Ziad Abi Chaker took it upon himself to replace stolen metal manhole covers on Lebanon's streets with new, more sustainable ones.
Using recycled single-use plastic, the industrial and environmental engineer applies a technique known as extrusion to melt the raw material and form it into the required shape. In this case, Mr Abi Chaker repurposes plastic waste to make drain covers to replace stolen ones.
Where other people see rubbish, he sees opportunity.
"I'm an industrial engineer, so my job is to find resources for manufacturing," Mr Abi Chaker told The National. "But I'm also an environmental engineer, so I find these resources among discarded, recyclable material."
Mr Abi Chaker makes use of all single-use plastic, such as plastic bags, plastic bottles, food packaging and more, and turns them into long-term sources of raw material to give them a new life.
His line of thinking offers a creative solution to a mounting problem in Lebanon.
Metal theft is becoming increasingly common as the country's economic situation continues to deteriorate.
The stolen materials are being sold for scrap in US dollars as people grow increasingly desperate to generate income in a country with scarce jobs and a depreciating currency.
Lebanon's Internal Security Forces confirmed the increase in these crimes to The National, with at least one person arrested for stealing a drain cover off the streets.
Other recent thefts included steel wires and pylons from power stations, plunging Lebanon further into darkness in March.
Eleven metal graveyard doors were also stolen from a small Lebanese town in Beqaa on April 4, prompting protests against sanctity violation.
Yasa, a Lebanese NGO for road safety, warned of the dangers of missing drain covers after a car got stuck in an uncovered manhole in Jnah, Beirut in April.
But with his simple and sustainable approach, Mr Abi Chaker is saving the environment and the streets.
So far, the engineer has been able to manufacture three manhole covers, with 20 more in the works, out of his own pocket. Capable of supporting 100 kilogrammes, up to 400kg, they are fit for human and road traffic. He is also producing a cover able to carry up to 800kg.
The first manhole was set to replace a missing lid in the south of Lebanon, while the two others were placed near Beirut River.
According to Mr Abi Chaker, the plastic covers are much more cost-effective than metal ones.
"The human traffic covers are between $20 and $30, while the vehicular ones cost between $40 and $60," he told The National. "They're 50 per cent cheaper than steel covers."
The plastic drain covers are also faster to make, taking two to three days to complete each piece, which is “a record compared to casting iron”.
Although the plastic covers are a highly efficient quick fix, Mr Abi Chaker cannot carry the cost burden on his own.
He is on the lookout for contributions from supporters of the project in the Lebanese community. "It's the best way to go," he said.
Beirut Mayor Jamal Itani showed interest in the project, telling The National he is open to receiving a proposal from Mr Abi Chaker's team on the details of the initiative to study potential collaboration and methods of implementation.
“Of course we’re interested in an alternative, replacing the metal covers with new metal ones costs a fortune,” he said.
But Mr Abi Chaker would rather secure funds independently from the municipality owing to the urgency of the matter and lack of faith in Lebanon's officials – a sentiment shared by many who took to the streets in October 2019 against political corruption and mismanagement.
Mr Abi Chaker is working with lawyers to pursue legal action against the municipality for "failing to properly and hastily respond to an imminent danger affecting vehicles and pedestrians of the city".
Manholes in Lebanon have been coverless for some time after the thefts began during the first quarter of 2021.
Despite the huge risk to pedestrians and vehicles, authorities have yet to take action. The open drains join a long list of malfunctioning public properties, alongside failing traffic lights and low-grade infrastructure.
The manhole covers are not the first initiative by Mr Abi Chaker to take the country by storm.
One of his projects, the Green Glass Recycling Initiative Lebanon, was ranked eighth out of 10 most innovative companies in 2021 for the Europe/Mena region after recycling 125 tonnes of discarded glass after the Beirut port blast.
The August 4 explosion killed more than 200 people, injured more than 7,000 and destroyed large parts of the city, leaving huge piles of shattered glass in the streets.
Instead of discarding the glass in Lebanon's overrun landfills, the initiative collected the material and provided it to the few remaining glass packaging factories in the northern city of Tripoli, supporting the country's glass industry and one of the poorest cities in the Middle East.
When asked why he continues to give to a country that does not give back, Mr Abi Chaker said: “When you love someone, do you give up on them in their time of need?
“Our country is afflicted with a disease of the ruling class, and I won’t give up on it now. Even though I was tempted by numerous offers to do the work I do over the world, I love being here, I love the work I do here, I love the impact we make here, I love the people and places here, and this is why I won’t leave.”