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In Discussion with Reine Metlej, Founder of BIOwayste

Author: Angelik Nehme, Staff Writer Published: 05 Dec 2023


Interview n°1 of the Interview Series “Meet the changemakers” with Reine Metlej, Founder of BIOwayste and recognised in Forbes Middle East 30 Under 30, 2023.

BIOwayste

Numerous challenges have manifested on the international front due to climate change. While the world ponders the magnitude of threats and consequences this global challenge presents, innovative initiatives are attempting to rectify the situation. At a time that necessitates collective effort, individuals who go the extra mile to foster positive change and provide sustainable solutions become indispensable. This article will delve into the story, perspective, and vision of Reine Metlej, a young Lebanese woman whose drive and passion have landed her on the renowned 30 Under 30 Forbes List Middle East in 2023.


Roots and Routes


Tell us a little bit about yourself.


I am Reine Metlej, hailing from Akkar, North Lebanon. I hold a master's degree in civil engineering with a minor in environmental engineering. I have earned numerous certificates in business, sustainability, and entrepreneurship alongside my academic endeavours. I am a startup trainer and business consultant, collaborating with various accelerators, incubators, and private companies in Lebanon and internationally.

When I asked why she chose to pursue engineering, she shared an interesting anecdote: "When I was little, I loved drawing houses and wanted to become an engineer. As I grew up, it dawned on me that engineering was a heavily male-dominated field, so my bold personality drove me to major in civil engineering, aspiring to be a successful student amongst my male counterparts."

Post-graduation, her trajectory shifted towards environmental engineering and the business sector.


Career Evolution


We would love to hear about this career shift and to know more about "the why" behind your work with start-ups and accelerators. What is the story behind this transition?


It all started because I was an entrepreneur and got to participate in over 20 national and international programmes. I became more involved in entrepreneurship and fell in love with this field. As a result, I decided that I wanted to support other entrepreneurs by sharing my knowledge and experience with them.


BIOwayste Unveiled


BIOwayste

Could you walk us through how the BIOwaytse idea was born?


When I was working on my thesis on an overloaded dump site in Tripoli, I discovered that over half of the waste in this dumpsite and others in Lebanon is organic. After graduation, I participated in a competition for entrepreneurs, and during the ideation phase, I was already equipped with the knowledge of how different technologies treat waste. As a result, the idea of BIOwayste, which solves the organic waste problem and generates benefits from the existing waste, came to be.


How does BIOwayste operate, and what is its impact on the environment?


BIOwayste addresses crucial environmental challenges by offering a sustainable solution to organic waste. This innovative digestor converts organic waste, like food leftovers and animal manure, into two valuable resources: biogas, which can be used as cooking gas and liquid fertiliser. This reduces the environmental impact of organic waste, provides a renewable energy source, and supports eco-friendly agricultural practices. As we know, many people tend to use chemical fertilisers, but BIOwayste offers an alternative organic liquid fertiliser from sources that those same people have. BIOwayste contributes to waste reduction, renewable energy, sustainability, and agricultural productivity, thus positively impacting both the environment and communities.


How does the positive impact of BIOwayste fit into the broader picture of the global effort employed to combat climate change?


Global efforts to combat climate change are essential. We take pride in BIOwayste, as it aligns with the seventh, ninth, twelfth, thirteenth, and fifteenth Sustainable Development Goals: Affordable and Clean Energy, Industry Innovation and Infrastructure, Responsible Consumption and Production, Climate Action, and Life on Land.



Climate Change and its Disproportionate Impact


How do you think the impact of climate change manifests in developing countries and marginalised communities?


We know climate change has a detrimental impact on the international front. In the context of developing countries, climate change has numerous repercussions: water scarcity, agricultural challenges, extreme weather events, health risks, infrastructure vulnerability, and more. In Lebanon, to be specific, we encountered numerous health issues when we worked on the dumpsite in Tripoli. When we tried to understand the community living near it, we found out that there is a high percentage of cancer and other health problems among the people there.


What is the role of climate-related initiatives; specifically, BIOwayste?


BIOwayste is very important because it exemplifies sustainable entrepreneurship. In a region with diverse challenges, BIOwayste is proof of innovation, providing a tangible solution to organic waste management and contributing to a cleaner, more sustainable future. In our case, we know that our reasons are special. We are not just doing something for the sake of the environment, but for other benefits as well. For example, if a restaurant wants to use BIOwayste, they would not only be acting eco-friendly but also saving money on gas and fertiliser. It is a win-win for the client and the environment. We usually say that this initiative fosters environmental stewardship and opens doors for economic growth, job creation, and community empowerment. We aim to scale and enter different markets, meaning we need an extensive production process, requiring more employees.


We know you have received numerous job offers outside of Lebanon. What made you reject them?


I didn't leave because I believe in making a difference in my village at home. My passion is to empower others, which I am doing as a startup trainer, delivering workshops in vulnerable communities because I want to contribute to the growth and empowerment of people, starting in my community. I find fulfilment in being part of positive change where I am.



Women Empowerment


BIOwayste

What is women's role in the environmental field, and how important is it? What issues do they face in this industry because of their gender?


Women's participation in climate discourse and initiatives is vital because they bring unique perspectives, skills, and solutions to the table. Their inclusion is crucial for comprehensive problem-solving and ensuring that climate solutions address the needs of communities.


She then remarked how unfortunate it is that we do not see a lot of women in this field and that the "percentages are unfair". Reine also mentioned that she struggled at some point with being taken seriously as a woman and young professional, which frustrated her. However, it urged her to gain more knowledge and skills to prove that women can achieve many life goals in all industries.


She added: “It is essential to break gender barriers in a traditionally male-dominated field, which is what I have always worked on. I always try to support other women in any field.” She then recalled a sweet message from a young girl telling her she wanted to be like Reine Metlej, asking her not to change and to keep going. She commented: "I really love to receive such messages because they make me feel that I am succeeding in what I am doing. I appreciate this and want to support every woman."


Young People and Climate Action


What is your perspective as a young individual in the fields of entrepreneurship and environmental engineering? What advice can you offer the young generation, and how can they be better integrated into climate action?


As young people, we have a lot of responsibility. Our role is vital for shaping a sustainable future. Young people are passionate and innovative thinkers. Their ability to mobilise communities makes them a catalyst for change. Engaging young individuals in climate action is necessary, which involves fostering environmental awareness, education, and empowerment. I think it is necessary to integrate climate education into school curricula and create opportunities for young leaders to participate in decision-making. This will allow them to contribute to the global effort addressing climate change.


As a young individual, coming from a village far from the centre of Lebanon presented an additional barrier to my journey. In my immediate surroundings, opportunities were scarce. Overcoming this required resilience and determination. I learned resilience in everything I did, especially considering I often fought against these odds alone. However, this experience has shaped my perspective on extending opportunities to individuals in all areas of a country. I aim to achieve this one day: equal opportunities for people in all regions, nations, and places. This also emphasises the need for inclusive policies and support structures that enable individuals, regardless of location, to actively contribute to and benefit from the dynamic field of climate change.


Reine added that her perspective as a young individual is "grounded in a sense of urgency and responsibility." This results from how we are inheriting a world wounded by environmental challenges.

"We must engage in climate action because I believe in the power of our collective voice advocacy and innovative solutions to drive change. I see our generation as a key agent in pushing for policy changes, advocating for renewable energy, and promoting sustainable lifestyle." - Reine Metlej -

Final Advice


What would you like to add? Is there any message you would like to emphasise?


I am incredibly grateful for being recognised in Forbes Middle East 30 Under 30 2023. She shared: "I am driven to break barriers for women in environmental engineering and business. My vision is to leverage my platform to inspire women, sharing our stories and collectively working towards a sustainable future." She also urged young people to "Embrace challenges as opportunities and remember that every setback is a setup for a greater comeback. It is important to have a growth mindset, to be resilient, and stay true to passion, for it propels us forward." She further added: "Our unique voices hold immense power. We can drive positive change. We need to trust the process, learn from every experience, and believe in the profound impact we can make. I know sometimes the journey may be hard. I faced many challenges I don't usually speak about, but our potential is limitless. We must keep pushing boundaries and remember that we can shape our destinies and the world around us."

In the journey of climate-related entrepreneurship and technologies, a significant narrative unfolds — the vitality of climate action. This interview is not just an account of personal triumph; it's a testament to the critical part individuals play in alleviating the aftermath of climate change. As we struggle with environmental challenges on the global front, climate tech and other related initiatives highlight the importance of sustainable solutions. We must recognise our role in creating a future where creativity and environmental responsibility go together. Each attempt toward sustainability contributes a core piece to the puzzle of a resilient world in this climate crisis.



Reine Metlej interviewed by Angelik Nehme for The Conference Corner. Featured pictures provided by Reine Metlej.

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