Environmental pollution in Egypt is undeniably a complicated problem. Waste disposal is inadequate and pollution is a significant issue for many communities.
In July 2018, Eco Experts released a report on the global levels of pollution for air, noise, and light, in which it listed the most and least toxic cities in the world. Cairo was among the worst ten listed in the report, followed by Delhi, Beijing, Moscow, Istanbul, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Buenos Aires, and Paris.
Egypt disposes of some 80 million tonnes of rubbish per year according to the country’s environment ministry but only 60 per cent of waste generated in the country is collected. There is a lack of recycling mechanisms and illegal dumping is a common practice in Egypt, compounding the air pollution in the major cities.
In a bid to tackle this problem, several startups have emerged seeking not only to raise awareness about the environmental issues, but also to promote solutions to improve the environment and address the impact of climate change.
Cairo-based Bekia, began two years ago, when founder Mohamed Zohdy, a mechanical engineer noticed that there were no companies in Africa recycling A4-sized paper due to the high cost in collection. So he decided to launch Bekia to encourage Egyptians to recycle inorganic waste like paper, cans, plastics and metals as well as used vegetable oil in exchange for goods and services like phone credits, groceries or metro tickets.
It recently graduated from regional accelerator and incubator, Flat6labs, raised a seed capital of LE 500,000 ($28,000) and hopes to be operational in more than 30 areas in Cairo in the first half of 2019 and eventually reach Alexandria by 2020. It has to date amassed more than 5000 clients and completed more than 7000 orders.
“We seek to raise around $ 300,000 to collect 500 thousand tonnes of waste, serving 100,000 clients,” says Zohdy who will also be launching an app to simplify the process for clients.
Another Cairo-based startup, Greenish, launched in 2017 to help people dispose of their waste in a more environmentally-friendly manner. The company began by providing companies with the resources and tools to collect and dispose of rubbish in their buildings with strategies on upcycling certain waste items. It is now set to monetise its platform by selling upcycled items such as plastic bags turned into pieces of art or fashion.
The e-commerce website will be called Mashna and will also serve as a platform to spread the culture of embracing a more sustainable lifestyle.
“It will display the products with the least waste and thus promoting a culture with a more sustainable lifestyle,” says Shady Abdallah, co-founder and managing director at Greenish. “Currently the website, the first of its kind in Africa, is still in the prototype stage.”
Abdallah plans to launch the website in Palestine soon and then to Jordan and Lebanon over the coming year.
Greenish also focuses on reducing the consumption of plastics and other non- renewable materials in a bid to lower the amount of waste.
“This is the vision Greenish is established on and which they try to circulate through their awareness campaigns,” says Abdallah.
The company has been touring Egypt’s governates and facilitating workshops as well as partnering with schools to educate children on the environment.
As part of this education, upcycling has emerged as a particularly popular way of dealing with the waste problem in Egypt. Upcycling, not to be confused with recycling, is the process of making more use of something instead of discarding it.
Yara Yassin and Rania Rafie co-founded the social startup Up-Fuse in 2013 in a bid to promote a sustainable and eco-conscious lifestyle by designing and producing environmentally-friendly and socially-aware products made from plastic bags which they now export to countries outside of Egypt.
In another initiative, Heba Saeed and Ola Balbaa played an active part in upcycling, founding Wara’a with a mission to produce recycled paper from domestic paper waste and rice straw.
“The idea of Wara’a came from the fact that there’s a huge increase in paper consumption and the direct effect of that on trees and consequently the environment,” says Balbaa.
While in 2016 Ibrahim Abougendy founded Mobikya, an interior design company that uses upcycled furniture fabrics and car tires.
But perhaps the most effective way to encourage Egyptians to recycle is to pay them for it. The Cairo governorate launched a project called “sell your garbage”, aiming to establish kiosks in different neighborhoods where people are encouraged to sell their cans, plastic bottles, paper and cardboard instead of throwing them away in 2017.
Similarly, ZeroWaste, which was founded on the philosophy of recycling under-utilised resources in 2017, collects aluminum cans and turns them into products by encouraging people to give them their cans in exchange for phone credit through their project CanBank.
“We are serving the community by spreading the culture of recycling in the Egyptian society especially among university and school students,” says Islam El-Refaey co-founder of ZeroWaste,.
“We also address the climate change problem by providing a better channel to collect recyclable materials which leads to a better usage of materials and energy used to process it, which leads to less carbon emissions.”
The above are just a small sample of the types of startups that have emerged in recent years to tackle Egypt’s waste problem. Recycling and upcycling affect more than just the environment; it plays a huge role in the economy. For businesses, to buy almost perfect recycled material is more cost friendly than buying refined material.