Towards next-level waste management

Ahmed Abdel-Hafez, Saturday 2 Sep 2023

Projects combining green investment and waste recycling are gaining ground in Egypt.

Waste managment was the focus of several projects within the National Initiative for Smart Green Pro
Waste managment was the focus of several projects within the National Initiative for Smart Green Projects Competition


The major and emerging economies have been compelled to reconfigure their supply chains and explore alternative options since 2020 when the Covid-19 pandemic began to cause global disorder and later when the Russia-Ukraine war broke out.

These alternatives have revolved around trading with countries enjoying close geographic proximity or strong and sustainable relationships. They have also seen countries seeking to increase their reliance on domestic ingredients and raw materials to mitigate disruptions in supply chains arising from military conflicts or future shutdowns due to the potential resurgence of pandemics.

Drawing on his 12 years of experience in the field, Egyptian entrepreneur Atallah Gad Al-Karim has used this opportunity to look at ways in which Egypt can benefit from the sustainable management of recyclable waste and the use of waste as an industrial input, thereby decreasing imports.

“Egypt’s agricultural activity results in 15 million tons of agricultural waste per year. This could be turned into organic fertilisers and used in reclaimed desert areas,” Gad Al-Karim said. “Some of the waste could also be converted into wood, paper, and other products that could reduce the country’s import bills,” he added.

Households and touristic and service facilities produce half a million tons of waste a year, including materials such as paper, plastic, metals, and glass. These could be recycled and used as production components, he said.

Gad Al-Karim has launched an Egyptian Waste Bank application with this in mind in what is a virtual marketplace connecting everyone in the garbage-collection cycle. His project won first prize in the large projects category of the National Initiative for Smart Green Projects Competition, one of the outcomes of the UN COP27 Climate Conference that Egypt hosted in the Red Sea resort city of Sharm El-Sheikh last November.

Gad Al-Karim is now seeking to implement his project in his home governorate of Luxor, the place where he acquired his experience and that has a diverse range of urban, agricultural, industrial, and touristic activities.

Waste-collection and management activities were first registered in the commercial company register in 2012 after foreign companies operating in the field withdrew, prompting the quest for a domestic alternative, Gad Al-Karim said.

He noted that there are around 30 registered companies in the field today that could draw up agreements with government entities in waste collection, management, and treatment activities.

The government had initially contracted such companies to collect and manage waste for a financial return. In 2016-17, it also issued a decision that was a lifeline for the waste companies, since the country’s cement factories were instructed to procure 10 per cent of their annual fuel consumption from the organic waste produced by nearby residential areas, Gad Al-Karim explained.

This decision transformed waste, previously perceived as a burden devoid of value, into a valuable resource, and the waste-collection companies began converting such organic waste into fuel. This provided financial support for the companies, particularly during the shutdowns enforced in the aftermath of the pandemic, he said.

“By issuing a series of regulatory decisions and empowering governors, the government could allow waste management to contribute more to the economy without incurring extra costs,” Gad Al-Karim said.

He suggested that the government direct local governors to facilitate contracts with waste-collection and management companies, granting them licences to levy fees on residences, tourist facilities, hotels, coffee shops, supermarkets, and malls in exchange for getting rid of their organic waste.

He also proposed that the companies pay for waste materials that are directly recyclable, such as cardboard, glass, metal, and plastic.

He said that a waste-collection and management system of this sort already operates on the ground, albeit informally, with over a million individuals, including contractors, scavengers, and collectors, being estimated to work in the sector.

Two million workers are also indirectly involved in the scrap trade in Egypt, most of them working in 250,000 scrap warehouses of which less than 10 per cent operate within the formal economy.

Gad Al-Karim said his Egyptian Waste Bank application could serve as a hub for all stakeholders within the waste-management system, including households, farmers, contractors, garbage collectors, and store owners.

The application taps into the widespread use of e-wallets on mobile phones for everyday financial transactions and is aligned with the state’s financial-inclusion plans.

It keeps a record of all transactions, and individuals can use it to pay a subscription fee for waste removal, with homes and establishments receiving compensation for the value of the waste they deliver to contractors that is calculated based on the prevailing price per kg.

According to Gad Al-Karim’s project feasibility data, the daily trading volume of waste is valued at around LE1 billion, all of which is traded outside the formal economic system.

Within the framework of the National Initiative for Smart Green Projects and the Strategy for Financial Inclusion and the Expansion of Green Investment, another successful venture in this year’s competition is the Compress Me project.

Designed by engineer Ayman Al-Hefnawi, this takes the form of an app connected to all kinds of garbage compactor trucks. The application facilitates access to these upon demand, with more and more environmentally-friendly electric vehicles currently being produced domestically.

“The project serves as an environmentally-friendly link between waste collectors and recycling facilities. It helps to decrease harmful emissions, enhance waste-recycling efforts, and increase economic value,” Al-Hefnawi said.

“In its initial phase, the project is focused on the deployment of small, compact vehicles. Despite their size, each truck’s workload is equivalent to that of 50 conventional waste-collection vehicles, leading to a reduction in harmful emissions,” he added.

“This results in less petrol and diesel consumption, along with a decrease in daily operational costs and the need for commuting to distant garages.”

The National Initiative for Smart Green Projects was launched by Mahmoud Mohieldin, UN climate change high-level champion for Egypt and UN special envoy on Financing the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda at the COP27 Climate Change Conference in Sharm El-Sheikh.

It is currently headed by Hisham Al-Badr, who helps the winners of the initiative’s competition to integrate their projects within a cohesive framework that can attract green investments and build resilience in the face of climate and environmental challenges.

All the winning projects should be implementable on the ground and be based on feasibility studies that ensure their financial sustainability.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 31 August, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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