19 Sep 2019 Press release Cities and lifestyles

Young environmental prize winner for West Asia reshapes fashion future in Lebanon saving on landfill and helping refugees

  • Twenty-four-year-old Omar Itani from Lebanon wins the prestigious Young Champions of the Earth Prize for West Asia with FabricAID.
  • Seven young entrepreneurs under the age of 30 with big ideas for environmental change have been recognized from across the globe.
  • Young Champions in each region receive seed funding, mentoring and communications support to amplify their efforts. 

19 September 2019 – Twenty-four-year-old Omar Itani and FabricAID founder has won the Young Champions of the Earth Prize for his pioneering work to establish the region’s first upcycling and clothing redistribution hub.

As world leaders gather at the UN Headquarters in New York for the Climate Action Summit and General Assembly in the coming days, climate and the environment will be at the forefront of discussions. Youth around the world are already taking action, because there is no time to lose.

The fashion industry is the second-biggest consumer of water, using enough water to meet the needs of five million people and producing the equivalent of 3 million barrels of oil in microfibre, often dumped in the sea.

Itani’s solution, FabricAID, collects, sorts and redistributes clothes for disadvantaged communities including refugees from Syria and Palestine, at prices capped at US$2, bringing new life to fabric previously burned or thrown into landfills.

“FabricAID redesigns the way we think about fashion,” said Itani. “People in real need have few clothes or possessions. Yet there is also an excess of good clothing burned or thrown into landfill, polluting the environment and creating unnecessary waste.” 

To date, the organization has upcycled 75,000 kilograms of clothing and sold more than 50,000 items among more than 10,000 people, mostly refugees or disadvantaged communities with little income.

Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), said: “Climate change is the defining  challenge of our time and calls on all of us to reduce, reuse and recycle to eliminate waste. The fashion industry needs innovative business models and leaders like Omar to help us embrace and move to a zero-waste and low-carbon economy.”

Markus Steilemann, Chief Executive Officer of Covestro, said: “The business world needs fresh thinking and much more of a start-up culture to tackle global environmental challenges, while ensuring our long-term growth. The Young Champions of the Earth can help achieve this and everyone at Covestro is proud to support them. We want to help make the world a brighter place.”

A global jury, made up of Covestro Chief Executive Officer Markus Steilemann, UN Environment Programme’s Deputy Executive Director Joyce Msuya, VICE News Tonight’s science and climate change correspondent Arielle Duhaime-Ross, UN Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth Jayathma Wickramanayake and Kathy Calvin, President and Chief Executive Officer of the United Nations Foundation, selected the winners among 35 regional finalists from over 1,000 applicants.

Over the next year, the creative, innovative and impactful initiatives of the winners will be documented on social media, through regular news updates and video blogs. Sign up and follow their journey here

The prestigious Young Champions of the Earth prize, powered by Covestro, is awarded every year by UN Environment Programme to young environmentalists between the ages of 18 and 30, for their outstanding ideas to protect the environment. 

Omar is one of seven winners from Africa, North America, Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific, Europe and West Asia. The winners will receive their award during the Champions of the Earth Ceremony in New York City on 26 September, coinciding with the annual United Nations General Assembly meeting and the Climate Action Summit.



About the Young Champions of the Earth

The Young Champions of the Earth Prize was first started in 2017, offering the prestigious and highly successful Champions of the Earth platform – with laureates including heads of state, inspiring scientists, and environmental visionaries – to brilliant young environmentalists with a vision.

About UN Environment Programme

UN Environment Programme is the leading global voice on the environment. It provides leadership and encourages partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing, and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations.

About Covestro

With 2018 sales of EUR 14.6 billion, Covestro is among the world’s largest polymer companies. Business activities are focused on the manufacture of high-tech polymer materials and the development of innovative solutions for products used in many areas of daily life.

For more information contact:

Keishamaza Rukikaire, UN Environment Programme, Head of News and Media