CAIRO — Governor of Cairo Atef Abdel Hamid announced March 7 the start of the trial of the first garbage-buying kiosk, which would purchase solid garbage from citizens, including cardboard, plastic and metal waste. On March 11, the kiosk opened in Heliopolis for a trial period of six months before opening in other neighborhoods in Cairo.
The government is testing the feasibility of the project in Heliopolis to see what challenges they might face, before moving to the next phase. As the initiative is still in its infancy, the public response cannot be gauged yet.
The initiative stirred much controversy among the public. Some welcomed it as a positive change in Egyptian society, as people will sort their garbage at home before selling it to the kiosk, which is seen as a real solution to the accumulated trash in the streets of the capital.
Others, meanwhile, believe it was not a very well-thought-out decision and could lead to more accumulated garbage, as sanitation workers would refrain from collecting the remaining organic waste since people would have already sorted out and sold solid garbage.
In this regard, Shehata al-Moqadis, the head of the Garbage Collectors Syndicate, told Al-Monitor, “This initiative is not practical and not very well thought out. The Egyptian people are mostly poor and they do not drink bottled water or buy cans. The governor decided to implement this initiative in the affluent neighborhoods in Heliopolis, where he lives and where people are well-off. The initiative was not implemented in the slums and poor neighborhoods.”
He said, “People who live in Heliopolis do not have the time to go to the garbage-buying kiosk and would feel awkward if they did so. In addition, this initiative requires people to sort out garbage in their own homes to separate metal, plastic bottles and cardboard, attracting insect infestation.”
Moqadis noted, “Also, the rich would not waste time to receive 9 Egyptian pounds [$0.50] for a kilo [2.2 pounds] of cans, 3 pounds for a kilo of plastic or 1 pound for a kilo of paper. These are the prices for solid garbage as per the statement of the governorate.”
He continued, “These materials are not valuable for citizens but are a source of livelihood for sanitation workers. Should the state decide to take them, leaving only organic waste for street cleaners and garbage collectors, the latter will no longer collect garbage. This would only exacerbate the garbage crisis.”
“The state needs … to integrate sanitation workers in the new system and to take into consideration the social dimension, as the initiative could mean the loss of livelihood for thousands of workers. In addition, the state ought to learn from past mistakes after having contracted with foreign cleaning companies between 2002 and 2017, which was a failed experience. The state failed to pay these companies for their services, although it added 5 pounds to [citizens' monthly] electricity bills to pay the companies’ dues, yet the garbage ended up piling up in the streets.”
Moqadis called for establishing a ministry for cleaning services, so as to prevent any overlap or inconsistency between the relevant ministries and authorities, including the Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Local Development, the municipalities, the New Urban Communities Authority and the General Authority for Cleanliness and Beauty.
Moqadis said, “Improving the situation of the sanitation workers is of paramount importance to solve the garbage crisis. Therefore, we must work on changing society’s negative view of them.”
For his part, the undersecretary of parliament's energy and environment committee, Mohammed Rashwan, told Al-Monitor, “The initiative aims at spreading a new culture in the community, which is to sort out solid garbage at home, separating it into boxes for aluminum, cardboard and plastics for recycling purposes and economic feasibility. This way, people would benefit from selling their garbage.”
He added, “The initiative would also be beneficial to the recycling factories that face hardships, such as the absence of a government recycling system, high prices of electricity in the recycling factories and high prices of trash transportation, given the distance between the recycling factories and residential units. [The initiative] would provide these factories with raw materials for recycling such as aluminum, plastics and cardboard, as these factories now work at 25% of their production capacity. In addition, jobs for thousands of unemployed youth will be created and the garbage crisis eliminated.”
The kiosks would play an intermediate role between the citizens and the factories, as they buy garbage from citizens and sell it to the recycling factories.
Shirine Farragh, a member of the parliamentary Environment and Energy Committee, which was behind the initiative, told Al-Monitor, “Through my work with the parliament, I thought we should create a comprehensive system for the garbage collection. The garbage-buying kiosk is just the beginning.
She noted, “The rubbish problem that has a direct impact on citizens’ health and the urban aspect of Cairo starts at home. People get rid of garbage in dumpsters in the street without sorting it, while collectors take out solid garbage, leaving behind organic waste. The remains then go to the recycling factories without any significant amount of recyclable materials. [With this initiative], people will have three different boxes at home for cardboard, plastics and aluminum that they can sell in the nearest kiosk. This would be an incentive for citizens to start sorting out garbage, to reduce garbage in the streets. As for the organic waste, this would be recycled in fertilizers and energy industries.”
Farragh added, “There will be four vehicles in al-Nozha neighborhood [which is part of Heliopolis and one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Egypt] and Heliopolis to assist citizens who cannot drop their garbage at the kiosks. The locations and work schedules of such vehicles will be announced periodically.”
She said Egypt produces 22 million tons of garbage per year. Some Egyptian recycling factories requested the importation of garbage, which is not very reasonable as the problem lies in the lack of sorting out organic and solid waste. With the new initiative, the factories’ vehicles would tour these kiosks to pick up the garbage and sort out the solid waste.
Farragh noted that this initiative does not negatively impact garbage collectors, as they will still be paid the same amount they get from residential units. The residents of each apartment agree for garbage collectors to pick up the trash daily for 30 Egyptian pounds ($1.65) a month, and this would not change with the new initiative. Garbage collectors can also sell solid waste to the nearest kiosk without the cost of transportation. They would save time in sorting garbage themselves as solid waste would be already sorted at home.
Spreading the culture of residents sorting their own waste at home is the key ingredient to the success of this initiative. Schools and media awareness campaigns are essential in promoting the initiative. However, the financial incentive to encourage citizens to sort garbage is not enough to make a substantial change.