Gazans burning plastic to make diesel pose health and environmental risks

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Living in one of the poorest regions in the Middle East and facing some of the highest fuel costs in the region, Palestinians in Gaza are burning plastic to make affordable diesel.

It is an economical and practical solution in a territory blocked by Israel for 15 years, but which poses serious environmental and health risks, according to experts.

Standing in front of rusting metal machinery and fuel containers, Mahmoud al-Kafarneh said AFPon the site in the Jabalia region of northern Gaza that he and his brothers came up with their plastic recycling project in 2018, “by searching the internet”.

The process begins with burning wood in a kiln under a large mud-covered tank that can hold up to 1.5 tonnes of shredded plastic. When the plastic melts, the vapors flow through a pipe into a water tank where they cool and drip as fuel into containers, ready to be sold.

Only a few of the workers wear masks and gloves as they melt bags of shredded plastic. Kafarneh said no one had had any health problems since work began on the site, which is next to olive trees and away from residential buildings.

“We follow all safe work procedures, he said.

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But Ahmed Hillis, director of Gaza’s National Institute for Environment and Development, fears an environmental disaster from the unregulated industry.

“The method used is rudimentary and very harmful for the workers”, mainly because they inhale toxic fumes, he explained. AFP.

Burning plastic releases dioxins, mercury and other toxic gases that pose “a threat to vegetation, human and animal health”, according to the United Nations Environment Programme. Hillis adds another hazard related to burning plastic, which is derived from petroleum hydrocarbons.

The tank is “a ticking time bomb because it could explode” from the heat, he said.

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