American University of Beirut

Rubble to Mountains

​​​November 22​, 2020​

This is the story of an idea so compelling, it has attracted resources from as far away as Finland and China, and from as near as Ras Beirut. It required meetings with the Beirut Municipality, the Lebanese Army, and the port authorities, and in the end, it prevailed and was given the improbable name, Rubble to Mountains. 

AUB’s Mona Hallak tells the story of how the Neighborhood Initiative, normally focused on Ras Beirut, expanded in partnership with Development Inc. sal, UN-Habitat, the Lebanese Reforestation Initiative and other entities to address the catastrophic 100,000 tons of rubble created by the blast of August 4 at the Beirut port.

“Lebanon can always do the wrong thing with its waste,” Hallak says, “like dumping it illegally by the side of a road or river, but why not use our energy and resources to address this disaster with a sustainable and environmentally-friendly plan?”

Business-as-usual would have meant paying an enormous sum for waste removal companies to haul the shredded concrete, glass, plastic, aluminum, and metal to already-burdened landfills. Rubble to Mountains proposed sorting and crushing the debris and using it to rebuild quarries and surrounding damaged mountainsides. Some of the recyclable glass and plastic will find new life as outdoor urban furniture. The challenges were enormous, but through collaboration, the idea has attracted funding, and work has started on sorting the rubble to be ready for crushing.

The first real success for the project was finding a place to store the rubble and glass debris, as part of what the group was trying to avoid was transporting it any distance. They identified empty property in the Karantina neighborhood, close to the blast site, and the Beirut Municipality granted permission. Then negotiations with the port authorities led to securing the adjacent land for sorting and crushing. A Finnish industrial debris-crusher is on its way to Lebanon from India, and a glass crusher is being procured from China. Initial funding has come from UN-Habitat and UNICEF, the World Bank has taken note of the project, and the World Economic Forum publicized Rubble to Mountains with a video. 

AUB will contribute expertise and energy and use this unique opportunity to advance research on the possible use of construction and demolition material. Dr. Issam Srour is already an expert in how to manage construction debris with innovative ideas such as turning it into roads. Dr. Nadim Farajalla, climate change expert, is already knowledgeable about the recovery of devastated land from activities such as quarrying. Dr. Najat Saliba, analytical chemist, could analyze the rubble for pollutants and address issues of air pollution during the sorting and crushing process. 

The project began within days of the blast and is expected to take about 18 months. When it’s done, 100,000 tons of rubble will be refashioned into mountainsides, outdoor furniture made of ROGP (rejects of glass and plastic), and possibly a one-kilometer stretch of road in Lebanon. The debris-crusher will be donated back to Beirut Municipality to improve routine recycling in the city and have a sustainable solution for demolition debris. It is likely another result will be the understanding of what can be achieved in the face of a dark situation when a problem-solving idea is combined with collaboration at the highest levels.

Groups involved in Rubble to Mountains: AUB Neighborhood Initiative, Development Inc. SAL, the Lebanon Reforestation Initiative, UN-Habitat, UNICEF, Beirut Municipality, Forward Emergency Room of the Lebanese Army, port authorities, Reel-ly, Spinneys-Lebanon, Diageo Lebanon, Nestle Pure Life Lebanon.

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