Monday, March 01, 2021

Art from trash; Solving Palestine’s waste problem through design

By Yehudit Tzfat - December 02, 2019
Section: [Main News] [IN PICTURES] [Features]
Tags: [waste]

Walk a few meters down any Ramallah street and you are likely to stumble upon a pile of trash. Plastic bags and bottles are woven into bushes. Mounds of cardboard, concrete and paper are part of the city landscape. Palestine’s trash epidemic is expected to worsen in the coming years, with research suggesting a waste output of more than 2,350 tons per day by 2022. Despite this gloomy prediction, Palestinians are finding innovative solutions to handle the waste — like remaking rubbish into works of art. 

From her home in Ramallah, fashion designer Maha Shaltaf transforms old dresses into new creations. Two years ago, she began experimenting with incorporating waste into her designs when she participated in a fashion show and contest hosted by A.M. Qattan Foundation’s Recycled programme. The project challenged Palestinian designers across the West Bank to create clothes using rubbish. Her dresses are made from soda tabs, plastic bags, newspapers and chocolate wrappers in addition to used clothes.


“My customers did not realise that it’s a dress made from these materials, but I told them that, and they were so happy and excited to get one of these things,” Shaltaf said.

Shaltaf works with Palestinian organisation Equality of Environment to exhibit her clothes at refugee camps in the West Bank and teach youth how to remake waste into clothes. Shaltaf believes that more Palestinians are warming to the idea of recycled fashion.

“After the competition at Qattan, people started accepting this idea more and more. And some of my customers are coming to me with old clothes and asking me to make them into new dresses,” Shaltaf said.

Hussam Omari, a fashion designer from Jenin, also took part in Qattan’s fashion show. His clothes include material from vintage dresses, iron and an assortment of matchsticks assembled into a rainbow-coloured dress that can stand on its own. 



Skirts For Women


Omari said he uses recycled materials and waste in his designs to showcase his creativity and innovation, but also “to show people we can use stuff that we don’t need anymore and we can make valuable things from it.”

While Shaltaf has generally received positive feedback from her green designs, Omari has seen some pushback.

“People from society and comments on social media said 'what you are dealing with is rubbish, you can’t do that’, so there is no supporting me,” Omari said.


While some individuals are turned off by the concept of reusing waste, Omari sees a glimmer of hope in the coming generations. 

“For the new generation, my family, the kids I am playing with in the neighbourhood, they start collecting some of the trash and making toys and some stuff with these things so now there is a kind of awareness growing in the new era,” Omari said.

Palestinians aren’t just transforming trash into clothes but even making jewellery, ornaments and furniture from the waste. Ala’ Hilu runs Resign for Recycling Design, a project based in Bethlehem that reuses and upcycles waste, turning it into art and goods. 

“The place is called Resign because things resign. This resigned from being a bottle,” Hilu said, pointing to a cut-glass bottle that now functions as an ashtray.


What started as a hobby has now become a successful business providing products and training to the community to teach people how to turn waste into something of value. 

He said reusing materials has always been a part of Palestinian society, but the rise of capitalism and consumerism changed that mentality. 

“How can you make something out of nothing because we think trash is nothing,” Hilu said, remarking on people’s astonishment when he tells them his work comes from waste.  “And that is part of the problem, we think trash is nothing. It is actually something.”






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