In the war-torn region of northwest Syria, amidst the rubble and refuse, a remarkable transformation is underway. Plastic waste, once a symbol of environmental degradation, is now finding new life as floor rugs and other essential items in rebel-held territories.
Mohammed Behlal, a 39-year-old resident of the enclave, leads the charge. Despite being shot in the leg during the conflict and facing unemployment struggles, Behlal perseveres. Alongside two of his six children, he earns a modest living sorting plastic at a rubbish dump in Idlib province’s village of Hezreh. Their earnings range from $7 to $10 per week, a vital source of income in a region ravaged by war.
The process begins with Behlal and others hacking through piles of plastic waste with basic tools, their hands bearing the scars of labor. Plastic is sorted, washed, and melted into pellets at a nearby scrapyard. Farhan Sleiman, 29, and others brave the health risks associated with handling the waste, driven by the necessity to earn a living.
In another corner of northern Idlib province, a factory hums with activity. Here, Khaled Rashu, 34, continues a family tradition of rug making. With over 30 employees, Rashu’s factory provides much-needed employment in an area where jobs are scarce. Large weaving machines click and clack as they churn out brightly colored plastic thread, weaving them into intricate geometric designs.
The finished mats, vibrant and durable, serve a crucial purpose in the community. Mohammed al-Qassem, a local shop owner, attests to their popularity, particularly among displaced residents living in basic tents or makeshift shelters. These mats, priced between $5 and $15, offer comfort and affordability to those in need.
“In summer, demand for plastic mats increases,” explains Qassem. Their ability to retain less heat makes them a practical choice for the harsh climate of the region. Yet, their utility extends into winter, offering an affordable alternative to traditional rugs, which can cost upwards of $100.
Amidst the adversity of conflict and displacement, this innovative approach to recycling not only provides a means of livelihood but also offers a glimmer of hope in an otherwise bleak landscape. In the heart of rebel-held Syria, plastic waste is not just rubbish; it’s a lifeline.