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 What do you think of it so far… Rubbish!
 By: Jessica McGarty
As an expat living in Hurghada, one of my main concerns is the sheer volume of rubbish created and the lack of an efficient waste management system or service. When visiting a supermarket to buy a packet of chewing gum, more often than not, we are given a plastic bag to carry the chewing gum in! Quite often people will take the ‘gift wrapped’ chewing gum and then drop the plastic bag on the street
upon leaving the supermarket, where it litters the street and eventually gets blown into the sea.

It is not just the locals who are littering the country but many tourists and expats also. Is this permitted in our own countries? Generally, no. In the UK, there is a minimum fine for littering and fly tipping of £'a350 and the possibility of prosecution in the Courts. Why can we not set a good example? Research studies by the European Environment Agency and the UK Environment Agency have highlighted that as countries develop further, a greater amount of waste is generated. Therefore policies have been adopted in many EC countries to reduce, reuse, reclaim and recycle, for example the Landfill Tax 1996 in England and Wales.

This tax was designed to promote the ‘polluter pays’ principle and offer a rather more sustainable approach to waste management.

The Scottish Parliament has been consulting on whether to follow Ireland in introducing a plastic bag tax. The Irish plastic bag tax was introduced in 2002 at a rate of around 10 English pence (1 Egyptian Pound) per bag and is reported to have reduced consumption by an amazing 90%.

The proposed Scottish plastic bag tax would have Local Authorities collecting a levy from businesses for each plastic bag given away to customers and these costs would be passed on directly to the customer. Estimated revenues for this tax are in the region of £310 million (10 billion Egyptian Pounds) per year. With the much larger amount of plastic bags being used here in Egypt just imagine how much revenue the Governorates would be able to collect?!

Not only does littering and inadequate disposal of solid waste look terrible, it creates a public health hazard for the local community as well as visiting tourists. We all need to do our bit for the environment; and if everyone did their small bit we would not be in the situation we are now. We need to create an environment that we are proud of and happy to live in, not only now but for future generations. Do we really want our children to grow up in a toxic rubbish dump?

Egypt generates approximately 25,000 tonnes of municipal waste daily and land filling is the primary method of waste disposal. Unfortunately it does not seem to be managed properly from source through to final disposal. Households put their rubbish in bags onto the street, more often than not in piles awaiting collection. The ‘street people’, stray dogs and cats then rummage through these piles of rubbish, ripping open bags and letting the remaining rubbish fly all over eventually to end up in the sea (attracting rats and other vermin which is a public health hazard). The rubbish vans make their infrequent and unreliable collection with the workers dropping rubbish on to the street and leaving it. The rubbish vans then move with the rubbish that the workers ‘decided’ they would put into the van and this is not contained and generally flies from the vans (I have driven behind many a rubbish van and seen plastic bags flying off, plastic bottles flying off and other items for the duration of the journey). Then the rubbish is taken to dumps in the desert which are not contained and it flies across the desert back into the towns and cities and, you guessed it, back into the sea.

Already there are some successful schemes operating in Egypt, helped with assistance from the United Nations, USAID, Association for Protection of the Environment, Community and Institutional Development and others particularly in the Cairo and Alexandria Governorates, e.g. the ‘zabbaleen’ in Mokattam, Cairo. Surely, we can separate our household waste into glass, paper, plastic, textiles and metals which can then be reused by the ‘street people’ or recycled by local community groups. Maybe jobs for those not ‘gainfully employed’ can be created within recycling facilities.

Materials can be reused, reclaimed and recycled to make ‘traditional crafts’ for sale to tourists, e.g. textiles can be recreated into handbags and other accessories, paper can be recreated to papyrus, glass can be recreated for jewellery and plastic can be recreated for storage jars.

The watchwords are: REDUCE, REUSE, RECLAIM and RECYCLE… Here are a few
ideas that you can use to make your personal difference to our environment:

Use fewer products or products that use fewer materials in the packaging or product itself and…
- Don’t buy heavily packaged goods.
- Donate old magazines to businesses to use in their waiting rooms•
-Use your own shopping bags when visiting the supermarket
- Grow your own fruit and vegetables.
-Utilize reusable plastic containers, preferably recycled plastic!
-Try to resist impulse buying and just buy what you really need
- Buy “family size” containers and products in concentrated form to reduce packaging (remember that individual serving sizes use far more packaging)
- Avoid single use disposable products that can’t be recycled, e.g. a disposable camera is fine if it will be recycled when the film is developed
- Buy durable goods that can be repaired and not ones that need to be replaced in a short amount of time
- Use multi-purpose products instead of separate products for each need, e.g. one general purpose cleaning product instead of a different one for every cleaning task.
- Try to use low-flow shower heads and faucets to reduce the amount of energy and water that you consume. In addition you can try to only use a washing machine if you have a full load or you have an economy setting
- Remember we are living in a desert country and it’s very important to conserve water)
- Rent or borrow seldom-used items, such as garden tools or household tools. Additionally donate or borrow books. You can form clubs with your friends to buy one seldom used product between yourselves and to swap books in a language you understand.

Many products can be used many times or have multiple functions…
- Reuse plastic carrier bags
- Reuse scrap paper for writing notes and print on both sides of paper when using a computer and printer
- Donate or sell old electronic equipment, e.g. computers, TVs, instead of throwing them away
- Buy rechargeable items, such as batteries
- Buy items in refillable containers, e.g. washing powders
- Donate or sell old clothes or books
- Choose long lasting and energy efficient electrical appliances, e.g. light bulbs (they may cost more but they last longer and therefore you win in the end!)
- Choose good quality products that will last a long time rather than cheap ones which have to continually be replaced as this reduces manufacturing and production waste
- Reuse coffee and jam jars for storage
- Put your empty water bottles in a separate container outside your home, as they will be reused by ‘street people’ rather than them digging through your rubbish and it flying everywhere!
- Your doormen or other workers who help you are generally more than happy to take unwanted items off your hands!

Make new products without additional manufacturing...
- Use fabric scraps from sewing and worn clothing to make a ‘nearly new’ patchwork quilt
- Fabric scraps and worn out clothes can also be used for cleaning cloths
- With a bit of imagination, scrap pieces of wood or broken furniture can be turned into a ‘nearly new’ piece of furniture
- Reuse coffee or jam jars for flower vases
- Discuss with the ‘street people’ in your area what they can reuse and reclaim and leave a separate container with these items (unfortunately at the moment they check through all garbage cans and throw everything out onto the street to find what they need)

When a product has fulfilled its function and lifespan, its basic materials can reform to make new products…
- Think about composting of kitchen waste
- Try to buy recycled products
- Find out about recycling initiatives in your area.

Following on from the idea of composting of organic kitchen waste I asked myself the question - what is biodegradable? Many products are thought of as biodegradable but this is a misconception.
Any product that comes from nature will return to nature as long as it is still in a relatively natural form.
Highly-manufactured products, such as plastics and detergents, will no longer be biodegradable because they are unrecognisable to the micro organisms and enzymes that break them down. In addition, products that are inherently biodegradable in soil (not sandy desert as in Egypt!!), such as garden cuttings, food wastes and paper, will not biodegrade in landfill especially when coupled with a desert climate. The artificial landfill environment lacks the light, water and bacterial activity for the decay process to begin. Here is a list of some commonly used items and how long it generally takes to biodegrade:

Time to biodegrade
Cotton rags

1-5 months


2-5 months


3-14 months

Orange peel

6 months

Wool socks

1-5 years

Cigarette butts

1-12 years

Plastic coated paper
milk cartons

5 years

Leather shoes

25-40 years

Nylon fabric

30-40 years

Tin cans

50-100 years

Aluminium cans

80-100 years

Glass bottles

1 million years

Plastic bottles


So even when you throw the waste from your fruit and vegetable snack out of the car window with the cry “it’s biodegradable”, in this type of desert environment it may not be as biodegradable as you think! When you are on the boat and throw an apple core or other food waste over the side, this waste does not go back to its natural environment (the sea?) and it is not a natural food for fishes either! This can disturb the natural balance of the environment and continuing with these practises could have significant long-term effects.

For all of you who would like to do your bit please remember that it was International Clean Up day on 16 September 2006. I joined a beach cleanup with Dive Point on the beach between Coral Beach Hotel and the Oberoi Hotel. If you forgot this day, remember that you can do your bit every day by reducing the amount of waste you produce, by reusing and reclaiming waste or helping others to do so, and by finding out and / or lobbying for recycling initiatives in your area. In addition, by stepping outside the walls of your home and picking up the rubbish that has either been dropped there or has blown there you can make a difference – slowly but surely! Be proud of where you live and teach others to feel the same.

Want to get more environmentally-friendly? In the next issue of H&R magazine, we will be finding out what local recycling and environmental initiatives are available in the Red Sea and how YOU can get involved…

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