Walking down the Corniche in Giza, I was pleasantly surprised to find three recycling bins installed, one in front of Gold’s Gym and the other in front of Cairo Yacht Club. I didn’t understand why the two bins were installed about 100 meters apart while the rest weren’t even half as frequent, but I was happy to see them nonetheless.
So as I am standing there gleaming and taking a picture of the three recycling bins, I see a man throwing a piece of paper down the street, just about 200 meters away from the bin. Needless to say, my happiness deflates and I am harshly brought back to our streets reality.
Then I remembered standing in front of the recycling bins for the first time in London and wondering where the soda can should go. And I also remembered a conversation I overheard at the American University in Cairo’s (AUC) new campus where students weren’t only puzzled as to what goes where, but they were also quite cynical. They told one another there was no point in separating waste since they saw garbage collectors mixing the three bins together into one big container anyway.
So it hit me, much like many other projects in Egypt, if this project isn’t followed through properly, well implemented, executed and promoted, then this is just another waste in public money.
It takes more than three bins to clean our acts
I am not yet positive that this project is government-backed, according to the security men on the streets, the sayes (valet) and workers at a nearby restaurants, it was the garbage collectors contracting companies who put it. However, I failed to receive any confirmation from the ministry.
But in all cases, the Ministry of Environment had announced a month ago its plan for keeping Egypt’s streets clean and solving the garbage issue, a plan that ended with introducing recycling as the third phase to the project.
Realistically speaking, I really do not expect people’s attitudes towards waste to change because they see three shiny, colorful bins — ones they most probably have no clue how to use anyway. It takes a massive awareness building campaigns, strict and well-executed littering penalties and mostly, consistency. We should be seeing recycling bins everywhere to adopt this attitude, recycling part-time means no recycling at all. People don’t just become environmentally aware once every now and then when they do come across with recycling bins.
The three bins were labeled “Cans and Bottles,” “Paper and Plastic,” and “Organic Material.” Mind you, we are trying to get someone who would most conveniently throw the rest of his sandwich away to walk over to the bins and choose the right one to throw it in. Not only does he care less about recycling and has been used to throwing waste in the streets all his life, but he also probably has no clue how to use the bins if he wanted to.
Recycling, everywhere in the world, didn’t start by the bins — the bins are a crucial step to be applauded of course, but it takes awareness and law to change our long-instilled attitudes.
People simply throw their burning cigarettes away on the streets, as opposed to the ashtray in the car, not bothering with cleanliness or even safety — why should they bother with the environment?
This isn’t to say that people are careless about the environment, but they really still don’t know any better. Talks about environmental issues are smirked at in Egypt, many consider environmental awareness a luxury that takes a backseat to basic necessities of life. But unless we start to understand that the environment is a basic necessity of life, our attitudes are really unlikely to change.
Unless the benefits of recycling and threats of status quo are clearly promoted, and people are taught how to separate their waste, then there’s no point of wasting effort and money on this.