities. The small revenues that we generate from selling recyclable materials are reincorporated into our operating expenses, (particularly, gasoline expenditures). Our continued followup in the restaurants is geared towards perfecting waste sorting, so that we can begin to collect the organic material and transport it to Cedar Environmental for composting. Lebanon's colored glass recycling facility waste destroyed in 2006, and we are developing future upcycling projects.

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

FERN's startup costs were supported by a one-time grant of $16,853 from the British Embassy to Lebanon. The establishments that participate in FERN's program provide monthly donations of between $100 and $400, which are calculated based on the amount of waste that they generate. We are seeking a grant to support the addition of 20+ establishments, so we can begin collecting organic waste and increase revenue from more recyclable materials.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Organic waste is treated as a valuable resource in many European countries, where municipalities carefully developed education campaigns to accompany commercial and residential waste sorting and collection. Most cities including Beirut lack the political will, resources, or both, to implement sweeping change. FERN is the only activity of its kind in Lebanon, and we believe that training and education are our most essential components. Helping individuals and the public to comprehend the motivation for our activities will do more to help the cause than collecting their garbage ever will.

Founding Story

I discovered the potential for FERN when I volunteered in Beirut during my MS Urban Policy and Sustainability Management program. I returned to New York and by the time my coursework was complete in December 2011, I was consumed by the drive to return to Lebanon and get my hands dirty. I was sitting alone on my couch immensely frustrated, staring at a page full of words related to recycling, environmentalism, composting, sustainability, urbanism, and far too many other concepts, when "Food," "Establishments," "Recycling," and "Nutrients" pulled themselves into line. GoogleDocs for training program development, mission statements, financial analyses, and legal documentation finally had a folder to call home, and I bought a plane ticket.
About You
FERN [Food Establishments Recycling Nutrients]
About You
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About Your Organization
Organization Name

FERN [Food Establishments Recycling Nutrients]

Organization Country
Country where this project is creating social impact

, Beirut

Has the organization received awards or honors? Please tell us about them

Seed grant from the British Embassy to Lebanon. We applied for and were awarded one grant for 10,700 British Pounds, for the period between October, 2012 and March, 2013.

We are finalists for the 2Degrees Sustainability Champions Award, in the Waste and Resource Management category. Results will be announced at an official ceremony in London on July 10th, 2013.

Nutrients For All
Where do you ensure the availability of nutrients?

Healthy environments., Nutrient-rich farming.

If you had greater capacity, which additional sectors would you like your solution to target - either through expansion, partnership, or thought exchange?

Full nourishment foods, Human wellness and vitality.

How specifically would this added capacity help you improve the quality, efficiency, or sustainability of your existing product or service?

We try to impact overall wellness through public education during our events and campaigns. However, with added capacity we would love to follow the food waste that we collect and distribute for composting directly to its end destinations.

We believe farmers can benefit from capacity building programs that focus on using compost for healthy, resilient soils, and long-term sustainable cultivation. We want children to have gardens at schools that act as breathing samples of nutrient cycles at work. Such ecosystems can range from full-scale gardens to tiny windowsill seedlings.