A Local Development Initiative in a Southern Lebanese Town
In Lebanon, burning tires has become part of a local culture prevalent in several regions, whether to express anger and protest in demonstrations and strikes, or to get rid of high volumes of used tires, considering it as the only available solution. However, burning tires is a crime against environment, because of all the CO2 emissions that are thrown in the atmosphere. For this reason, some Lebanese municipalities choose to burry tires within garbage "mountains", not minding that the components of those tires are among the most resistant to natural elements, and that a tire needs hundreds of years to desintegrate. Lebanon is far from being the only country to face this issue: in fact, this is a global crisis, mainly in developing countries, where no means are available for a safe disposal of used tires through recycling. Yet, there is still hope for a solution in the southern Lebanese town of Toula, the location of a tire recycling factory named Al-Oula and managed by Ali Issa, Ahmad Shamseddine and Oula Issa, three young entrepreneurs who have a sense of responsibility towards the environment, as well as creative ideas.
"Don’t burn it… blend it"
In 2011, the three young entrepreneurs decided to launch Al-Oula factory, taking advantage of long years of family experience in recycling rubber into various products sold to different shops. The main idea behind Al-Oula factory was to avoid burning or burrying tires. Instead, those were to be blended and turned into powder, and then into floor tiles for paveways, playgrounds, sports clubs and kindergartens. The project needed a probation period, since the young entrepreneurs imported the machinery and relied on the Kafalat program to finance their project. A year later however, the factory started its operations successfully, without any official support. Today, it fulfills two essential needs in Lebanon: First, it helps getting rid of damaged tires, which were considered as a big burden, mainly for municipalities and stores specialized in selling and repairing tires. Second, it helps providing safe rubber tiles to many facilities, while before, this kind of merchandise was mainly imported from China. That’s not all, since Al-Oula competes today with imported merchandise, thanks to the quality and prices of its products. Indeed, it has already started to export tiles to neighboring countries, mainly Jordan.
Partner Ali Issa explained to Al-Hayat newspaper that the project was mainly established, because of the wish to solve the tire burning problem and to get rid of its negative effects. His factory has become the first of its kind in Lebanon and the neighborhood. Before launching the project, the three partners studied the market and its need for safe tiles with a ten years guarantee. They found that such tiles were imported at high prices, in comparison with those set by Al-Oula factory today. Then, they contacted municipalities, namely the Saida municipality, which is close to Toul, in order to provide tires after the machines became ready for starting the blending process. Today, Al-Oula factory is able, within five hours, to blend 200 tires and turn them into a powder that is sold to some tradesmen without processing. Later on it, the powder is set to be used in sports playgrounds, or to be turned to compressed tiles of various shapes and sizes, used for paving various surfaces. Nowadays, the factory is receiving orders from various Lebanese regions and even neighboring countries, which show a will to use these eco-friendly tiles that are not affected by natural elements, such as heat and rain. Most importantly, these tiles provide necessary protection for people walking on them, especially children for whom regular tiles are not suitable.
Issa noted that the only problem facing the factory operations is the diminishing number of tires arriving from municipalities, especially Saida. However, this is good news for environment, because it is a prelude to finding a solution for the long lasting problem of damaged tires. Issa proposed sending trucks to different Lebanese regions and collecting damaged tires everywhere. This would help expanding business and provide support for municipalities outside Saida in solving the tire problem within their circumference. Indeed, the factory vehicles have already started roaming various regions and collecting tires, in order to avoid relying on limited supplies. Great numbers of tires are delivered to the Tool factory, which is transforming the huge tires into a powder that is ready to be used in different contexts.
Development of the Project
Al-Oula factory is now self-sustaining growth and advancing thanks to the individual efforts of its partners, and the help of local workers who find their livelihood in those tires, since Toul, as well as other villages in South Lebanon, are in need of such development projects, in order to provide job opportunities and avoid migration to the capital. So far, no official help was granted to such a unique factory, except for some moral support that is not useful, in reality, for turning the factory into a role model.
Yet, the partners consider that the factory will not stop here and that the development path ahead of it is still long. Indeed, Issa spoke of ongoing efforts to create a machine that produces big tiles, instead of being limited to small or medium-sized ones. This will allow the factory participate in bigger scale projects, and provide safe tiles for the coverage of wider surfaces. When we visited the factory, we saw that efforts were already ongoing for the production of this machine, which shows once again the capacities of the Lebanese young generation that is able to make a difference with very limited capabilities.
The partners are also working on a different idea, which is to reuse the linen present inside the tires and put aside at the time of the blending. Indeed, huge loads of linen were accumulated in Al-Oula factory during the past several years; but since the three guys feel responsible for the environment, they will never throw that linen away. Instead, they are preparing a new project, aimed at recycling linen into boards used for decoration. This project is still under study, but the sure thing is that each component can be recycled without incurring any harm to the environment.
Today, the three partners are row models for the Lebanese youth who are interested in their local community and who are creating work opportunities for themselves and for others, while thinking of all the implications of their project, namely on the environment. In addition to the material expenses, since the biggest bill paid by the Lebanese people is for healthcare, because of the high levels of pollution, the solution to the tire problem will not be in burning them, but in recycling them within factories that are accomodated in the same way as Al-Oula factory. (Veronique Abou Ghazaleh, Al Hayat, Lebanon)