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THURSDAY, 24 APR 2014
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Reversing minds about Beirut’s garbage
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BEIRUT: In a country with a lack of discernible environmental policy, only a handful of recycling points across the capital, and landfills overflowing onto public beaches, Reversed Garbage has found an innovative way to turn trash into something useful, and beautiful.

Chafic Abi Abdallah had been working in hospitality management for eight years when he decided he needed a new challenge in life. He was tired of staring at a computer screen for sometimes 12 hours a day; he wanted to work with his hands and feel part of his community.

Taking time off to think about his next steps, Chafic traveled around southeast Asia, and it was there he noticed how prominent recycling and “upcycling” were in other countries.

Whereas in Lebanon, where very little attention is given to waste, in India and Cambodia, “Rice sacks were turned into bags, old straws into purses. Everything was reused and sold on.”

When he got back to Beirut a friend happened upon the idea of turning old glass bottles into new products and, after checking to see the idea didn’t exist in Lebanon already, six months later, Reversed Garbage was born.

He works on creating his products from a small studio in his Furn al-Chebbak home. Marking the bottles with a diamond cutter, he passes them between extremes of hot and cold water which snaps the glass, before sanding the edges down.

From wine and beer bottles, Chafic produces gorgeously simple tumblers, wine glasses, vases and candle-holders.

Not only does the process reuse glass bottles which would most likely be thrown out, but Chafic hopes that Reversed Garbage will spread awareness of the environment in a country which faces intractable waste problems.

The introduction of recycling bins into Lebanon, around 10 years ago, was not accompanied with the necessary education, Chafic says.

“People were excited about the bins at first but there was no campaign, no awareness. And now, people are facing bigger problems. But you cannot fix those bigger problems if you don’t fix the individual so that he can fix the bigger problems.”

Chafic believes that the Lebanese people need a fundamental shift in attitude toward the environment.

“We don’t have a sense of responsibility. In general, people do not care. This is one of the aims of this project – to create a sort of responsibility.”

He believes that thoughtfulness in terms of the environment can ultimately lead to greater attention given to an individual’s place in society. “How to link being responsible in terms of garbage with becoming responsible in a wider way is important.”

Chafic hopes Reversed Garbage will kickstart people into viewing waste in a completely new way, no longer just as something to discard, but seeing it as something which can be recycled.

“Upcycling in developing countries happens for economic reasons. In Europe it happens for fashionable, or environmental reasons.”

In Lebanon, it can be all of these things, Chafic says, but, more importantly, “Here it is something else – it is to wake people up.”

His products are currently on sale at Tawlet restaurant in Mar Mikhael, and on his Facebook page. He plans to soon set up a recycling point at Tawlet, and he is also happy to pick up people’s glass bottle accumulations from their homes in Beirut.

Chafic also accepts commissions for specific bottles or ideas, and is starting classes where people can come along to his studio and make their own glass sets.

And although Chafic is passionate about fostering a greater level of respect for the environment, he is reluctant to being labeled an environmentalist.

“What I do helps the environment, but I am not doing this because I am an environmentalist. I don’t like labels. As soon as you say you are something in Lebanon you attract enemies.”Visit facebook.com/reversedgarbage,

call 03-363-513 or email reversedgarbagegmail.com for

information on products, classes, commissions or recycling pick-ups.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 19, 2011, on page 12.
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