As one of the most heavily populated capitals in the world, Cairo produces a whopping 15,000 tonnes of garbage every day, according to government estimates from 2012. That much waste is a tremendous burden on both infrastructure and health. At the same time, though, the trash can be a source of energy and new jobs.
What is needed is a little thinking outside of the box that integrates the efforts of the government, NGOs and the private sector.
In this regard, a positive step was taken this week, when a new memorandum was signed to mark cooperation between the environment ministry, Nestle Corporation and two NGOs, Spirit of Youth and Kheir Wa Baraka.
The memorandum is a smart agreement that aims to introduce healthy nutrition to the residents of the Ezbet Khairallah district, while at the same time encourage them to separate the contents of their waste into organic and inorganic.
The plan includes two phases, each lasting for three months and reaching up to 1,200 families. Kheir wa Baraka will be responsible for raising awareness and educating residents about ways to separate their trash. The Spirit of Youth Association will then collect the trash and transport it to specific destinations.
In exchange for the residents' cooperation, Nestle will provide them with nutritious meals three times a week for six months. Kheir wa Baraka will distribute the food among the families.
Ezbet Kairallah is one of the poorest districts in old Cairo, with most of its 750,000 residents being Upper Egyptians who arrived decades ago to work as artisans, mainly in marble and wood craftsmanship.
Although the district is haunted by neglect in many aspects, especially the many unattended historical sites and the lack of adequate infrastructure, a closer look at the many NGOs working there – like the two on this particular trash removal project – is a cause for great optimism.
Speaking with Ahram Online before signing the memorandum on 13 April, Laila Eskandar, minister of environmental affairs, said that she hopes the project will be as successful as a similar one in Brazil.
“We see great value in the ‘Food for Cleanliness’ programme as it will help to create a sustainable and environmentally sound solution to our community’s waste management issues,” she said.
There are more than 80 slums in Cairo, Eskandar said, and 1,200 across Egypt, all of which can be improved if there is more collaboration like this one.
She said that the organic components of the district's trash can be used as a source of energy at local cement factories.
As for the nonorganic part, youth will be trained to transform it into other useful material, thus creating much-needed jobs.
Eskandar clarified that the waste will not be a complete substitute for coal in the cement factories, stating that the use of coal was a decision made by the cabinet, and it must be respected.
This statement came as clarification after she recently came under the spotlight for openly opposing government decisions to introduce coal as a source of energy in the cement industry due to its potential negative health implications.
Nestlé Egypt was the party representing the private sector in the agreement. It had previously launched other initiatives to equip youngsters with soft skills that can improve their wellbeing and income, in addition to extending a hand to women in improverished parts of Egypt.
Nestlé Egypt is a wholly owned subsidiary of Nestlé S.A. in Switzerland, which is a large food and wellness company that has been present in North East African markets for over a century.
"It is our belief that a truly successful private enterprise cannot attain its success unless it benefits the society, even if not eradicating the problem at once, it contributes to the improvement of the situation one step at time," Suresh Narayanan, chairman and CEO of Nestlé in Egypt, told Ahram Online.
Miss Dahlia, chairwoman of the Spirit of Youth Association, said this project is part of efforts extended by the association for years to improve the lives of local residents and raise awareness regarding the health benefits of waste segregation.
Mona Said El-Tawil, deputy chair Kheir wa Baraka, stressed that these initiatives and efforts would be optimised in their efficiency only if the media played a stronger role in raising awareness among people to cooperate and start by their own household and street when it comes to cleanliness and environmental awareness.
“These are not the lands or the streets of the government, they belong to the people themselves,” she said.
Both NGOs involved in the project were established at the beginning of the millennium. They have been working mainly to improve the living standards of the residents and those working in collecting garbage, and they have collaborated with the government in recent years to introduce more infrastructure there.
The event on 13 April was attended by Dr Laila Eskandar, Minister of Environmental Affairs, and Adel Labib, Minister of Local Development, the Ambassador of Switzerland in Egypt, and other prominent figures.