Upcycling the Waste of Warfare

Zain Alaabdain Ben Ali
Inspired by innovation, an ambitious young Yemeni is converting hardship to opportunity by transforming the detritus of violent conflict into everyday necessities that help ease the lives of fellow citizens—and all from his humble scrap metal workshop.

Every day, Khaled Ali, 27, sorts through fragments of munition waste and sells them by the kilogram for a modest price. The father of two has been a scrap dealer for years. 

“Since the end of 2016, the volume of artillery shells, rocket and bullet casings has multiplied,” said Ali, who gathers pieces of iron and copper to combine with other scrap metal in his shop. 

With unflinching courage, he has made the best of a dangerous environment and put its harmful fragments to good use.

“Now we use what was supposed to destroy us to ensure safety and stability.”

The motivation to upcycle munition waste came by accident one day in 2017, when a severe summer storm knocked over the umbrella of his shop, which fell apart. 

“It provided shade from the bright sunshine,” Ali said. But he couldn’t afford the cost of a new one, so he set about repairing it by recycling scrap metal he’d gathered. Welding 106-millimetre artillery shell casings, he was able to fashion a sturdy pole for his umbrella. Many neighbours were impressed by the result, and orders began to pour in, especially from displaced Yemenis.

“Now we use what was supposed to destroy us to ensure safety and stability.”

Since then, Ali has upcycled more scrap metal from war debris to produce poles for umbrellas, shops, tents, beds, storage spaces, and homes. His handiwork is visible throughout Marib. Ali said he has sold thousands of pieces, with sales reaching 40 per day.

“These poles are strong and durable since they’re less affected by rust and humidity than normal iron,” said Zain al-Maaqaki, a furniture dealer in Marib who uses them to fortify the foundations of his store.

Ali wins over customers with his competitive prices, which are lower than iron poles for sale elsewhere.

“A three-to-four-metre pipe costs 4,000 to 6,000 Yemeni riyals (in Marib, the equivalent of five to seven US dollars),” al-Maaqaki said. Regular iron poles cost twice as much. 

Ali’s product is a big hit with displaced Yemenis in Marib. One of them, Fahd Saleh, cited its high quality as the main reason behind the high demand. 

We hand over dangerous material to competent authorities and Project Masam to prevent the danger these remnants may cause.”

“When the Marib Dam overflowed in 2019, many tents were flooded in the Dhanah area nearby,” said Saleh, who is from that district. “Lots of houses were destroyed, but we noticed that the poles made from Ali’s scrap metal were not affected.” 

Transporting war remnants to Ali’s workshop is a risky undertaking. They may contain volatile residue or unexploded ordnance. 

“We hand over dangerous material to competent authorities and Project Masam (a landmine clearance organisation) to prevent the danger these remnants may cause,” Ali said.

Through his daily work of transforming material meant for conflict into useful objects, Ali aims to spread a spirit of optimism and vanquish the spectre of violence. 

“War is without a doubt the cause of our displacement, and we cannot change the past,” Fahd Saleh said. “But now we use what was meant to destroy us to ensure safety and stability.”




* The handling of any remnants of war is extremely dangerous. Do not touch or move any of them. Tampering with suspicious objects should also be avoided. Their presence and location should be reported to relevant authorities as soon as possible.

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