Where do our wastes go?

Written by Haneen Gamal
Edited by Malak Manie

We are a wasteful lot on planet Earth. We do not mean to be, but this is an inherent and unavoidable feature of human society. The process of living, eating, working and playing all utilize consumer products whose production and use generates wastes. As the saying goes, “Every candy bar has a wrapper, every apple has a core”, it is almost impossible to think of a process that does not create some waste.

But what happens to all this waste?

Success in waste management, a great technical initiative, depends on three factors: awareness, decision making and action. These factors are essential for the main distributive branches where wastes go: recycling, incineration, and landfilling.

Recycling

During the past ten years there has been a growing realization that our globe is finite in its resources, and that the environment is under considerable stress. In response, recycling organizations are pioneering, so that metal cans are going back to smelters, paper back to pulp mills, glasses and plastics to factories, to be turned into new products. By reflecting on the situation here in Egypt, we will find that awareness is slightly increasing during the last 10 years. On August 29, 2017, the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS) revealed figures about waste recycling in Egypt in a report detailing statistics from the Egyptian governorates with the top five highest recycling rates. Gharbiya governorate came in first place with 97.9%, Beheira in second place with 97.5%. The three governorates Kafr al-Sheikh, Qalyubiya and Daqahlia occupied the following three rankings 92.3%, 72.3% and 0.5%, respectively.

There is a typical recycling practice in several countries: households sort their garbage into different containers before discarding it, separate containers are assigned for solid waste of different types, and others for organic waste. However, in Egypt, households still produce mixed waste. As a result, sorting it is the garbage collectors’ responsibility. It is a task which exposes the collectors to serious health risks and increases the potential of spreading diseases. Therefore, here are few tips to help you take a step towards recycling:

  • Segregate your trash

There is an art to separate your trash. Categorise the plastic containers from the glass, aluminium foil, tin, and paper.

  • Not all plastic is recyclable

 You should never recycle unmarked plastic containers. Look for containers that have the number 1 or 2 marked on them, those are recyclable.

  •  Wash your containers before recycling

 Make sure to clean your bottles from any residue before you send them to get recycled. You cannot recycle dirty containers, as the residue can interfere with the recycling process itself.

  • Remove any tarnished paper or carton

If the paper you are trying to recycle was used to wrap, for instance takeaway food, then you probably cannot recycle it. You cannot recycle cartons and paper that are stained in oil. Do not add them to your recycling batch or they will ruin it.

 Incineration

Incineration then comes into the second place; it is highly related to recycling. However, it is the least favourable of all the textile recycling options, such as reuse and recycling. Incineration simply is heating wastes in the presence of oxygen to oxidize organic compounds. Wastes are converted to another useful form which is electric energy and useful steam or heat.  It also helps precious non-renewable resources such as gas, oil and coal. Yet, the Egyptian society is living a serious problem due to the random burning of wastes especially in the agricultural governorates. For instance, the agricultural waste burning caused black clouds and air pollution on Sohag governorate over the past three years. On the contrary, the Egyptian Government is still taking steps to limit these activities. In fact, over 500,000 tons of rice straw has been collected this year as part of the country’s efforts to reduce pollution caused by straw burning, which is almost 88% of the total amount. Besides, in 2018 the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency has been taking legal measures against violators, in which penalties reach LE 5000.

Landfills

Last but not least, landfilling. For the past millennia the greatest portion of wastes ends up in a landfilling. Although efforts are now being made to reduce the amounts of wastes by recycling and incineration, landfills continue to be the cornerstone of waste management. But are landfills really serving our society and environment well? The waste disposal problem is closely related to population growth and urbanization. A significant problem with landfills is simply their large numbers and expenses of valuable real estate they occupy.  During the beginning of this year, the Egyptian Ministry of Environment announced that it will start applying the government’s plan of closing the unsafe landfills in Cairo and Giza and changing them into facilities of public services. Also, the officials discussed the ministry’s plan to choose two places in Al-Korimat and in the 6th of October city to be the only landfills in Egypt. However, it has been found that the two landfills are so far for the collectors and will be costly for them as well. Nevertheless, in the late January 2020, the Minister of Local Development, Mahmoud Sharawy, confirmed in the Parliament’s plenary session that the ministry allocated LE 12 billion to implement a new garbage system. He asserted that the ministry eliminated more than 26 landfills nationwide.

Conclusion

All in all, the Egyptian government is taking the steps to solve the issue of wastes. As it is mentioned before, the wastes are strongly related to the population growth. The real solution depends on us, the population. We need to be more aware of our wastes, moreover, recycling should be the primary path for wastes. In practice, we should classify our wastes and categorise them into plastics, papers, metals, and food wastes to let the process go in ease. We are fortunate that now there are multiple Egyptian companies that will help you get rid of your wastes in the right direction. Here is the list of their names, websites, or Facebook pages so that you can contact them; most of them are specialised in collecting used cooking oil.

1. Go Clean

2. Zebala store

3. Recycling cooking oil

4. Bekia

5. Men Jadeed

6. Green Pan

7. EverGreen

8. RecycloBekia

References:

Tammemagi, H. Y. (1999). The Waste Crisis: Landfills, Incinerators, and the Search for a Sustainable Future (1st ed.). Oxford University Press.

Bagchi, A. (2004). Design of Landfills and Integrated Solid Waste Management (3rd ed.). Wiley.

Letcher, T., & Vallero, D. (2011). Waste: A Handbook for Management (1st ed.). Academic Press.

Cossu, R., & Stegmann, R. (2018). Solid Waste Landfilling: Concepts, Processes, Technology (1st ed.). Elsevier.

Egypt plans to turn landfills into public service facilities. (2020, February 7). EgyptToday. https://www.egypttoday.com/Article/1/81391/Egypt-plans-to-turn-landfills-into-public-service-facilities

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