The initiative, first launched in 2018, targets raising awareness of the importance of cleaning up the Nile River and reducing plastic consumption with the participation of local communities.
It aims to build more eco-friendly communities in Egypt and the Middle East and address the marine litter issue using socially empowering and innovative approaches, Farah Abdel-Baki, Awareness and Marketing Consultant for Verynile, told Ahram Online.
The Nile is a symbol of Egyptian heritage and a source of life for Egypt. It provides not just fish but more than 90 percent of the country's freshwater supply. It is also one of 10 rivers that contribute 90 percent of the garbage in the world's oceans, said Abdelbaki, citing the World Economic Forum.
Abdel-Baki describes how sadly over the years the river which has always held a special place in Egyptian's hearts, has suffered increasing levels of plastic and industrial pollution, especially around its banks, where the fish feed.
“Many of the fish would get stuck in the plastic waste and die, especially the young ones. Thus, threatening the livelihood of fishermen across the country,” she says.
Verynile, whose motto is Cleaning The Nile - One -Kilo at a Time, mainly works on three levels: Developing sustainable means to clean the Nile; recycling and up-cycling solid waste through partnerships with local stakeholders; and decreasing the usage of single-use plastic and thus reducing water pollution.
Relying on occasional clean-up campaigns, the initiative takes strides toward raising awareness about the dangers of single-use plastic.
With the help of about 250 volunteers, Verynile organized its first cleaning event in December 2018 collecting over 1.5 tons of rubbish from the Nile in only three hours.
Moreover, more than 200 tons of waste were collected over the past couple of years from the Nile, said Abdel-Baki.
The campaign altered its approach when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
In 2021, Khadija Hafez, co-founder of Verynile, said in an interview with CNN: "We couldn't organize any cleaning events, so we started 'The Reviving Fishermen Project'."
The Cairo-based initiative then started a collaboration with fishermen, from the tiny island of Al-Qursaya, close to central Cairo, to clean the river from plastic waste in exchange for money.
Abdel-Baki views the new approach more sustainable solution – for both the fishermen and the environment – as fishermen would work and clean on a daily basis, unlike other irregular events.
"They are the ones who know the Nile best, they know where plastic can be collected and where it accumulates, and they could reach areas that our volunteers couldn't," explained Abdel-Baki.
"At first we would have to clean the same areas over and over again, but over time, people started to understand what we were doing, and they stopped dumping their trash in the cleaned areas," said Hafez.
Although the fishermen are currently collecting only recyclable plastic, the difference in the water's clarity is evident.
Moreover, there has been a noticeable increase in the fish population as a result of the river clean-up and the removal of algae and waste, according to Abdel-Baki
The initiative buys plastic litter from fishermen at a higher price than what’s on offer at recycling plants. Such an approach not only contributes to a cleaner Nile but also provides the fishermen with an extra source of income.
"However, the above-market rates proposed a problem at first. Verynile had to sell the plastic back to recycling centres at higher prices in comparison with other suppliers, thus creating the challenge of convincing recycling factories to accept their high rates," explained Abdel-Baki.
"We spent the first year storing the waste we got with no one to buy it from us until we finally found a European factory that agreed to collaborate with us," she added. The deal they made provided a solution for their biggest challenge, which was longevity.
The plastic they collect is compacted per kind and stored until a sufficient quantity is gathered. On one hand, the transparent PET, a form of 100 percent recyclable plastic, is sent to a factory and turned into pellets that are then sent to Spain to be transformed into yarns.
On the other hand, low-value plastic is sent to Cemex Egypt, an Egyptian company operating in the sustainable construction sector, to be co-processed as an alternative to using fossil energy.
The fishermen's cleaning project is currently centered in Cairo, Giza, and recently Assiut, with plans to expand more in the future.
Verynile has also organized a workshop led by the women of Qursayah Island to support them financially while endorsing female empowerment amongst the underprivileged community.
"The project empowers those women to work towards protecting the environment through the up-cycling of recycled plastic bags into unique products which they can sell to improve their financial status," Abdel-Baki explained.
The initiative has recently set up a headquarters for Verynile on Qursayah Island, for the team to be able to manage various projects and also to work as a meeting point for community members on the island.
Many workshops, for women and children are held regularly at their headquarters.
Verynile is implemented by the Egyptian social enterprise Bassita and supported by the Ministry of Environment and some local and international institutions.