Wednesday,26 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1391, (26 April - 2 May 2018)
Wednesday,26 September, 2018
Issue 1391, (26 April - 2 May 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Old objects for new

Mai Samih finds out more about a Cairo NGO that is acting as a waste-broker to help preserve the environment

Old objects for new
Old objects for new

A group of fresh Egyptian graduates decided a year ago that it was time to try to reduce the amount of domestic non-organic waste polluting the environment and at the same time work to help people with their daily lives via the Internet. 

Established in 2017, the NGO called Bekia, meaning “unwanted objects”, uses its website to show images of the kind of unwanted objects it accepts for exchange. It has established a points system that people can use to acquire points for each kg of objects they wish to exchange and the kinds of things they might be able to exchange them for.

The NGO’s slogan is “Make Your Life Easier,” and it is the first electronic platform in Egypt and the Middle East that people can use to swap non-organic objects like plastic and paper for other products or services. 

Co-founder of Bekia Mohamed Zohdi gives more details: “I graduated from the Faculty of Engineering at Cairo University and started Bekia months ago with friends. I had earlier wanted to recycle paper, but when I started looking at the details I found that it was necessary to have quite a large facility to produce recycled paper costing some LE2.5 million. Then we thought of going back to the very beginning by getting things from people’s homes that they don’t want and finding ways of making recycling economically attractive to them.” 

Bekia helps people to sort objects at the source and to categorise waste. The idea is to make this economically attractive by exchanging waste that can be recycled for food product,” he says, adding that the NGO now swaps more than 30 food products for solid waste.

“Our first aim was to raise awareness of sorting out waste. Our second was to help people know the value of the waste objects they might have. A third was to reduce the amount of trash that is thrown away by up to 80 per cent by making use of the solid waste that would otherwise be thrown away,” Zohdi says.

“We also want to recycle and to reduce imports of materials from other countries” by helping to extract new material from waste. 

Bekia now covers six areas of Cairo a week, including Zamalek, Mohandessin, Manial, Agouza, Dokki and Ard Al-Lewaa. “We also go to 14 other districts every 40 days in Cairo and Giza, among them Haram, Faisal, October, Zayed, New Cairo, Maadi, Mokattam and Hadayek Al-Ahram. We rent vans in each district and people bring us things to recycle,” he says. 

“We started Bekia with our own funds, and the whole team includes five members and two co-founders, myself and my partner Alaa Afifi, a computer science graduate. The remaining three work with us such that each has a certain role,” he adds, saying that one of the members is a wholesale chain owner who helps them provide foodstuffs. 

Zohdi says that some types of solid waste are currently collected, including paper, cardboard, electronic devices, hardware, used cooking oil that can be used tomanufacture bio-fuel, cooking pans, ovens, washing machines, plastic bottles, soda cans, and more or less anything else that is unwanted except for wooden items. 

The group is temporarily swapping these objects until they are able to recycle them themselves. “What we do now is collect these things from households and give them to factories to recycle. This is a temporary arrangement until we have found something more permanent. We are currently trying to develop our collection system as well,” Zohdi says.  

Bekia is unique in that it raises awareness about the importance of sorting waste at the source. Instead of throwing things away, people now collect and sort them. It has made people differentiate between materials and know their value. People now know that they may have things that will help them in their household, not things that need to be simply thrown away,” he says. 

   

M

EDIA STRATEGY: Group members use social-media sites like Facebook to raise awareness about recycling and the advantages of doing so. They also reach out to people in more traditional ways by word of mouth.

“Many companies and other NGOs come to talk to us about awareness-raising strategies,” Zohdi says, adding that this is all about finding ways to convey their message more effectively. 

He goes through the steps people should take to exchange their unwanted objects on Bekia. “When you log onto Facebook you can find our website that includes images of the types of things we can take. Choose the type you have, and then an indicator will appear at the bottom of the page telling you the points you can get per kg.”

“On the next page you can then spend your points on the products of your choice. Each product has a certain number of points, and you choose the products according to the number of points you have. You can then register by entering your name, address and phone number and we will come by to collect your unwanted waste.” 

According to users, the NGO is doing a good job. “I think they are doing a great job, and I would like to see them reach all the governorates. If they keep on raising people’s awareness eventually we will have cleaner cities,” comments one user. 

However, Zohdi says that financing is still a problem. “We have very few resources, and we want support in order to reach people. Right now we are trying to reach people through our own efforts alone, but we need to grow. Many people want to cooperate with us, but we cannot reach them because we do not have the means,” he says.

“Another problem is awareness. People need to become more aware of sorting out waste into categories and learning the value of the objects they have. There is also the problem of price. Not every kind of waste has the same value,” he adds. Some people think 50 or 60 plastic bottles should give them more than a pack of rice but plastic is worth much less than other materials, for example. “The aforementioned number of plastic bottles are only worth a two litre bottle of cooking oil. On the other hand, used cooking oil could be swapped for more food since it can be turned into fuel,” Zohdi explains. 

“The solution to these problems could be through greater financial support since then we could increase awareness campaigns so people would know the value of the things they have. Greater financing could also enable us to send people out to more homes to raise awareness,” he says. 

“Our plan is to become the biggest supply chain in Egypt for waste, or the country’s biggest collector of solid waste. We hope eventually to become the first factory to take used bottles and re-manufacture them into new ones, in other words to recycle them from A to Z. Not a single factory currently does this, and at the moment the recycling process is very fragmented. We plan to have one factory doing all the steps of the recycling process,” he adds.

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