SIDON, Lebanon: Remember the rubber playground floors where countless childhood days were spent playing? Well, these tiles were manufactured from recycled tires, and one Sidon activist is making sure the production keeps going. Tires in Lebanon are infamous for another use: They are often burned by demonstrators as an act of protest. Whenever a protest is expected and onlookers see smoke, they know a tire has just been burned.
But the practice has negative environmental and health impacts, a fact that prompted Ahmad Hikmat Shamseddine to put tires to another, more sustainable, use.
In southern Nabatieh’s industrial zone, in the village of Toul, is a small factory named OLA 3R, run by Shamseddine, which recycles used tires. The factory is one of the few that manufactures tiles for children’s playgrounds with used tires.
pyrolysisplant“We work in both Lebanon’s industry and environment,” Shamseddine said proudly. “Both sectors must complement each other, so that our streets remain clean of used tires.”
Shamseddine is no newcomer to environmental activism: He has been a staunch advocate for the cause and worked with numerous green organizations. The urge to protect Lebanon’s greenery and environment was the main factor behind his decision to enter the recycling business. “A tire needs a thousand years to decompose back into the soil, and so it is difficult to get rid of once used,” Shamseddine explained.
Shamseddine’s path toward opening OLA 3R began in 2003, when he was a university student.
“In 2003, I was a graduate student and my thesis project required me to look for a rubber factory, so I studied each and every detail about running a factory,” he said. Shamseddine’s research helped pave the way for him and his partner Adballah Issa to open a rubber factory.
“I introduced the idea of recycling rubber and he accepted it,” he said.
The team visited countries considered leaders in recycling industrial waste. They then studied the number of cars in Lebanon and decided to replicate what they had seen abroad.
In 2013, according to Shamseddine, there were 1,700,000 cars in Lebanon. This number excluded UNIFIL and agricultural vehicles.
Shamseddine expects that the number could reach 2 million with the influx of Syrian refugees in the country. “According to our theoretical study, there’s at least one tire damaged for every car and hence in total we have 2 million tires per year [to recycle],” he said.
OLA 3R doesn’t accept just any tire, rather there are certain guidelines that must be followed to make it easier for the factory to do its work. For example, Shamseddine said that one main condition was that the tires be clean.
“It needs to be clean of sand, dirt and waste,” he said, adding that the factory can recycle 800 to 1,000 tires per day.
The factory has expanded its work locally, where it has made agreements with the municipality of Sidon and other nearby municipalities. “We tour a number of shops daily that sell tires to collect them and recycle them.”
Shamseddine revealed that many who burn tires for reasons unrelated to protesting do so in order to sell the spokes. “We made a deal with them, give the wheel and we give you the steel,” he said.
But separating rubber from steel is an intricate process requiring the use of special machinery, Shamseddine explained, stressing that the process all happened in an environmentally friendly way.
“Every two tires produces a square meter of tile and the price of one square meter is $15, with every 1,000 tires producing a ton of rubber granules,” he explained.
The big granules are used to make playground floors and the small ones are put in molds to make boards. Such a process, he explained, is done in a way that doesn’t harm the environment.
“We have various ideas, one of them is that the government should take a small sum of money from shops that sell wheels and distribute them to factories collecting them, such as ours,” Shamseddine said.
Sidon’s Mayor told The Daily Star that the municipality was doing whatever it could in order to make Sidon a clean environment.
“We are working hard in order to make Sidon a waste tire-free city,” Mohammad Saudi said. “We prevent auto parts shop owners from throwing their tires away.”