As she prepared for her final university project, Hala Smadi was eager to do something that would encourage local youths to strive for a life beyond just hanging out in coffee shops and hookah cafes— to seek out new adventures and purpose.
“Basically, I started my graduation project with something related to the topic of youth awareness,” Smadi tells The Majalla. Not content to simply lecture her peers about learning a new language or trying a new sport, Smadi dove into several new activities herself, such as gliding with the Royal Jordanian Gliding Club. “It was such a rush being able to literally fly over Amman,” she says.
Smadi was then required to demonstrate whether she had effectively used her skills as a graphic designer to spur a new pattern of behavior among the youth in her home city.
She doesn’t say much about what the jury thought of her graduation project, but she did accidentally usher in what would become a new side job that has gone on to make her something of a recycling celebrity in Jordan.
“We were asked to display our work in a fair, and I needed little chairs for jury members to sit down,” she says. “So I just got some tires, made a network of rope and came up with a stool inspired by the old ones I used to see.” Inspired by a love of nature, creative thinking and exceptional design, the University of Petra student had scoured Amman for disused tires and then repurposed them as colorful and comfortable Ottoman stools. They were a smash hit.
“Everyone who saw them thought they were amazing,” she says, “and it just made me want to do more.”
Now, when she isn’t running around the city searching for scrap tires, a process that she says is often time-consuming and hectic, Smadi invents different ways of converting the old tires into pieces of furniture that discerning customers would be proud to display in their homes.
Often painted and then wrapped in an unusual array of high-quality fabrics her aunt brings back from Dubai, the “wheels,” as she calls them, are topped with upholstered seats and can be used almost anywhere—around the pool, in the garden, as office furniture or given as a gift.
“I also really started to like [experimenting with] patterns of voids and stripes on different wheels,” she adds.
Smadi accepts custom orders as well, either through her Facebook page or from the Sararash Art Gallery. And, never one to rest on her laurels, she recently started up a collaborative effort with the hugely popular online store for all things hip and Arab, Jobedu.
While this is essentially a story about a young artist who had the gumption to follow through on a unique initiative that captivates people, her work plays a small role in addressing a very serious environmental problem as well.
Writing in the Jordan Journal of Civil Engineering in 2010, Ahmed N. Bdour and Yahia A . Al Khalayleh, estimated that by 2013, the Hashemite Kingdom would have roughly 4 million scrap tires languishing throughout the country.
That’s 4 million tires taking up space in landfills and creating habitat for disease-carrying vectors such as mosquitoes. Tires also pose an enormous safety hazard. Because they retain a great deal of heat and are highly combustible, large piles of scrap tires in the desert sun have provided fodder for some of the worst fires we’ve ever seen. The 5 million-tire fire that erupted in Kuwait in April 2012 burned so ferociously and for so long that NASA was able to capture images of the toxic smoke from space.
Recycled, even the scrappiest tires still have a great deal of value. They can be ground up into rubber granules or powder that is used widely across a variety of industries. Granulated tires can be reused as playground equipment or for tennis and basketball courts, as filler for plastic molding or for shoe soles and heels.
It’s also possible to extract fuel from scrap rubber tires, which Jordan’s Advanced Recycling Material says contain 20 percent more energy than coal, but this remains a controversial reclamation method given the emissions associated with burning the tires. This also takes financial resources, which are spread thin in Jordan.
Besides, Smadi’s “wheels” are prettier, impart a valuable environmental message, and—as she says—they add color to people’s lives.