Talking rubbish – Turning trash into treasure

Here at Bustan Qaraaqa they don’t simply sort their recycling, compost their vegetable scraps and put out the rubbish to be collected weekly – they take REDUCE, REUSE and RECYCLE to a whole new level. With no municipal waste management in Palestine, they have adopted a policy of ‘what comes on site, stays on site’, often collecting other peoples waste too! Using permaculture, creativity, knowledge and passion they educate and demonstrate by living sustainably themselves and maintaining a philosophy that there is no such thing as waste – just a failure of imagination. They hope to inspire Palestinians to stop throwing their rubbish down hillsides or burning it on the side of the road and for foreign guests to understand their role in the waste cycle too. What would you do if your council didn’t collect your waste? How would you consume differently? What would you do with your rubbish?

This post will take you through the details of Bustan Qaraaqa‘s waste management systems and also provide some inspiration from the internet on upcycling ideas… but first I want to share with you a project we have been involved in during our stay here… building a greenhouse from recycled materials.

Beit Igzaz – The Greenhouse

This construction project has been the main focus of our efforts whilst at Bustan Qaraaqa and through this work, along with dealing with the daily waste management, we have deeply internalised our connection with consumption and been inspired by by the functional and aesthetic creations that can be created from our ‘rubbish’.

The beit igzaz is designed according to the principles of permaculture and will serve as a resource hub integrated into ‘zone one‘ of the farm system. It will enable them to improve their on site resource management by providing water and food, cooking, laundry and shower facilities and more, but most importantly, by providing an alternative to the fossil fuel dependent kitchen and one-use-only grey water shower and laundry systems currently in the farmhouse.  The aim is to entice the guests and volunteers to use the more sustainable and economic alternative system by offering practicality and convenience whilst also providing an impressive demonstration site for education purposes. Beit igzaz has been designed using multipurpose principles with many interconnections. This way it reduces the consumption of building materials and space by putting many functions under one roof whilst still creating a spacious, bright and green space to live in. It will contain: shower, sauna, kitchen, laundry, aquaculture, food production aquaculture, winter fruits, tropical foods, mushrooms, smokery and brewery. This sketch shows the design elements:

Functional Overview – At Bustan Qaraaqa‘s site in Beit Sahour they have to design for low rainfall (just 200-300ml per year!), a municipal water supply that is unsustainable, expensive and unreliable and high temperatures for more than 4 months of the year (35-50°C).

Therefore, the greenhouse has been designed to efficiently use water, cool in summer months and maintain at least 16°C in winter months to keep the tropical plants happy. To achieve this over 200m3 each year of clean rainwater will be collected from the recycled plastic bottle roof draining to trees, storage tanks and cisterns.  This clean water will be distilled using a solar still before drinking or used directly in the shower and kitchen.  The washing machine will have the options of being filled with fresh water or from the hot soapy shower water directly.  All the grey water will flow through the constructed wetland system inside building then into the tilapia fish breeding tank and on to irrigate the tropical fruit trees such as banana and avocado.  The same water collecting roof will allow the sunlight in to warm the rock and the water channel but will trap the warm air under it – raising the temperature inside on cold winter days.  In the summer a system of vents and ducts will keep the atmosphere cool.  This solar passive architecture saves fuel. The sketch below shows the water cycling:

Water conservation – The building’s roof is designed to collect clean rainwater and deliver it to a storage tank so it can be used through the dry summer months. This water can be solar heated or supplied al clima to the shower (see the photos below), laundry, kitchen and aquaponics directly. The greywater is collected, reused and filtered by the system, and along the way, used for cleaning, laundry (prewash), climatic amelioration and crop irrigation. The water flows from one component to the next with gravity along a water quality gradient. Precaution is taken to prevent unnecessary reduction in water quality by salty soaps and detergents. Finally the water’s quality is improved by a living filter of plants as it passes through a wetland flowing into a pond overflowing into a forest soil irrigating a tropical forest food production system. The water will also play a key role in storing solar energy to heat the space on cold winter days and cool the air on hot summer days. Every drop of water used will be reused by another component of the design as they aim to achieve the most efficient use of this versatile but scarce resource. Look at the gorgeous shower that will use water collected from the roof before directing that water to the laundry…


Climatic amelioration – The building is designed to take full advantage of the wind and sun to have cooling effect on hot days and a warming effect on cool days. On cold days the vents are closed and roof and walls trap solar energy as sun warms the rock and air inside.  Solar energy stored in warm rocks and water is released through the night raising minimum temperatures and preventing frost. Additional sources of warmth are: the shower room producing solar heated water and steam, the sauna, and the kitchen where the wood fuelled bread oven and rocket stoves warm the space. The fuelwood is growing on the farm. On hot days the ventilation is opened.  The steeply pitched roof angled into the prevailing wind allows for the efficient extraction of hot air.  The exiting hot air draws in evaporation-cooled air through a duct in the shower room where more evaporation further cools the incoming air.  In theory the stronger the sun shines the faster the cool air will be pulled into the building.  The ceiling is 7m high at its highest keeping the hot air high above head height.  The entire roof can be shaded to limit the amount of solar energy entering the building.  A solar oven replaces the need to use the bread oven on hot days.  The large volume of water in the system has a cooling effect as it evaporates and transpires from surfaces. The photo above shows a volunteer constructing the recycled plastic bottle roof which is crucial for trapping heat and collecting water. The sketch below demonstrates the heating and cooling functions of beit igzaz.

Materials – To avert the environmental damage caused by the extraction, manufacture and distribution of building materials Bustan Qaraaqa set themselves the aim of collecting all materials locally by either saving, scavenging or salvaging. This has included the glass bottles to build the walls (hence the name beit iqzaz – literally glass house), the plastic bottles to build the roof and metal cans/tins to make the rocket stoves – note that there is no facility to recycle these materials in the West Bank. Additionally, they have salvaged materials from dumps, demolitions and scrap merchants, including the scrap iron for the frame, reclaimed timber for the doorframes, construction scaffold, kitchen unit, reclaimed kitchen sink, leaky water tanks as shower screen, rotten cement for levelling and smoothing floors and more! They have also made use of local materials for natural building such as soil, sand and goat manure used as a mortar or natural cement to hold the glass bottles in the walls, field stones to build the wall foundations and olive wood trunks as lintels. The soil for the tropical fruit trees and other crops to be grown inside the building is enriched with compost made on site (see the compost sections below). Look at how beautiful these glass walls are! The bottles are held in place by the natural cement and horizontal wires attached to the reclaimed steel frame.

Increased food production – The “finca”, inspired by diverse gardens of subtropical American and African forests, will provide a diverse array of foods.  The finca will give Bustan Qaraaqa the opportunity to grow vegetables and fruits on the farm all year and to grow tropical fruits they now buy from the market.  The warmth and recycled water will allow them to continue cropping heat loving crops through the winter such as: tomato, aubergine, cucumber, peppers, passion fruit and to harvest frost intolerant perennials such as: banana, avocado, guanabana, starfruit, zapote, cassava and taro.   The possibilities are endless!  Imitating the stratified and diverse structure of tropical forest ecosystems every plant life form is exploited to maximise productivity in a limited space.  From the soil up, a ground layer of taro, tomato, and pepper is shaded by a subcanopy of shrubs and small trees such as banana, coffee, cacao, papaya and starfruit supporting climbing vines like black pepper, passionfruit and pitaya, all under a six meter high canopy of avocado, sapote and gunanbana (soursop) trees.  Transpiration and shade will cool the atmosphere of the building in the summer months.

Waste (Resource) Management

What doesn’t get used in the construction of beit igzaz gets used in other wonderful ways here at Bustan Qaraaqa

Composting Bustan Qaraaqa compost all their food scraps. They also include any meat, grease, hair, nut shells, coffee grinds and dirty water. Any paper or cardboard (like cereal boxes) is also torn up and added to maintain the important carbon:nitrogen ratio and the resulting compost is used in the gardens. The grease is removed from plates and added to the compost before washing up. Washing up involves soaking the dirty plates and cutlery in water with citrus (already used in a delicious meal – see the picture on the right). The citrus cleans, meaning they don’t have to buy detergent – cutting down on consumption and saving the environment at the same time. The pith of lemon is rich with with antiseptic for cleaning, alcohol which is useful for dissolving grease and the acidity of the juice acts as a detergent. It is worth noting that commercial washing up liquid is 7% formalin (formaldahyde) which is a documented carcinogen and cause of dermititis.  Additionally, they wash up with palm scrubbers which means they have even less to dispose of… they simply compost it when it is worn out! In the future they are planning on putting a worm farm under the kitchen work top in beit igzaz. It will enable them to continue eating their kitchen waste – nutrient rich worm castings will feed the tropical plants and the worms will feed the fish!

Human Waste – The loo with a view saves water and produces humanure (which will be used to establish beit igzaz’s tropical forest). The Bustan Qaraaqa team built the beautiful compost toilet from scavenged materials suspended over the humanure composters. They gathered timber for the frame from building sites, scoured the dumps for palm fronds for the thatch, and collected bottles from bars to fill the walls. Windows were constructed from plastic bags ironed into coloured sheets, cut and ironed again into designs which glow like stained glass in the evening sun. Moreover, the true beauty of this new toilet is that they can make their contributions hygienically, saving 6L of water every time and not contributing to environmental damage due to untreated sewerage going straight in to the landscape – there is no sewerage treatment here in Beit Sahour. 🙁


Cardboard, clothes, textiles – With so many guests coming through Bustan Qaraaqa, there are always old and worn out clothes left behind so these are used to mulch trees as you can see in the photo below. In this dry climate, this is essential to maintain moisture and life in the soil. Of course old clothes can also be used as rags or upcycled in to new clothing or furnishings too – more about that in a future post! 🙂

Glass bottles Bustan Qaraaqa use their glass bottles in beautiful functional ways to construct beit igzaz, as you saw above, but there are many other inspiring ways glass bottles can be used too. Check out these ideas I found on the internet…



Plastic bottles – As you saw above, the plastic bottles at Bustan Qaraaqa are mostly used for the water harvesting roof on beit igzaz. However, many of the plastic bottles here are also used for more efficient irrigation. By linking the bottles together and digging them in to the ground beside a tree, watering their roots with very little water in this dry climate is much more efficient (see the picture below, middle). Another use for plastic bottles is as a water heater for the aquaponics system as seen in the picture below, left. In Taiwan, a huge building using 1.5 million PET bottles (see in the picture below right) was built recently.


Below you can see a plastic bottle school in Asia, instructions on making a bottle wall in Central America and a plastic bottle home in Nigeria.


Plastic bags – Bustan Qaraaqa simply reuse their plastic bags for carrying things, lining rubbish bins and making screens like the one in the compost toilet above but this beautiful canister basket, right, is also inspiring and I’d like to try making one someday.

Metal Bottle caps Bustan Qaraaqa have been collecting bottle caps but are undecided what to do with them so here are some ideas..


Corks Bustan Qaraaqa have also been collecting their wine corks but haven’t used them yet so here are some ideas (on top of the obvious, cork board one)…


Tin and cans – here are some ideas for all the cans they have been storing…



WoodThere is never a shortage of ideas for wood scavenged or for pallets found. Jean recently made an armchair from a pallet and the solar oven below was built by Bustan Qaraaqa out of just two pallets.

Tyre stuffingFinally, with any rubbish that can’t be reused or recycled (like cigarette butts, women’s hygiene products, some plastic containers, etc), Bustan Qaraaqa stuffs it in to tyres and builds structures like the below bed bases (which have been cobbed over) or small huts.


A final note…

Staying at Bustan Qaraaqa has definitely helped me deepen my connection to waste management and also got me thinking about the best ways to process waste… so here are some things to remember…

  • Sort, group and clean your waste straight away – no one wants to pick out old dirty yoghurt pots for their project!
  • 1 of anything is almost useless but by collecting items you regularly use the possibilities expand for unique, beautiful things or construction projects.
  • REDUCTION is the most important (then reuse and then recycle) thing for the environment – by reducing your waste you also reduce your work!

Please share your experiences in waste management and any interesting projects for reusing or recycling things. 🙂



  • Michael Moore

    Hi Carlita, I love your Blogs and your latest posting on rubbish is amazing. I can only imagine what you Jean and the rest of the volunteers will take away from this experience and what you are giving to the community. What an inspiration! thank you
    Michael Victoria Moore
    Genesis Permaculture

    p.s. I have a call out for blankets to send to you. I have to speak with Rob Avis in Calgary as he offered to act as a depot for the Southern Alberta Permies and I am looking after northern Alberta, I hope to have them shipped off in the next couple of weeks. Can you please email me the address again so that I make sure that they arrive at their destination.
    Love and blessings to you all


  • non-electric water distiller

    This portable water distiller is capable of removing the five major categories of pollution.
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  • Alice Tamani

    Hi, your blog is exactly what I have been searching for. I live in Fiji, and there is no recycling here either, so I have to find a way to re-use everything. I have had a great success with paint cans making beds and chairs, and you might like that idea if you have any large cans (you can see on my blog). You can use juice or other large cans I would think. I have subscribed and look forward to your posts. I am currently making a chicken house using plastic bottles filled with coloured water as bricks.
    thank you for such a great blog!!!!!!!!!


    Making Sense of Things Reply:

    Thanks for your comment! And your great ideas 🙂


  • Take Rubbish

    Excellent Work!! I came across your blog, and there I found great information about Turning trash into treasure. It’s very informative information for us. Thanks for sharing this kind of information.


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