CAIRO – 25 March 2021: Do you know that you have invisible killers at your home and work? Yes, you are surrounded by these killers that indirectly harm you, as well as the soil and water in your environment. It is ‘the single-use plastic bag’ that the Egyptian Ministry of Environment is trying to get rid of.
Single-use bags intoxicate the land, as most of the single-use plastic bags take thousands of years to decompose and turn into small plastic particles, which leash toxins in the soil and water. As per a study conducted by German researchers and published by the UN Environment programme in 2019, 80-90 percent of the plastic particles exist in drainages and release toxins into sewage sludge, which is considered a soil fertilizer. Thus, humans could eat plants cultivated in toxic soil and affect their health.
Secondly, marine life and ecosystems are endangered by plastic particles which are found in a huge number in oceans. Marine animals like whales, dolphins and other rare fish die of eating plastic bags. For instance, a whale was found dead along a shore in the Philippines in 2019 after swallowing one hundred tons of plastic. Also, a dolphin was found dead along Red Sea’s Hurghada after a plastic bottle got stuck into its mouth, Egyptian al-Masry al-Youm newspaper reported in November 2019.
Hence, marine life in oceans, which contains 51 trillion plastic particles as per the UN Environment Programme’s data, is substantially facing a fatal threat.
Rivers like the Nile in Egypt contains tons of plastic bags and bottles. In February 2021, the Verynile team, a non-profitable organization dedicated to cleaning the Nile river, collected 4 tons of plastic from the Nile. As per a new study conducted by Sky News and published in June 2020, two-thirds of the Nile fish contain microplastics.
“Thus, the government has launched its national strategy to reduce the usage of disposable bags; a national committee has been formed and chaired by the Minister of Environment and representatives of the concerned body to carry out the strategy,” Assistant Minister for Environmental Projects Ali Abu Senna told Youm7 on Tuesday. “The Egyptian Organization for Standardization and Quality Control (EOS) is working on changing the standards of plastic bags industry to make the plastic bag thicker and ban the import of the d2w, a substance that is used in the biodegradable bags, as it has been banned by the European Parliament,” he continued.
According to Abu Senna, the ministry, in cooperation with the Ministry of Finance, is currently working on developing a set of incentives and imposing taxes on the use of plastic bags to reduce the import of raw materials and to encourage supermarkets to rely on alternatives to single-use plastic bags.
Within the framework of the presidential campaign “Live Green,” the Ministry of Environment focused on curbing the consumption of single-use plastic bags as a way to decrease the danger of such toxic materials on the environment. Last week, Minister of Environment Yasmine Fouad met with Japanese Ambassador in Cairo Masaaki Nuki to discuss the ministry’s efforts to limit the use of single-use plastic bags.
The ministry has signed a three-year project with Japan’s International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to promote circular economy practices in the single-use plastics, with the support of Japanese aid. This will be implemented by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) at a cost of $3 million. The project also comes in cooperation with the Ministry of Trade and Industry, the Plastic Technology Center and the Egyptian Chamber of Industries.
The Minister of Environment highlighted the importance of having green certificates for establishments that take into account the use of alternatives to plastic bags, noting that the Ministry of Environment is studying the possibility of providing incentives to encourage all environment-friendly alternatives.
The Minister of Environment indicated that there are examples of successful experiences of local companies in the field of limiting the use of single-use plastics, including Nestle, encouraging them to recycle for a fee in Mansheyet Nasser.
The minister has stated previously that supermarkets and hypermarkets are consuming the largest amount of disposable plastic bags, adding that the ministry has taken measures to replace the single-use bags with biodegradable ones in the supermarket chains.
“As for plastic bag manufacturers, policies of incentive mechanisms were laid down to find alternatives to the production, in cooperation with the Ministry of Trade and the Federation of Egyptian Industries (FEI),” Fouad said.
Egypt consumes around 12 billion plastic bags annually. In 2012, plastic bag consumption per capita reached 25 kg, with an annual increase of 6 percent since 2006, which registered 1.64 million tons of plastic bags, according to the official data issued by the ministry as of July 2019.
In 2012, Egypt consumed 2.07 million tons of raw plastic materials, 28 percent of which is produced locally, while the rest is imported. The areas that largely consume plastic bags are Cairo, Delta, and Alexandria, with 40 percent, 23 percent and 12 percent respectively, the report added.
Groceries and commercial shops come on the top of retails that consume the largest number of disposable plastics, with 25 percent and 17 percent respectively, the reported continued.
The Minister of Environment has recently worked on awareness-raising campaigns for the use of environmental-friendly alternatives to plastic bags. Last week, Minister Fouad met with a number of owners of stores, restaurants and cafes in Fouad Street in Alexandria Governorate. She discussed with them their willingness to adopt alternatives to plastic to encourage reduction of the use of plastic bags.
“A total of 110 stores in Zamalek district, Cairo, actually began to use plastic alternatives that have no harm to health,” she said, noting that those stores were in the beginning 10 stores, but have now reached 110, as a result of the awareness-raising efforts to highlight the dangers of using plastic products.
In light of the European countries’ experiment, the Ministry of Environment framed a strategy targeting the plastic industry to create job opportunities for supporting the circular economy. The strategy is based on adopting a system of biodegradable materials, developing quality system of plastic sorting, promoting the usage of biodegradable plastic products, banning plastic waste thrown into seas and rivers, and adopting rules regulating eco-labeling on biodegradable and compostable plastic products.
Head of the Plastic Recycling Division at the Chamber of Chemical Industries Khaled Abul-Makarem stated that Egypt has 1,250 factories for plastic manufacturing nationwide, which also import biodegradable plastic products at a cost of approximately $3.2 million annually.
“The division provides the producers training programs to know how to transfer single-use plastic into multi-usage ones,” Abul-Makarem told Egypt Today.
He acknowledged that the cost of biodegradable plastic manufacturing is slightly higher than the traditional manufacture of plastic; it is only 1 percent higher. “One kilo of traditional plastic costs LE 280, while the cost of the eco-friendly plastic is estimated at LE 285.
“It is unpredictable when Egypt will be free from single-use plastic products, as this depends on people’s demands,” he continued, adding that some manufacturers in Cairo, Red Sea, and Alexandria started replacing the traditional industry with the eco-friendly one.