More than a month after Israel's "Operation Guardian of the Walls" ended, construction workers in Gaza are still removing the rubble caused as a result the military campaign that left more than 250 Palestinians dead.
But although the debris is now one of Gaza's main headaches, the enclave is facing yet another problem, that of excessive amounts of plastic waste that only grow bigger with time. In 2018, for example, Gaza's two million people produced nearly 800 tonnes of waste a day, 12 percent of which came from plastic.
Two years down the line, the daily amount of waste already stood at 2,000 tonnes and Sami Al Naffar, an expert on plastic in the coastal enclave, says the situation is rapidly getting out of hand.
"We can see plastic waste everywhere: in the streets, houses, schools, factories - you name it. Needless to say, the presence of high quantities of this material is dangerous for people and the environment".
Plastic waste has long been linked to different sorts of cancers, and in an enclave where the disease is already a challenge, the surge in plastic waste has only made the situation worse. It's also dealt a severe blow to the Strip's already poor environmental conditions.
"The way we tackle the plastic problem in Gaza is that we either bury or burn it. Needless to say, it ends up reaching our soil, air, and water causing environmental and health hazards".
The entire area of the Gaza Strip, which is made up of some 370 square kilometres, is serviced by ten municipalities and a Joint Service Council that collectively have a staff of some 1,200 individuals. They also own nearly 500 donkey carts, 76 waste collection vehicles, and 23 other machines, including compactors and loaders. In addition, the area is serviced by two recycling plants but experts have long warned that these are "hardly enough".
Solution Nowhere in Sight
Throughout the years, the Hamas authorities that control the Gaza Strip have tried to solve the problem, opening more facilities to tackle plastic waste. But most efforts have largely been futile partially because of the lack of resources, and partially due to the Israeli blockade imposed in 2007 following the coup that brought Hamas, deemed a terrorist organisation by the Jewish state, to power.
"The government doesn't have a magic wand. Many sectors in Gaza need a steady money flow and Hamas needs to think how to distribute the limited funds it has. Israel, for its part, is also to blame because it is the one that prevents the necessary tools and goods from entering the Strip".
This is the why many NGO groups have taken matters into their own hands, setting up initiatives and private companies that recycle plastic.
According to reports, the Gaza Strip now boasts more than 20 such initiatives that turn plastic waste into other products that are later sold to 75 factories, who, in turn, use them to produce toys, water hoses, chairs, or other items.
The NGOs have also done impressive groundwork trying to convince Gazans to decrease the use of plastic in their households and opt for more environmentally friendly materials. Yet, Al Naffar believes more effort needs to be made in educating the populace before Palestinian society makes a shift.
"There is an absence of recycling culture among the Palestinians. It will take us years to change that, and this is something we need to do as soon as possible because if we don't, the repercussions will be dire".