It is no secret that Egypt has a pollution problem – it might not be as pressing as that of China, but it is an issue nonetheless that needs immediate action. While the majority of the population would tell you that the country has bigger fish to fry, fixing the pollution problem could actually positively impact other issues that also need attention – such as healthcare and unemployment, to name a few.
A less polluted country would reflect on the health of its citizens. The transition towards a greener country is likely to create thousands of job opportunities, and citizens will make massive savings when it comes to utility bills.
Amongst 269 cities in the 2017 Mid-Year Pollution Index, Cairo is ranked #7 –with Alexandria not too far behind at #34. While there may be numerous factors as to why these numbers are so high, one of them is simple; you do not need to be an ecologist or green expert to know that the biggest issue in Egypt is the improper disposal of the abundant garbage, along with the burning of rice straw, resulting in air pollution that is equally horrible for both the health and the environment.
According to a Reuters feature in 2011, Egyptian farmers accumulated a total of 30 million tons of waste, which when burned would result in 80,000 tons of carbon dioxide; representing a whopping 42 percent of air pollution during the autumn season. The emissions of carbon dioxide per capita was 2.37 metric tons (2,370 kilograms) in 2014, according to World Development indicators.
So, what can residents do to decrease their carbon footprint? While you might be visualizing nightmarish chores like picking up garbage by the side of the road, the fact is that you can take much simpler steps. Remember, your goal is sustainability – it is not about how much you do now, but about how much you can keep doing in the long run.
How You Can Help
The best way to think about your journey towards a more eco-friendly lifestyle is to remember the three R’s: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.
Reducing is probably the simplest of the three R’s. You do not need to go out of your way to reduce your carbon footprint; you just need to be wary of your habits at home.
- Electronic Appliances
Because the Cairo heat is unbearable during the summer, you should not be expected to turn off your air conditioner. Instead, the household members could try spending time together in one room so only one would be running.
Teach the children to turn off the faucet when brushing their teeth to save water, and to turn off the light after leaving a room – even if it is only for a few minutes.
Additionally, think about how much water and electricity it takes to run your appliances at home. Instead of activating the dishwasher every day, try to skip one and have a family member do it as a chore. Instead of choosing the highest and hottest setting on your machine, find cooler settings that won’t require as much electricity or water.
A great example of habits that need to be revisited is what happens during the holy month of Ramadan. Egyptian families tend to stock up on groceries, and it is a shame how much of it ends up in the trash. If an item is perishable, like yogurt, fruit or bread, then buy fewer quantities at a time rather than buying in bulk. Not only will you be saving money, but you will also be teaching your family the importance of minimizing waste and living sustainably.
Furthermore, try taking your own bags when shopping all year round. Instead of going home with five or six plastic bags, you will be doing the environment a huge favor.
Although the Arab World is not exactly known for its green habits, Arabs have been practicing the “reuse” rule for decades, beginning with the first time your grandmother decided to save biscuit tins in order to store sewing supplies. While you might have been disappointed the first time you were met with needles instead of cookies, your grandmother was doing the environment a favor. Instead of throwing away perfectly good packaging, particularly tin boxes, cardboard containers and glass jars, you can easily wash them and reuse them.
If you are at a hotel and happen to use one of those little honey or jam glass jars at the breakfast buffet, keep it. After washing it very well with hot water, you can store some hand or nail cream, and you have got yourself your very own ultra-portable spa treatment.
Tin boxes are also great for travelling with items that you do not want exploding inside your luggage, such as toothpaste, shampoo and personal care items.
Glass jars are also nifty to keep around. You could use them to make overnight oats that you can take to work, or you could use them for storing homemade sauces, condiments or pickles.
One option that might interest the kids is cardboard containers, such as those used for potato chips. Reusing these packages is a great arts and craft activity that will keep them away from the TV. Make sure to provide them with stickers, wrapping paper, glitter, glue and anything else they would use.
If you have clothing in bad condition – such as a torn t-shirt or blouse – you could cut those items up and use them as kitchen or cleaning rags. Alternatively, the little ones could use old clothing to create their own little doll fashion show.
One more thing to begin reusing is water. If you are washing clothes by hand or taking a bath, do not throw that water away. That leftover water (even if soapy) is great for cleaning floors – all you need to do is just add some more soap.
If you are not planning on reusing items yourself, you can decide to support those who do. “Mobikya” is a studio known to up cycle old items, mainly tires and plastic boxes, into modern, useful furniture.
You have probably heard of the “Zabaleen” community, whose members recycle 85 percent of the city’s waste. While that may seem like a huge chunk, it is still not enough.
When throwing out your trash, dedicate separate cans for each type of waste. Create categories like glass, plastic, paper, metal and organic waste. You can either throw them out as is and you will be doing your local garbage man a favor, or you can go even further and recycle it yourself. Several organizations are ready to either buy your waste or accept it as a donation.
There are stores that sell categorized trashcans for recycling purposes, but you can also have them custom-made by any carpenter. When you separate your garbage, you are also likely to cut down on your use of plastic garbage bags; since organic waste (such as food waste) would need to be thrown away immediately, while waste like plastic, paper or glass could stay for weeks without being unsanitary.
Sell your Trash
Recently, two recycling kiosks were built in Heliopolis, giving residents the chance to make some extra money by being environmentally friendly. The kiosk accepts plastic, cans, paper, glass and cardboard, with different prices per kilogram for each. While the prices are modest and changing every day, they are still fun for kids who want to make extra cash, or low-income Egyptians who are struggling after the devaluation of the pound.
Even if you are not a Heliopolis resident, you can still find organizations that want to buy your trash, such as the “Zebala Store”.
Many households around Cairo already make it a habit to gather common waste items, like plastic bottles, in order to reuse or sell them. You could always ask them if they collect something specific, but if you are concerned that they might get embarrassed, just begin separating your trash so they could grab whatever they need without feeling uncomfortable. Even if the people you employ do not, remember that other people definitely will.
“Green Pan” is an oil-recycling service that collects used cooking oil and gives you free dish soap in return. It is a great initiative because people usually throw used oil in the sink, unaware that used oil is actually very corrosive to pipes.
The organizers of the initiative always announce which area they go to during the week on their Facebook page, so you can wait until they are near you to make your contribution.
A great time to decide to recycle is when the children finish a school semester. Your home is usually filled with books that will never be used again, in this case, it is a great idea to sell or donate them.
If you have printer paper, you could always just flip it over and print on the other side. If it is another type, like notebook sheets, contact “Resala” or smaller organizations like “El Mesbah El Modea”. These places recycle paper so they can later turn it into something useful for others.
One of the organizations doing great work in preserving the environment in Egypt is the Association for the Protection of the Environment (A.P.E.). Established in 1984, its members mostly consist of people from the “Zabaleen” community, in addition to volunteers and experts. The organization has several locations around Cairo – in fact, you can request a tour via their website.
One of their services is enabling members of the “Zabaleen” to create income-generating, eco-friendly activities like teaching them a variety of skills such as patchwork, rug weaving and recycling paper. The resulting products are sold around Cairo.
Make Mindful Choices
Sometimes, being environmentally conscious is just about trusting your gut. If you are known to purchase a bottle of water every single day, then it might be a better option to invest in a water cooler and a reusable bottle. If you can’t go through the day without a latte from your nearby coffee shop, then purchase a reusable travel mug and have the staff fill it instead of a paper cup.
Know Why you are Helping
Finally, the most important thing is to embark upon your eco-friendly journey with purpose. You are not trying to save the world, and you are not doing it for recognition, but rather because a plastic bottle takes 450 years to decompose, while paper takes six weeks and cardboard takes two months. An aluminum can takes 200 to 500 years. As for a glass bottle, that takes a whopping one million years.
One can never maintain a zero percent carbon footprint, but with small, simple steps, Egypt could be well on its way towards a greener tomorrow.
Mobikya’s Facebook: MobikyaStudio
Zebala Store’s Facebook: zebalaegypt
Green Pan’s Facebook: Greenpan.service
Resala’s Facebook: Resala.org
El Mesbah El Modea’s Facebook: ElMesbah.ElModea
APE’s Website: ape.org.eg