Each year, 16 billion single-use paper coffee cups are used, exhausting, in their production, 6.5 million trees, and 4 billion gallons of water. Tetra packs, on the other hand, are made of a mix of aluminum and plastic that cannot be separated once mixed for packaging, becoming a real challenge to recycle.
PulP is a Lebanese startup that has innovated a solution for non-recyclable waste, tackling paper coffee cups and tetra packs. One of the three winners of the second edition of the DAWERR Ideathon 2022 funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the startup’s innovation helps minimize the ecological footprint of the construction industry.
We talked with Hala El Balaa, Founder of PulP, about how she developed her solution, her entrepreneurial journey, and the milestones she has reached so far.
Q: How did you decide to tackle this challenge and come up with your solution?
A: As a practicing architect, I have always questioned the role of architecture in creating more sustainable and eco-friendly cities. With the increasing crisis of waste in Lebanon, I saw an opportunity to address the problem by innovating in building materials to create greener buildings and cities.
We developed a creative method to replace a portion of the cement used in buildings with non-recyclable paper waste composed of tetra packs and coffee cups to create non-load-bearing masonry blocks. By doing so, we are reducing paper waste, that usually end up in landfills, while minimizing the carbon footprint of constructing partition walls. These blocks also provide better soundproofing and thermal insulation that is instrumental in reducing heating costs.
Our unique solution significantly diminishes cement consumption in an innovative, functional, cost-effective, and sustainable approach.
Q: What are some of the key milestones that you have achieved?
A: The journey of PulP initially started through our participation in the Youth Leadership Programme that UNDP led in 2021. We were selected as one of the top three winners in the regional forum of the program. We are also very proud to be one of the three winners of the DAWERR Ideathon in 2022.
Another one of our main accomplishments is the fact that we were able to successfully develop an initial mix that transforms into masonry blocks sold to contractors. When we compared the block, we cast in the factory with a regular concrete block used in construction, we noticed numerous similarities between the two. This is where we realized that our idea was not just an idea, but a product that can be implemented and sold to contractors.
Q: What role did your participation in the DAWERR Ideathon funded by USAID play in your journey as a startup?
A: The program gave us the opportunity to accelerate our business and receive the crucial support we needed in our entrepreneurship journey. We got exposed to a diverse pool of experts who mentored us on different topics, whether at the technical or business level. We used the funding we won from the program to test our prototype at specialized labs, acquire two pieces of machinery and invest in our startup to develop our business.
Q: Where do you envision PulP in the future?
A: Our long-term goal is to be one of the main providers of eco-friendly building materials and for our blocks to replace the regular concrete blocks in Lebanon and abroad.
Q: What advice do you have for future entrepreneurs?
A: The success factors for any entrepreneur are determination, hard work, and believing in the power of their idea. It doesn’t matter if in the beginning, not everything is perfect or if you think your idea is not well developed yet. What matters is that you start and keep pushing through until you make it.