Ramallah: Heaps of trash are a common sight in Palestine.
Crushed plastic bottles, bags and cups are tangled into dry brush. Broken concrete and dusty tires appear like permanent fixtures on the hillsides.
Often, these trash piles are burned to get rid of the waste, but burning the trash just emits toxic gases into the environment.
With an obsolete recycling industry and limited access to waste disposal sites, a garbage crisis is emerging in Palestine.
Research suggests waste in Palestine may increase by more than 2,350 tons daily by 2022.
A few young Palestinians, however, are carving out a creative solution to waste management and are making careers out of repurposing garbage.
From her home in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Palestinian fashion designer Maha Shaltaf transforms newspaper scraps and plastic bags into party dresses.
In her 35 years of making clothes, she has always repurposed old dresses into new apparel, but utilizing waste in her creations is more of a recent venture.
In 2017, Shaltaf started adding rubbish to her designs as part of a fashion show and contest organized by A.M. Qattan Foundation’s Recycled programme.
The foundation is not-for-profit focusing on cultural education, and its recycling programme pushed Palestinian fashion designers beyond the boundaries of their creativity in making outfits using recycled materials.
From the initiative, Shaltaf now weaves soda tabs, chocolate wrappers, plastic bags and newspapers together with the vintage dresses to create a truly green garment.
“After the competition at Qattan, people started accepting this idea more and more.” Shaltaf said in regards to the concept of sustainable fashion.
“Some of my customers are coming to me now with old clothes and asking me to make them into new dresses.”
To help spread the message of sustainable fashion in Palestine, Shaltaf works with Palestinian organization Equality of Environment to show her clothes at refugee camps throughout the West Bank and lead workshops for youth on how to remake waste into clothing.
Hussam Omari, a fashion designer from the northern city of Jenin in the West Bank, also participated in the fashion show.
Omari uses recycled materials in his designs to show his creativity and innovation to the public.
But he also feels it teaches the community that “we can use stuff that we don’t need any more and we can make valuable things from it.”
He says the younger generation supports the idea of trash as fashion while older people have been more dismissive.
“The new generation have started collecting some of the trash and making toys and some stuff with these things so now there is a kind of awareness growing,” Omari said.
The new generation has started collecting some of the trash and making toys and some stuff with these things so now there is a kind of awareness growing
Clothes aren’t the only items Palestinians are turning trash into.
Ala’ Hilu makes jewellery, ornaments and even furniture from waste through his company Resign for Recycling Design.
From his Bethlehem studio, Hilu turns waste into functional goods.
An empty can of paint thinner is transformed into a lamp.
A piece of cutlery is bent into a door handle and an old tire into an ottoman.
Hilu also provides training to people on how to upcycle waste.
He says people are shocked over his ability to ‘make something out of nothing’.
“Part of the problem is that people think trash is nothing,” Hilu said.
“It is actually something.”
-Rachel is a freelance journalist based in Ramallah