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Turning industrial waste into Palestine’s “white gold”

Jerusalem24Riham Abuaita– Activities and conferences surrounding World Environment Day last Sunday have thrown into the spotlight some of the challenges faced by Palestinians in their quest to go greener.

Waste management and disposal represent significant challenges for Palestinians due to the policies of the Israeli occupation, as well as population growth and evolving consumption patterns. Engineer Arine A. Nassereldine has a novel approach to tackle one significant aspect of construction waste.

Nassereldine is a Palestine Polytechnic University (PPU) graduate with a B.A. in environment technology engineering. In partnership with her colleague Tasneem Ashhab, Nassereldine finished her B.A. requirements by creating an engineered production formula for recycling industrial waste and using it as a raw material component in creating artificial stone. A substitute, Nassereldine tells Jerusalem24, which “can take the place of natural stone.”

Waste management is an issue that haunts environmentalists in Palestine. According to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) 47% of all waste, including hazardous waste, is disposed of in unsanitary dump sites, while just 3% of rubbish is recycled.

Palestinians generated nearly 1.6 million tons of solid waste in 2019 – over 4,300 tons of waste per day or just under 1kg per person per day, according to The Heinrich Böll Foundation. About 65% of municipal waste is disposed of in sanitary landfills, while the remaining 35% ends up in predominantly illegal dumping sites that are a constant source of pollution to the Palestinian environment.

Municipal Solid Waste in Palestine [Credit: The Heinrich Böll Foundation]
“The situation around waste management is a lot better than it used to be, people are more aware of the issues and there are more efforts towards fixing it,” Nassereldine tells Jerusalem24. “But we still need more work to reach the stage needed in waste management.”

The limestone and marble industry is one of the most important and active industries in Palestine, with limestone often referred to as “white gold”. The industry employs between 15,000 and 20,000 workers, and contributes 20–25% to the total industrial revenues of Palestine and 4.5% to its total gross national product. Hundreds of quarries exist in Palestine, particularly in the occupied West Bank, for the purpose of limestone excavation. Palestine boasts a national reserve of limestone with an estimated value of around $30 billion, according to the National Export Strategy.

The success of the limestone and marble industry does come with associated risks, such as air, water, soil, and noise pollution, in addition to negative impacts on the green cover (trees and vegetation). Furthermore, this largely uncontrolled industry has generated vast amounts of waste from its operations.

Nassereldine explains to us how she intends to use this waste and turn it into green construction materials for Palestine’s ever-expanding construction industry.

“The formula itself is very similar to a normal cement formula. The difference is in some of the material you add to it: that is where the processed waste becomes a raw material component. It’s not hard to create, and it’s not expensive. It costs a lot less than the already existing artificial stone in the market […] because I am using waste, I don’t need to buy raw materials.”

“People are heading towards artificial stone. If you look around, this resource [natural stone] is running out, and eventually it’s going to finish – and people are going to start using artificial stone.”

Nassereldine was a panelist at the Palestine Green Building Council (PALGBC) conference and exhibition, the Green Building Conference on 6 May 2022 in Ramallah.

The conference and exhibition were conducted as closing events for the “Somoud” project that aims to support the resilience of Palestinians through capacity building and incentive system creation via municipalities in West Bank and Gaza Strip, funded by the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development.

Palestine Green Building conference 6 May 2022 [Courtesy of Palestine Green Building Council-Facebook]
The conference consisted of multiple panels, including green initiatives success stories, a legal panel discussing regulations and legislations, green buildings classification systems, applied studies of Palestinian cases, and green financing and incentives.

Nassereldine was a panelist for the applied studies panel.

Eng. Arine A. Nassereldine, Palestine Green Building conference 6 May 2022 [Courtesy of Palestine Green Building Council-Facebook]
“Waste never ends,” says Nassereldine. “An issue may arise if we no longer have natural stones to cut and therefore no longer have its waste; but even then, we can still process and recycle waste that’s already improperly disposed of. […] We can still use waste that’s already there – and it all helps rid the environment from more waste.”

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