Report of the CEDEJ Environment and Social Policies Seminar Series #5 » Recycling and Environmental Legislation in Egypt: a panorama »
Ahmed El Dorghamy is an Energy and Environment Expert in the Center for Environmental & Development in the Arab Region & Europe (CEDARE), with over 15 years of international professional experience in his field. In recent activity, he has been focusing on sustainable mobility and on sustainable management of resources including waste minimization. He is currently part of the team of experts developing the national strategies for single-use plastics reduction.
Aly Abou Sena is an assistant minister for international projects at the Ministry of Environment, Egypt. He has more than 20 years of outstanding experience in working for private sector and managing projects in the field of energy efficiency and renewable energy application, environmental management and assessment, eco-industrial parks, resource efficiency and cleaner production, green entrepreneurship, eco-innovation and cleaner technology transfer. He is currently leading a newly bio-energy association at the ministry of environment which was set up by the ministry of environment through a prime ministerial decree as an independent agency for promoting biomass technologies in Egypt.
Jamie Furniss is a researcher at the Institut de recherche sur le Maghreb contemporain in Tunis, where he leads a project on ‘’Environment, waste and recycling economies in the contemporary Maghreb’’. He is also a lecturer (on leave) in Social Anthropology at the University of Edinburgh, where he was director of the international development masters programme. He was previously a CNRS/Lyon 2 post doctoral fellow at the Groupe de Recherche et d’Etudes sur la Méditerranée et le Moyen Orient in Lyon. He has a PDhil from the university of Oxford in International Development and has conducted fieldwork principally in Egypt and Tunisia.
Nanette Deunk is a industrial engineer from the Netherlands. She specializes in waste prevention, logistics, project management and sustainable development. Nanette lived in eleven countries and worked for the United Nations, NGO’s and the private sector. In Egypt she established a local group called Zero Waste Maadi. The group aims to reduce pollution on a community and individual level. Nanette currently lives in The Netherlands and assists CEDARE and FES with regulations and strategies for single use plastic bags.
On the 23rd of November 2020, the fifth Cedej environment and social policies seminar, moderated by FES program manager Waleed Mansour, took place. The webinar, introduced by the Cedej’s director, Agnès Deboulet, thematized environmental legislation and recycling in Egypt. These seminars are the opportunity to open a dialogue between researchers, professionals, institutions and civil society in order to use research as a tool for transformative and sustainable policies and confront different perspectives. For instance, there is a disparity between recycling and environmental legislation and actual practices in Egypt. Hence, this webinar is tackling this issue.
Ahmed El Dorghamy focused on plastic bag use in the region and especially in Egypt. The CEDARE discovered that countries in the early phases of development, such as Mauritania, were facing the new issue of plastic management. Similarly, plastic waste management in Egypt is problematic. As pointed out, plastic bags can be found in very far distances places away from the city (e.g., 20 km into Wadi Degla desert in Egypt). Nevertheless, Dorghamy mentions solutions and progress that have been made in this regard. On the one hand, an increase in plastic bags’ thickness would improve their quality and value. Consequently, plastic bags would not be carried away easily and could be re-used or recycled more easily. On the other hand, El Dorghamy points out that there has been much progress towards the uncontrolled use of plastic bags. The case studies of Dahab and Hurghada in Egypt exemplify local attempts to limit plastics by banning single-use plastic items. It did reduce consumption; however, the lack of legal frameworks limits its national implementation. Other emerging and young initiatives exist to change behaviors and sensibilise civil society like the organizations VeryNile, Zero Waste Club Maadi, or Boy Scouts clubs. El Dorghamy stresses the importance of public awareness for successfully implementing regulatory and legal frameworks on the ground. Ultimately, the CEDARE is also researching the social impact of environmental legislation on vulnerable groups and local industries. In the future, the aim is not to see any plastic bags ‘’dancing their way to the Nile or the desert’’.
The second speaker Aly Abou Sena, assistant minister for International Projects (ministry of environment in Egypt), addressed the role of the government and new legislations in waste management. He highlights that the Egyptian government is embarking on a clear strategy for waste management approved by president Abdel Fattah al-Sissi in May 2019. It tackles three main challenges: the absence of institutional and legislative frameworks, the non-efficient and deficit of infrastructure, and the lack of awareness and private sector’ implication. Aly Abou Sena ensures that the parliament successfully addressed the first challenge with a first law for waste management approved in October 2020, giving the responsibility of planning to the ministry of environment. The law includes regulations such as the legalization of informal waste management workers. The government also issued a plan to improve the infrastructures by implementing over 103 transfer stations within 4 years and has reached 45 transfer stations for now. Aly Abou Sena stated that the law offers the opportunity for the private sector to get involved. He adds that there is a high deficit of cost recovery to implement the strategy; however, the law’s implementation allows the government to provide additional fees. The aim is to reach 8 billion Egyptian pounds per year used in the waste management system. There is a high commitment of the government to support the infrastructure, which is exemplified by the investment of 45 billion Egyptian pounds over 4 years to finish all the required infrastructures. In addition, the government has a program to raise awareness to show the benefits of a solid waste management program, not only environmentally but also economically (creation of new jobs, tourism etc.). He stresses the importance of the society with the partnerships with NGOs, civil society, the banking sector, and universities to move forward with their initiatives on the ground.
Following these two presentations, Waleed Mansour engaged the discussion with the participants with several questions.
Addressed to Jamie Furniss:
As an anthropologist, whom do you think is accountable for the earth’s deterioration?
Jamie Furniss first mentions that one of the principal ways of understanding the waste management problem has been to place the issue on consumers (end of value chains approach). This is illustrated with the emphasis put on household recycling. However, people have increasingly become aware that waste management has to be understood with upstream decisions (e.g., the ban of single-use products). For instance, recycling is not solving the problem by itself. He stresses that there is an illusion that consumers have as much power and responsibility as it is sometimes attributed to them.
How is the west conception of waste different from the middle eastern one?
Jamie Furniss starts by highlighting a perception on middle eastern countries being that they have a much worse waste management problem than many other countries – and especially the north (Europe and North America). To that, Jamie responds that North America has actually been good at making waste invisible by removing it from public spaces, which shows that they have adequate infrastructure. However, the volume of waste they produce is much higher than the ones in developing countries. For instance, Egypt produces much less waste than the United States, it is just more visible. Figures show that a country like Japan recycles much more than Egypt. However, Jamie indicates that those figures are usually based on reports from agencies and formal companies that do not take into consideration the work of actors such as the Zabbaline and Bekia collectors in Egypt or Berbersha in Tunisia (informal sector). These recycling economies are often really effective and achieve higher recycling rates than in Europe or North America. Hence, Jamie stresses that we must acknowledge their work and reconsider misleading idea that the north is handling waste management more effectively than the middle east.
How do you see Egypt’s new investment in green projects? What do you think are the motivations?
Jamie Furniss stresses many actions that have been going on for a long time with respect to sustainable development. Most notably, the circular economy that always existed like the recycling of the zebbaline, is financially motivated. He emphasizes that these actions should be taken into consideration within the new systems designed by the government. For example, the so-called privatization of waste management in the early 2000s in Cairo by European companies, presented as a solution for waste management, ended up being sabotaged by the zebbalines. Hence according to Jamie Furniss, imitating European models, green bonds, and a circular economy does not necessarily lead to success.
Addressed to Nanette Deunk:
Having worked in Egypt, can you tell us about your experience of associating communities together with waste management initiatives?
It is not very easy to be a more sustainable consumer, as Nanette Deunk mentions. She learned from her experience that lot of people felt responsible, sometimes pushed by their children, and wanted to make an effort. Hence, she tried to mobilize people to change their habits, challenge them to live a zero-waste life, and gather for activities such as making environmental friendy cleaning products. She identifies communication as being a challenge in Egypt in terms of environmental actions. For example, there are environmental words that do not exist in Arabic. However, she highlights that there is potential because consumers have the power to start the discussion. Nanette Deunk also stresses the importance of role models and peer pressure for consumers’ implications in waste management.
What were the quick wins that you were telling your community during your project in Maadi for example?
Nanette Deunk asked the community directly on the issues that were the most important to them. She highlights that the dirtiness of the streets was the most recurrent topic raised by the residents of Maadi. People were worried about health (good products, organic products), cleanness, and green. The quick win was the awareness and concern from these residents.
Addressed to Aly Abou Sena :
What country inspired you for the implementation of the strategy?
Aly Abou Sena answers that the strategy has been formulated by the experience and the last decades of tryouts in Egypt. Moreover, they looked at advanced models from either developing countries or middle-income countries and tried to adapt them to Egypt. For example, they looked at the case of Germany and the Netherlands. In fact, both of the countries are donors for waste management programs in Egypt. Aly Abou Sena highlights civil society and media as being a crucial part of their strategy. The government also attracted new funds of 200 million dollars programs to install recycling infrastructures in the 10th of Ramadan district starting from January 2022. In addition, he mentions that the government is creating, with the French Financement Agency, a new financing scheme with 150 million euros for green projects. With the ministry of finance, they are also launching green bonds and have ambitious targets (41 green projects for water sanitation, waste management, energy…). The government has also approved a sustainable criteria to be implement in all the ministers.
The seminar ended with Agnes Deboulet’s conclusion that highlighted the inputs of each speaker on the topic of recycling and environmental legislation in Egypt. She opened the discussion on other issues such as population and market growth and other aspects of environmental challenges that have to be tackled as well in the future.