This summer I was living in Beirut and it really stank. Don't get me wrong, I loved spending time in one of my favorite cities! I loved working with Wamda, and playing music with my friends under the inky skies above my downtown rooftop. But I was there when Beirut confronted a trash catastrophy and one of the most beautiful cities was enshrouded in a miasmic fog.
Crumbling infrastructure is kinda my thing though. The Naameh landfill was closed and the government's contract with the waste management company, Sukleen, was terminated. You may have seen the #youStink twitter campaign which accompanied the public's outrage at the governments clear incompetency. I was only staying a month, but I wanted to set an example of how we can take ugly problems and respond beautifully.
So I decided to make use of the piles of trash and turn them into material for paper.
Here's a short video you can see of the problem and some progress:
[Before I continue, I know that the issue in Lebanon is huge and I don't mean to belittle the challenges faced every single day there by the citizens who live in a city full of garbage. I know it's been 6 months and the contracts on trash exporting are still being worked out. I've seen the bravery and creativity of the protestors taking (garbage) to the streets. I've went out in protest myself at one of the global satellite protests. I encourage political action and applaud all the actions and graffiti and journalism. I also simply and humbly suggest we also keep a bit of King Midas in our hearts and imagine what we can transform into gold.]
Step 1: Gather Your Trash
Gathering trash for me was pretty easy, I walked down to the street corner and harvested my product. You may not live in a city full of garbage, but here in San Francisco walking around the mission at night you can find tons of cardboard for the picking.
I also wanted to use my old drawings since they were just gathering up in giant piles. It was hard to throw them away and I didn't want them to go to waste. So into the giant pile that was gathering.
Step 2: Wash Your Material
WAIT! Before you use the trash paper, bleach them, wash them, irradiate them with UV. You don't want to get sick, so make sure you spend some time cleaning your material, you have no idea where they've been!
I put all my cardboard and paper in the bathtub and with Maca's help scrubbed them real well.
Protip: you will have some breakage and cardboard in the pipes can cause clogs, so install a drain filter before beginning to prevent material from going down the drain.
Step 3: Blend It!
Make a mulch. We didn't have a Total Blender to process the paper into a pulp, but an average blender did pretty well. Use more water than you think you'll need, you want it to be smoothie consistency. Don't worry we'll squeeze all that water out in the next step.
Step 4: Find and Make Molds
Step 5: Lay Out Your Pulp and Press It. or Extrude It
After you've blended the garbage it's time to lay it out. I tried pouring it into different molds. I used a strainer which gave me a bowl shaped object and a window screen which makes something like cardstock. We also used a laser cut form to give our cardstock a pattern we thought was beautiful.
In Lebanon you can still pretty easily find a carpenter who is available for quick jobs. My friends Sarah and Aisha helped me and had a simple frame made with a window mesh stretched across it. You can pick up a window frame with a mesh from your recycling shop.
To properly press you'll need a piece of wood cut to the size of the inside of the screen, you'll need it to press the cardstock.
After you've poured your pulp into your desired mould, and put the wooden press on top, and use a heavy weight. to hold it down. We used a tree. Yes, an entire potted tree.
Find a syringe with a 3mm diameter for the extruder, mix your pulp with a 1/4th ratio glue and use it to extrude a few layers in whatever shape you want. You can see the "A" we extruded at AltCity in Beirut :). This process has a lot of potential to make arbitrary shapes out of garbage + binder, a finer blend and different binding materials could give a wide range of material properties in any shape. Something to explore further!
Step 6: Lay Your Paper Out to Dry
Leave your paper to press overnight with a potted tree on top, if you can. After the majority of the water is pressed you'll still need to let it air/sun dry. We left our paper out in the hot sun and within 2 hours it was dry.
As you can see we explored different kinds of mulch from cardboard, to only white paper, and also flowers and plants we found on the streets. Different kinds of thicknesses in pouring, extrusion and casting.
So now that you know the basic process of gathering, mulching, binder/pressing go explore the world of transforming paper trash into new objects! Bring a little bit of King Midas within :)
Step 7: A Bit of History and Future Work
Before we conclude, let me take you back into Lebanese history. People of this area have been very crafty for hundreds and thousands of years. The pictures here are of Baalbek Lebanon, do you notice anything interesting? Look between the pillars. Yes, the walls of the citadel are made of blocks of stone taken from ceiling tiles of other older buildings!
You see it in other ruins in Lebanon as well. In the historic photo you will see a circular shape in a mostly rectangular brick wall, which is that's an old column from even older ruins. People have been transforming ruins into new buildings for ages.
Now the garbage we used was just paper and the streets are filling up with plastics, metals, food waste and more. It's been 6 months since the crisis has began and there is no clear end in sight. Exporting is a temporary solution. What are other ways we can transform the garbage on the streets of Beirut?
Plastic to petroleum through pyrolysis?
What are other ways to recycle paper and plastic into rapid manufacturing technologies like 3Dprinters?
Metal to metal?
Glass to glass? A great initiative in Lebanon working on this is:GREEN GLASS RECYCLING INITIATIVE – LEBANON (GGRIL)
One of my favorite projects of this sort is Ziad Abichaker's work which is documented in his TEDxBeirut talk - A garbage love story. He's been transforming plastic trash into benches, which works on two issues at the same time - garbage and public space.
Ziad's also been working on the current crisis by covering the giant dumps with plastic in order to ferment the organic matter before heading off to get sorted. He claims this process may help at different scales and I'm excited to see what this modern Lebanese up-cycling King Midas does!
Lebanon is not the only country in the world facing a trash problem. Even in America it's estimated that states like Massachusetts and Rhode Island about 7 years before their landfills fill up, and that's not mentioning the cost of transportation and the environmental cost of the methane that our landfills emit. Basically, we need to deal with our trash differently.
An important question for all of these sorts of initiatives though is scale. We create tons of garbage every day, there are many vectors of forces pointing towards landfills, and few pointing outward. We hear of landfill mining, but what can we do to prevent things from going to landfills in the first place, especially in places like Lebanon which will be many years before the State get's it's act together enough to bring on policies like some of the 0 waste countries out there.
Thanks for reading and I hope you're inspired now to play with some trash!