Palestinians make recycling a habit with new eco-initiatives

A Palestinian fisherman prepares his fishnets along a beach off the Mediterranean Sea in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on September 2, 2020. (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP) (Photo by SAID KHATIB/AFP via Getty Images)
07 December, 2021
In response to Gaza's environmental crisis, Palestinians have helped to mitigate its effects by setting up a number of recycling initiatives. The New Arab speaks with the proponents of the scheme and how they help foster a new culture of recycling.

In recent months, Palestinian individuals have established a number of eco-initiatives aimed at recycling waste and turning it into environmentally friendly products. 

The Palestinian territories are suffering from an acute waste crisis. According to a 2018 report by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, the average household waste in the region stands at 2,551 tonnes a day, 1,835 tonnes in the West Bank and 716 in the Gaza Strip. Of this figure, 80 percent of the garbage is organic, whilst 20 percent is solid.

The individuals behind the various schemes told The New Arab they were predominantly motivated by helping to foster a new culture of recycling among the residents of the West Bank and the coastal enclave of Gaza. In doing so, they will help contribute to a positive feedback loop that reduces the effects of environmental degradation.

"Whilst it may take a while for the long-term effects to be felt, the need for Palestinians to set a personal example is important"

Ayman Abed Rabu, a Palestinian from the West Bank city of Nablus, is one such figure. The 46-year-old man told The New Arab that he laments the amount of waste that is spread across the West Bank, realising the effects that such pollution of the environment will have both on his community and for generations to come

Whilst it may take a while for the long-term effects to be felt, the need for Palestinians to set a personal example is important. Abed Rabu, by going out on missions to collect waste from the streets and find ways for it recycled has been invaluable in helping his community see the benefits of looking after the environment. 

Initially, Abed Rabu recycled solid waste only. Abu Rabu's first task was finding plastic, which could then be used in making dolls. 

"When I finished, I presented my recycled products to my wife… she praised my work. It was a great support for me and it prompted me to continue my initiative and move it from my house into other people's places.", he told The New Arab.

Palestinian workers sort through electronic waste such as batteries, a popular product in the midst of Gaza's electricity crisis. Whilst no formal means of recycling are available in Gaza, Palestinians have used their initiative in setting up local community schemes to help encourage recycling [Getty Images]
Palestinian workers sort through electronic waste such as batteries, a popular product in the midst of Gaza's electricity crisis. Whilst no formal means of recycling are available in Gaza, Palestinians have used their initiative in setting up local community schemes to help encourage recycling [Getty Images]

To spread his idea, the man invited his neighbours and taught them how to recycle household waste and turn it into valuable things.

Heba Aram, a neighbour of Abed Rabu, has since adopted his recycling methods and has turned waste into antiques, vases, and baby dolls. In addition, she was able to turn organic waste into compost that she uses in her garden.

"It's not hard; we only need simple tools, most of them are available in our households - scissors, adhesives, cardboard or watercolours should we wish to make figurines," she said.

Yet, the initiative of Abed Rabu did not stop there, and the man, whose day job is at the Palestinian Ministry of Environment, has started to set up hundreds of workshops, aimed at teaching the Palestinian youth the value of environmental conservation

"We should invest in the new generation, and make sure they are interested in keeping our environment clean, healthy, and safe," the man said.

He teaches students and their teachers how to recycle damaged car tyres and turn them into furniture for schoolyards or even recycle them into pots for farming.

Huda Thabit and her husband Salem, a Palestinian couple from the Gaza Strip, have the same passion and belief in the principle of waste recycling.

The couple, who live in the al-Nuseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip, choose to recycle tons of paper waste and turn it into eco-friendly drawing boards.

They came up with the idea four months ago when they found themselves in front of piles of paper waste and wanted to get rid of it.

Huda, a 40-year-old mother of four, has spent many years teaching the children and students in the schools how to write short stories that would change destructive behaviours for the readers. 

While doing so, she found hundreds of thousands of drafts that were used by herself and students and she decided to recycle them. This was especially important given the lack of adequate recycling facilities within Gaza

"Both examples help create a positive effect on the community, and will no doubt help future Palestinians believe in a clean and safe environment"

To avoid throwing the paper into the garbage landfill, Huda and her husband decided to learn how to recycle the paper waste. They were able to achieve this by using their own intuition, subscribing to YouTube channels specialising in recycling paper waste in order to turn it into eco-friendly materials. 

"The recycling process is not difficult," the middle-aged woman told The New Arab, saying "it is done in several stages. The first involves shredding the stacked paper, then soaking it in hot water with other materials for four days until it is kneaded and water is squeezed out."

After completing all the previous stages, the couple checks the quality of the paintings. "After that, you will have a usable palette for drawing," Salem, the husband said, flashing a smile, adding that "smooth and rough palettes can be designed too."

"These painting boards are safe and eco-friendly and can be used in more than one direction. For example, the painting can be erased and a new painting can be redrawn on the same board, and it can be disposed of by soaking it with water or soil and it will decompose," he explained.

Many students of the College of Fine Arts and painters have already benefited from this initiative. Others can still do so. In the Gaza Strip they urgently need canvas paper, but due to its high price, often poor quality, and the lack of the required sizes throughout the year, they are often unable to acquire it

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For this, the couple decided to teach the student how to recycle paper waste and re-use it cheaply. To spread their idea, both the Gazan couple and Abed Rabu asked their trainees to teach their friends and relatives to expand the circle of recycling waste people.

Environmental engineer Yusriya Ramadan from the Ramallah-based Ministry of Local Government told The New Arab that such initiatives would help the Palestinian government get rid of the garbage with simple tools.

"Both examples help create a positive effect on the community, and will no doubt help future Palestinians believe in a clean and safe environment. Such things would not be possible without individuals bearing responsibility towards our environment," she explained.

Sally Ibrahim is The New Arab's correspondent from Gaza