03 Mar 2020
Ramallah, Palestine
Resource Efficiency and Sustainable Waste Management

The old proverb that “one person’s trash is another person’s treasure” rings true for Aya Khateeb, co-founder of Palestinian recycling startup Mnjm. Last year, Khateeb and her husband decided to establish Mnjm when they realized just how much solid waste their household was generating. “And we are considered a small family,” Khateeb added.

The couple tried to find a local business who would take their recyclable plastic and paper rubbish, but nobody was interested. Now Mnjm is forging this missing link between consumers and industry — it collects recyclable materials from households and then sells them as raw materials to factories. In this way, Mnjm aims to demonstrate the real value of the recyclable waste currently languishing in trash cans around Palestine.

Mnjm’s mission to change perceptions about trash permeates the entire company, right down from its name. “In Arabic, Mnjm means mining,” she said. “This is because we believe that solid waste is a treasure, and is valuable.”

While Palestine’s track record on recycling has improved over the years, there remains plenty of scope for improvement. One 2019 report found that most municipal solid waste (i.e. collected from households and small businesses) is never separated into recyclable and non-recyclable materials. At one Jericho site, plastic and cardboard made up more than one-third of landfill.

Khateeb traces this problematic situation to various causes: disjointed government policy, the absence of recycling expertise, and the lack of awareness about recycling’s environmental and financial benefits.

To shift community mindsets, Mnjm has targeted an especially powerful ally: the local children of Ramallah. Mnjm holds artistic workshops based around recycling, which encourage young boys and girls to view rubbish with a newfound reverence. Recently, the children worked together to arrange waste into certain shapes, before projecting those shapes as silhouettes (see below).

For Khateeb, the artistic workshops are the most rewarding part of Mnjm’s journey so far. She and her husband can watch the children forming healthier, more sustainable views about recycling than previous generations. “We were so happy to see the children’s reactions after finishing their artworks,” she said.

Funding looms as a key challenge to Mnjm’s growth. The company successfully applied for a grant from local NGO Leaders Organization, which has supplemented the profits made by Mnjm from selling raw materials to factories. With more financial backing, Mnjm could produce its own recycled products, not to mention conducting more community outreach activities.

With that little extra push, Khateeb’s brainchild could lead to Palestinians taking recycling even more seriously — a trend already kicking off with her young, “trash art” graduates.

 

Learn more about Mnjm through Facebook and Instagram.

Photos courtesy of Mnjm

David is a freelance writer and researcher based in Beirut. He has previously worked in Cairo.David Wood
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Mnjm Resource efficiency and sustainable waste management
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