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BEIRUT: For their final major project a trio of graduating American University mechanical-engineering students have invented a machine to recycle used plastic bags, a seemingly simple task that had previously managed to escape the Lebanese. Sandra Aziz, one of the three AUB students, explained: "Plastic bags are the one thing that (the authorities) have so far not been able to recycle."
She added: "That is why this machine is so important. It's the first of its kind, and it costs practically nothing to build."
The engineering project was proposed, supervised and sponsored by Cedar Environmental, an environmental group based in Lebanon and chaired by biological resources engineer Ziad Abi Chaker, who personally supervised the student's work.
Abi Chaker said: "The purpose of this project was to attain a zero-waste recycling scheme for the country to benefit from. So far, recycling plastic bags remains a huge problem because of its transport cost. Thanks to this machine, we have solved the problem on-site with no need to transport the bags to another facility."
According to the three students, the 150-kilogram prototype machine was built over two academic semesters of intensive labor and research, starting last October.
One end of the machine resembles a large funnel, into which used plastic bags are fed. Once the process is complete, hard, brown, spaghetti-shaped plastic strips emerge from the other end.
Bernard Khadra, another one of the students, said: "Those can be used later on as raw material or mixed with substances to construct household or personal use items such as tables, chairs, etc."
He added: "The difference with this machine is that the plastic bags are something that one usually throws away after using. So this machine gathers those plastic bags and makes something useful out of them to save both nature and the environment."
According to Abi Chaker, the Environment ministry could not, until this day, find a solution or means to recycle used plastic bags.
He said: "I believe this machine will not only have an impact in Lebanon, but in neighboring countries as well."
He added: "Even in the Middle East, people are unaware of what to do with plastic bags, and the kind of machines they have can only take as input virgin or unused bags, which is not practical at all when it comes to garbage waste."
According to Abi Chaker, the machine will be part of any new recycling plant Cedar Environmental builds where waste material will be sorted. "The used plastic bags will be washed with a special detergent solution before being shredded and fed to the machine."
The young inventors said their recycling machine is ecological and causes no harm to the environment or the ozone layer.
"It has a single motor; so no heating, no burning, very low cost and very low energy."explained Khadra.
Carla Khoury Awad, the final year young engineer, said her professors were extremely proud of the project as "they could feel how community-oriented it was."
But Abi Chaker remembered difficulties with the project along the way. "At a certain level during the implementation process, we came to lose hope that the machine would ever work," he said. "The problem is monumental, we were looking failure right in the eyes".
Khoury said they had jeopardized their entire year by undertaking the project.
She said: "It could have failed, and the machine could have not worked and we would have been academically penalized. Yet we believed in it, and with the help of our professor Dr. Ahmad Smayli it worked."