Gaza fac­tory turns to re­cy­cling to sur­vive

Kuwait Times - - NEWS -

GAZA CITY: In the strug­gling Gaza Strip, Omar Ram­lawi’s plas­tic fac­tory is one of the few busi­nesses that has man­aged to stay afloat, over­com­ing dire short­ages of raw ma­te­ri­als by re­sort­ing to an un­usual source: re­cy­cling. Re­cy­cling has never been a pri­or­ity in Gaza, a crowded and im­pov­er­ished sea­side ter­ri­tory whose al­ready weak econ­omy has been dev­as­tated by years of con­flict with Is­rael and mis­man­age­ment by the strip’s rul­ing Is­lamic mil­i­tant Ha­mas move­ment. The empty bot­tles and shop­ping bags strewn on Gaza’s beaches and road­sides pro­vide vivid re­minders of the lack of en­vi­ron­men­tal aware­ness among its res­i­dents.

Ram­lawi has be­gun to change this, col­lect­ing tons of bags, bot­tles and other items to keep his fac­tory open. With raw ma­te­ri­als re­stricted un­der an Is­raeli block­ade, Ram­lawi says that he would have had to shut­ter the plant and lay off his 50 work­ers - long ago. In­stead, thanks to the re­cy­cling ef­fort, his fac­tory in east Gaza City pro­duces be­tween 1.5 to 2 tons of ir­ri­ga­tion pipes, black trash bags and ca­ble hoses each day - all sup­plied to the lo­cal mar­ket.

“Due to the siege and re­stric­tions on imports, we had to use the ma­te­ri­als avail­able in Gaza and re­cy­cle it,” Ram­lawi said as work­ers be­hind him reeled a newly pro­duced hose on a wheel out from the pro­duc­tion line. “That’s how the idea came and we started de­vel­op­ing it.” Is­rael and Egypt im­posed the block­ade on Gaza af­ter Ha­mas seized con­trol of the ter­ri­tory from the forces of Pales­tinian Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas in 2007. The block­ade has re­stricted the move­ment of peo­ple and goods in and out of the ter­ri­tory.

Is­rael says the pol­icy is needed to pre­vent Ha­mas, a mil­i­tant group com­mit­ted to Is­rael’s de­struc­tion, from build­ing up its arse­nal of rock­ets and other weapons. But the re­stric­tions have crip­pled Gaza’s econ­omy. Scores of fac­to­ries have been forced to close, and un­em­ploy­ment is over 40 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to the World Bank and other in­ter­na­tional es­ti­mates. At times, Is­rael has re­stricted imports of poly­eth­yl­ene, a key ma­te­rial for Ram­lawi. And in re­cent months, it has stopped them al­to­gether. Ram­lawi says he hasn’t re­ceived a ship­ment in three months.

COGAT, the Is­raeli de­fense agency responsible for deal­ing with civil­ian is­sues in Gaza, said that poly­eth­yl­ene is on a list of “dual-use” ma­te­ri­als that can be di­verted by Ha­mas for mil­i­tary pur­poses. While such ma­te­ri­als are some­times al­lowed into Gaza, “they re­quire se­cu­rity checks to en­sure that the ma­te­ri­als reach their proper des­ti­na­tion to ben­e­fit the res­i­dents of Gaza,” COGAT said in a state­ment.

Re­cy­cling

The Gaza Strip pro­duces 1,700 tons of solid waste daily, ac­cord­ing to Ab­dul­rahim Abu al-Qom­boz, head of the en­vi­ron­ment de­part­ment in Gaza mu­nic­i­pal­ity. Plas­tic makes up 15 per­cent of the waste, and he said his of­fice is pleased with the re­cy­cling ef­fort. “We en­cour­age the re­cy­cling of garbage in an or­ga­nized way, not only plas­tic, but all com­po­nents of solid waste,” he said.

At the fac­tory, two work­ers were sort­ing aban­doned wa­ter tanks, juice con­tain­ers and plas­tic crates one re­cent morn­ing and chop­ping them up in a grinder. Af­ter that, the ground plas­tic was sent for wash­ing man­u­ally, where work­ers used a shovel to stir the frag­ments in wash­ing tubs be­fore mov­ing them in buck­ets to a lo­cally made dryer. The plas­tic was fur­ther pro­cessed us­ing a com­bi­na­tion of old ma­chines and man­ual tech­niques un­til it was fi­nally turned into tiny balls. These balls, to­gether with raw poly­eth­yl­ene, then went to pro­duc­tion lines.

The process pro­duces a sub­stance that is close to poly­eth­yl­ene, Ram­lawi said. With­out it, he would have run out of his mea­ger sup­ply months ago and gone out of busi­ness. The plas­tic is mostly re­cov­ered from land­fills and road waste con­tain­ers by poor or job­less in­di­vid­u­als - a process that the mu­nic­i­pal­ity turns a blind eye to, de­spite health con­cerns.

For Nas­ral­lah Al-Rifi, a fa­ther of six, search­ing through garbage is a mat­ter of sur­vival. Mar­ried since 2006, he has six chil­dren and can’t find reg­u­lar work. “I do this to feed my chil­dren,” he said as he col­lected plas­tic from a land­fill in Gaza City. He said he sells the plas­tic to sub­con­trac­tors who then send it to fac­to­ries like Ram­lawi’s, the largest of the six such fac­to­ries in Gaza. He sells a cart­load of plas­tic trash for 15 or 20 shekels, or roughly $5. “I can give my son a shekel when he goes to school,” he said. “It’s bet­ter than send­ing him with no money.” — AP

Four Pales­tinian friends who were in­jured dur­ing con­flicts walk by the sea at Gaza’s small fish­ing har­bor yes­ter­day. Fight­ing has left thou­sands of peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties or no limbs in this Pales­tinian en­clave. — AP

GAZA: In this Oct 18, 2016 photo, a Pales­tinian worker cuts a plas­tic box in pieces be­fore the re­cy­cling process in a plas­tic fac­tory. — AP

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