By: Hasna’a Al Rantisi
Students of Majdal Bani Fadel Girls School while making heating blocks from organic waste
Exclusive to Environment and Development Horizons (Afaq magazine):
When Fa’ida Al-Shurafa (37 years old), a mother of five, graduated, she saw the full-half of the glass and did not succumb to unemployment and the frustration surrounding her. In fact, through her positive attitude, the rubble piles around her seemed as a treasure—if well utilized, that is.
Fa’ida graduated specializing in Arabic language teaching methods. Failing to secure a job, she wanted to make a better use of her time. While many ideas raced in her head, the scene of garbage and empty cartons at the entrance of her village Beita disgruntled her. The central vegetable and fruit market in Beita, the hisba, produces daily piles of paper cartons and garbage: a displeasing scene indeed for the townspeople and visitors.
The village of Beita, in Nablus governorate, has more than one working olive press, in addition to its central hisba, and carpentries that produce large amounts of waste and sawdust, more often than not, end to no purpose. Nonetheless, this is a blessing and a curse at the same time: a blessing in the sense of the economic importance of such places; and a curse because of all the waste produced.
It occurred to Fa’ida to target such places. She found that the waste is mostly paper, as merchants in Beita’s hisba throw out the empty boxes and cartons and also wasted vegetables, in which she saw a starting point of a recycling project that would benefit the environment, instead of weighing it with waste.
As the school year ended, things became clearer in Fa’ida’s head when she pupils exiting school gates and throwing away in the streets their now old-books, and exam papers. These papers could be put into a better use, thought Fa’ida.
Fa’ida’s observation also included the olive presses inevitably producing waste consisting of olive leaves, peat (jift), and other materials. She believed she could manufacture an ignitable product if she succeeds in coming up with a substance composed of multiple elements at specific ratios.
Fa’ida started putting down the plan for her initiative that is based on collecting paper and organic waste of vegetable peels and the like. She wanted to prepare a mixture of some sort, which every household can benefit of.
The sought-after material would be paper, dry bread, peels, jift and other waste from olive pressing, and sawdust. Everything will be pulverized to make "wood" blocks to be used for heating as an alternative to wood logs specifically cut for winter heating.
Female Pupils are Partners
As the saying goes, it takes two to tango. Fa’ida realized that the one sector of the society that can help her most is the same one that contributes to the production of the large amounts of waste. School paper waste poses a burden, not only to schools themselves, but also to the environment. Ironically, what was once part of the environment —as paper is made of trees—has now become a burden on it.
Fa’ida kept pondering the initiative. She tired, not once but many times, until she finally came up with a product to replace natural wood: industrial “wood” blocks that can be burned for heating and other purposes. She chose to incubate her idea at her alma mater, Majdal Bani Faadel Girls School. She was appointed after proposing her idea to the school principal, and that is how the girls were mobilized for this initiative.
The girls worked full heartedly as they gathered the paper waste, and seeing their school looking more beautiful. They also installed carton boxes in the school yard designated for collecting fruit peels and leftovers, and so, waste was sorted at source. The waste was then taken to become part of Fa’ida’s product. Ignition experiments followed, and soon after, the final outcome was realized: a product that burns well and does not emit harmful odors or toxic emission.
The ratio of different material used to produce the final substance was not a result of any chemical experiment, as Fa’ida has no expertise in chemistry. Matter of fact, the ratio was reached by trial and error, carrying out numerous relentless attempts until successfully creating a mixture that achieves good ignition and is friendly to both environment and humans.
The initiative achieved its objectives of reducing environmental pollution and wood logging, especially the cutting of olive trees, which represent the identity and history of Palestine —a strong belief of Fa’ida’s that it is our duty to be safeguarded them.
The initiative is worth being further developed and disseminated, as it adheres to specific safety regulations, and relies on reduced dependency on the other energy resources, such as firewood, gas, electricity, and oil. This is achieved by first cleaning the paper waste of leather or any plastic materials that produce toxic gases when ignited.
Translated by: Carol Khoury