New Internationalist 322 April 2000
Nobody is happier in the little southern village of Kfar Sir than its one and only police officer.
‘I can take things easy now,’ he tells me as he pulls up a chair and bids me sit down. It is around midday and he is having the sole of one of his shoes repaired at the cobbler’s.
I have driven the two hours from Beirut because I heard that a village in south Lebanon had found a way to solve its waste problem.
Considering that the inhabitants live with the constant threat of Israeli shelling and air raids due to the fighting nearby between Hizbullah guerrillas and the Israeli army, their preoccupation with a composting machine is intriguing.
‘Like all other villages, we used to burn our trash,’ says the friendly police officer, now strolling comfortably in his newly repaired shoes as he leads me to the site of the old trash dump.
‘The smoke was horrible, the smell was disgusting and flies were everywhere,’ he says. ‘I used to get 50 complaints a day and spent all my time soothing people. But I couldn’t do anything about it.’
But now his worries are over. He introduces me to Mohammed Nisr, the mayor of Kfar Sir, who swells with pride on learning that I am in the village to hear about the composting machine.
‘Mayors from all over the country are calling me or are coming to see for themselves what we have done here,’ he says. ‘Everybody is suffering from the waste problem because there is much construction here in Lebanon and we no longer have plots of land far away from people.’
Climbing into my car, the mayor guides me to the composting site. Here, a round drum, about ten metres long, rotates smoothly with conveyor belts on either side. Two workers sift through trash bags and remove nylons, plastics, aluminium, metal and cartons. The rest is duly placed on the input belt and is promptly devoured by the drum.
At the other end, barrels collect the resulting dark-brown organic sludge from the machine. ‘Look at this. It’s fast, clean and has no smell. At least 12 barrels are filled every day,’ explains Nisr, grabbing a sample.
I am curious to meet the ‘brains’ behind this machine and find myself facing an exuberant 30-year-old engineer named Ziad Abi Shaker. While pursuing his higher studies in the US he led a research team who over five years developed ways to convert organic waste into compost in the quickest, most cost-effective and least foul-smelling way.
‘We used a special mixture of enzymes and bacteria which eat into the organic garbage, transforming it into compost,’ he explains to me. ‘We then worked on developing the mechanics: how the drum rotates, how the garbage moves from one compartment to another.’
Back in Lebanon, he met officials from the Young Mens’ Christian Association who were also looking for ways to develop rural areas. And so, with funding from USAID, Kfar Sir became the first village to discover the world of quick composting.
‘This is the only machine outside the US which gives results in three days,’ says Abi Shaker proudly. ‘Others take from 70 to 90.’
Eager to use this healthy compost, the mayor of Kfar Sir has declared about 30,000 metres of municipality land as a natural reserve. ‘This is where it all goes,’ says Nisr as he leads me into the protected area where tree shoots surrounded by compost are planted.
‘This is going to be our park,’ he says, looking lovingly at his treasured trees. ‘Can you imagine people coming from all over to walk among the trees once they’re grown?’
That would be wonderful, I agreed, and leave the kindly mayor daydreaming about making Kfar Sir a small heaven on earth.
Reem Haddad is a reporter for the Daily Star in Beirut.
Help us produce more like this
Patreon is a platform that enables us to offer more to our readership. With a new podcast, eBooks, tote bags and magazine subscriptions on offer, as well as early access to video and articles, we’re very excited about our Patreon! If you’re not on board yet then check it out here.