Rubble to Mountains: Recycling to rebuild

By MainGate Staff
Fall 2020/Winter 2021

When 100,000 tons of rubble are created in an instant, it seems inconceivable that a recycling program such as Rubble to Mountains could effectively be put in place in a timely way. Making the impossible possible is a diverse group of businesses, government agencies, and NGOs—including AUB’s Neighborhood Initiative, led by the indomitable Mona Hallak; Development Inc. SAL; the Lebanon Reforestation Initiative; UN-Habitat; UNICEF; the Beirut Municipality; Forward Emergency Room of the Lebanese Army; port authorities; Reel-ly; Spinneys-Lebanon; Diageo Lebanon; Nestle Pure Life Lebanon; and other entities. “Lebanon can always do the wrong thing with its waste,” Hallak says, “like dumping it illegally by the side of a road or river, but why not use our energy and resources to address this disaster with a sustainable and environmentally friendly plan?” Many people agree, including more than four thousand volunteers.

Business-as-usual would have meant paying an enormous sum for waste removal companies to haul the shredded concrete, glass, plastic, aluminum, and metal to already-burdened landfills. Rubble to Mountains will sort and crush the debris and use it to rebuild quarries, fill cavities in mountains scarred by decades of mining, and help reforest mountainsides.

With initial funding from UN-Habitat and UNICEF, interest from the World Bank, and a video produced by the World Economic Forum to publicize Rubble to Mountains, the project is off to a good start. It has already attracted much-needed resources, including ROGP, a waste management firm that specializes in glass and hard-to-recycle plastics; a Finnish industrial debris-crusher that made its way to Lebanon from India; and a glass crusher from China.

AUB is contributing its expertise and energy and will use this unique opportunity to advance research on the possible uses of construction and demolition materials. Dr. Issam Srour is already an expert in how to manage construction debris with innovative ideas such as turning it into roads. Dr. Nadim Farajalla, climate change expert, is already knowledgeable about the recovery of devastated land from activities such as quarrying. Dr. Najat Saliba, analytical chemist, could analyze the rubble for pollutants and address issues of air pollution during the sorting and crushing process.

The project began within days of the blast and is expected to take about 18 months. When it is completed, 100,000 tons of rubble will be refashioned into sustainable mountainsides, outdoor furniture, and possibly a one-kilometer stretch of road in Lebanon. The debris-crusher will be donated back to Beirut Municipality to improve routine recycling in the city and have a sustainable solution for demolition debris. Another result might be a new understanding of what can be achieved in the face of a dark situation when a problem-solving idea is combined with collaboration at the highest levels.

Watch the WEF video: