Daily Management Review

Lebanon’s creating beautiful objects out of recycled glass


Ziad Abichakar and Hussein Khalife are showing Lebanon how it can protect the environment and at the same time mint money by producing beautiful artifacts and glass bottles out of recycled glass.

During the Lebanon war in 2006, Israeli airstrikes in the Bekaa Valley, destroyed the last remnants of Lebanon’s glass manufacturing plant. In order to revive operations, more than $40million is needed, but investors are scare and few. As a consequence the plant has remained in shambles. Local wine and beer companies had also relied on sourcing their bottles from abroad.
Most of the outsourced bottles end up in landfills which were created in 1997. They were designed to last just six years, however even after 19 years they are still in use. They were again scheduled to be close this January, but the Lebanese Government extended the deadline for three months for want of an alternative site.
“It is a catastrophe there, it is overfull. You have big impacts on air pollution, climate change. In particular, leachate – the liquid that drains from a landfill – is being thrown into the Mediterranean Sea,” says Paul Abi Rached, who is the president of the NGO TERRE Liban.
With the concept of recycling glass bottles not being prevalent. Abichaker, began stockpiling them. Since he owned Cedar Environmental, which used to operate 10 municipal waste management plants, and being multi-disciplinary engineer he saw an opportunity whereas most people saw wastage.
“Around 71 million bottles end up in the landfills per year. All the green glass that we sorted from the waste management plants had nowhere to go. I didn’t want to throw it away, so we started stocking the bottles while thinking of a solution,” says Abichakar.
In 2013, he started working with Hussein Khalife and by then he had stocked almost 60 tons of beer bottles. They wanted to give a new life to the glass, which would not only make economic sense but help the environment as well. They soon crafted a business plan that would not only give the glass a new more chic design and a modern finish but create a new niche market for it as well. They have not restricted their business to just glass bottles, but have expanded it into the production of vases, lamps and cups as well. They also create the base for these expanded items, out of recycled wood.
Their Green Glass Recycling Initiative – Lebanon (GGRIL) project does not have a profit motive.
“Eighty percent of the revenues go back to the Khalife glass blowers and the remaining 20 percent to the retailer. What we gain as Cedar Environmental is that they take all the green glass from our plants. So we still maintain zero waste status in our recycling plants,” explains Abichakar.
Today thanks to their initiatives, their products are being sold in various locations across Beirut, including gift shops, restaurants and alternative galleries and recently they have started selling them online as well. Currently, they have orders for 133,000 artisan glasses for Almaza, which is a subsidiary of the popular beer giant Heineken.
Two years ago, they could not even have conceived of receiving such a large order. In fact the workshop was idle for five months and was on the verge of being closed. Tourism, Hussin Khalife, explains, played a big role in the workshop’s revival but due to the Syrian conflict their numbers have taken a toll.
An environmentalist at heart, Abichaker estimates, “I think that by the end of 2015 we will have diverted one million beer bottles from landfills.” Although it may constitute a tiny portion of the 1.57 million tons of solid waste that Lebanon produces per year, it is an effort in the right direction.
“Now people are becoming more aware that they should safeguard their environment because they have realized that it affects their own health, their own habitat, but we still have a long way to go,” says Abichakar.