BEIRUT: On a display table outside Tawlet restaurant in Beirut earlier this month, the only thing as pretty as the plants were the pots.
In an array of colors, shapes and sizes, Richard Touma’s unique flowerpots threatened to upstage the blooming seasonal flowers spilling from them, as Erin O’Halloran, a company representative, arranged them before the evening’s guests arrived.
Such colorful receptacles for your plants aren’t hard to come by at this time of year in Beirut – the garden department of every major store is chock full of both terracotta and rainbow-colored vessels. But what sets Touma’s products apart from the crowd, beyond their unique shapes – Touma owns the mold designs used – is the fact that they are made from 100 percent recycled plastic. Something, some gardeners may feel, that will make their greenery just a little more green.
Indeed, Touma was displaying his line at an event hosted by FERN, an environmental awareness NGO that hosts a monthly dinner at the restaurant to highlight waste reduction in the food industry.
Touma’s family has been in the plastics business for almost four decades, with their company ELTO Group manufacturing products, mainly flowerpots and accessories – foam pads, trays, plastic holders etc. – from its original Zahle plant.
Since 2010, however, the company has partnered with Arc en Ciel, a nongovernmental organization that mainly works with the elderly and people with disabilities, buying used bottle caps and turning them into recycled plastic products.
Arc en Ciel uses the profits to manufacture wheelchairs.
When Touma, the youngest of three sons, started working in the Zahle factory, having studied business and biomedical engineering, he was full of new ideas and wanted to take the company’s recycled line further.
Two years ago, he and his best friend Ali Issa, both avid snowboarders and appreciators of the great outdoors, developed the idea of a green business and founded Plastik Solutions, O’Halloran explains to The Daily Star.
Now with a manufacturing plant in Saudi Arabia, where 30-year-old Touma is based, Plastik Solutions makes two lines of flowerpots: one made of raw materials in translucent colors that looks like glass, the other, from 100 percent recycled material.
However, with Saudi Arabia as a key market, for some time it remained one of the company’s best kept secrets that the pots were made from recycled plastic.
“In the Saudi market recycled products are looked down upon,” O’Halloran explains. “So when I got involved I was surprised that none of the sales material mentioned ‘recycled.’”
“Well, there’s a very different market you can tap in to,” she promptly pointed out to Touma.
Now amid a growing campaign for environmentally friendly practices and products in Lebanon and the wider region, Plastik Solutions is working to access this market while expanding its production.
The company hopes to partner with FERN and expand its campaign into Lebanese universities to source recyclable plastic, which can then be processed into its unique pots at its Zahle plant, O’Halloran says.
Lebanon admittedly is not typically viewed as bastion of environmentally friendly practices, but O’Halloran points out that generally people here have “a strong individual instinct [to get involved] if there’s something simple and easy that can help people.”
And with Plastik Solutions’ flowerpots, people can see exactly what their recycled plastic has gone into creating, she explains.
In Saudi Arabia, the company currently purchases recyclable materials from traditional industry sources, but would jump at the chance to link up with charities there also, O’Halloran adds.
Stocked at most Beirut flower shops, the pots have already experienced an unexpected popularity in Lebanon: “We were surprised to see them everywhere at Zaitunay Bay when it opened,” O’Halloran says, joking that the company considered developing an app which would allow people to alert Plastik Solutions whenever they spotted one of its recycled pots.
To acquire Touma’s green pots visit any major Beirut flower shop or contact ELTO directly at 03-475-363.