The garbage predicament, or rather disaster, has become a scourge threatening Egyptians, a dilemma of huge proportions and intertwined causes that defy efforts at resolving it. I wish it were just an issue of the garbage recycling the government has been trying for years to hammer into our heads. As I see it, the root problem lies in a chain of disastrous misbehaviour that involves public recklessness, apathy by local authorities, and the chaos of collecting unsorted garbage. Each of these links in the chain is a disaster in its own right.
I hope no one takes offence with my opinion on the recklessness of Egyptians vis-à-vis the waste they generate. If we are ever to rectify our faults, we need to discuss them candidly. Sadly, most Egyptians adopt conduct that lacks in personal hygiene, and in home and workplace cleanliness. That said, it is no surprise that they care nothing for collecting and ridding themselves of their garbage in safe, hygienic ways. They tend to discard their waste outside the boundaries of their personal spaces, be these homes or workplaces. More often than not they leave their waste outside their doorsteps; they might even hurl it out of their windows into the street or inner courtyard of the building, onto public spaces, facilities, or even transport. They behave as though oblivious to the fact that the garbage piles up, creates an abominable stench, gets infested with insects, and altogether becomes a health hazard threatening them and their families. They justify their behaviour with a shrug of the shoulders: “It’s the garbage collector’s job to pick the garbage.”
Such being the scale of the problem, any contemplation of how to resolve it must hit the question: “Oh my God! Where do we start?” The answer in fact would be in adopting two policies. The first works to empower mechanisms of supervision and vigilance on part of local government in collaboration with civil society organisations, so that a system of reward and punishment is implemented regarding garbage collection and disposal. The second involves instilling in schoolchildren awareness of the principles of hygiene and cleanliness especially regarding garbage handling, in order for future generations to grow keen on cleanliness and appreciative of beauty.
Another pressing issue in the garbage dilemma is the absence of sorting at the source. The result is total chaos in garbage collection and a horrendous subsequent waste of effort. Allowing people to dispose of unsorted garbage is the ultimate waste. How could we allow garbage to include food residue and organic waste, side by side with paper, plastic, glass and metal waste?
Multiple efforts are needed to sort the waste that is then seriously polluted before directing it for recycling.
I am of course reminded of other societies that sort their waste at the source. Ironically, we boast that our forefathers taught their forefathers the basics of hygiene and cleanliness! The system of sorting waste at the source is simple and only requires that each person or household should sort their garbage at home or at the workplace, placing each category of garbage in a separate bag and discarding it in the designated public garbage bin. Former Minister of Environment Laila Iskandar who served under PM Hazem al-Beblawy in 2013, and under PM Ibrahim Mahlab in 2014, had an ambitious view when it came to sorting waste. She launched the initiative of distribute to citizens colour coded garbage bags free of charge, to help instil the culture of sorting at the source. However, as is the norm in our country, the progressive reform vision went offstage when the person promoting it left the scene.
Waste recycling is the ultimate answer to the garbage dilemma. It is the answer implemented by many developed countries that thus achieved an added value to their resources following years of discarding garbage in huge landfills or dumps under arduous, costly sanitary measures to avert health hazards.
As for us, we brag that we have walked miles towards waste recycling. Yet a glance at our waste-submerged situation brings to mind the folk saying: “I listen to you and believe you; I see your affairs [your garbage, in this case] and they amaze me!”
10 September 2021