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Pyramid of Plastic Waste Warns of Pollution Threat to the Nile and the Sea

Among various activities marking World Cleanup Day on September 17, young Egyptians with the group VeryNile built a pyramid of plastic waste pulled from the Nile to call attention to the hazards of marine plastic pollution.

World Cleanup Day has been celebrated every September globally since 2018 in response to a call by an Estonian organisation called Let’s Do It! World. It is observed through major cleanup campaigns in many countries, with the support of international donors and millions of volunteers.

VeryNile built its pyramid of 225,000 plastic bottles on an island in the Nile in Cairo. The bottles were collected by 60 fishermen over 45 days. “This is equivalent to about 7,500 kilograms (more than eight tons) of waste,” said Farah Abdel-Baki, the group’s media communications officer.

Plastic Waste

VeryNile carried out its project as a way of contributing to Egypt’s preparations to host the COP27 global climate summit in November, Abdel-Baki said.

“We wanted to show how huge the amount of waste collected from the Nile was, besides highlighting the need for quick solutions to prevent plastic waste from reaching the Mediterranean Sea.”

Farah Abdel-Baki, media communication officer with VeryNile

“We wanted to contribute to raising awareness about the damages of plastic waste by building a pyramid of plastic bottles that were extracted from the river,” she said.

“We wanted to show how huge the amount of waste collected from the Nile was, besides highlighting the need for quick solutions to prevent plastic waste from reaching the Mediterranean Sea.”

The group hired the fishermen to pull plastic from the river and purchased the waste they collected at prices ranging from four to thirteen Egyptian pounds (about 20 to 65 cents) per kilogram, according to the type of waste.

Abdel-Baki said the group also organised several awareness activities to encourage reusing plastic rather than discarding it, in cooperation with several volunteers and sponsors led by Egypt’s Ministry of Environment.

[University Students in Egypt Help Protect the Nile]

VeryNile was launched in December 2018 to clean plastic waste from the Nile River and Egyptian beaches and to spread environmental awareness of the dangers of plastic pollution. It was founded by several young people with the support of Greenish, an Egyptian community organisation that works to raise awareness of environmental issues in Egypt.

Projects with Social Benefits

Over the past years, VeryNile has launched cleanup campaigns in various Egyptian governorates and collected thousands of tons of plastic from the Nile and other water bodies. The waste is sent to recycling factories. This year’s plastic pyramid will end up like that, as the material is scheduled to be recycled in Spain for use in the textile industry.

The initiative has several projects that, besides cleaning the Nile, also provide jobs. One project employs men and women who fish from small boats to collect recyclable waste from the river every day and sell it back to the initiative. Another operates an Innovation Workshop that trains women to turn single-use plastic bags into craft objects. The workshop employs eight women and girls in Qursayah, an island in the Nile in the Giza neighborhood.

Abdel-Baki said the initiative had managed to upcycle more than 20,500 single-use plastic bags that volunteers collected from individuals and institutions.

VeryNile’s organisers hope to participate in COP27, the U.N. climate-change conference that Egypt will host in Sharm el-Sheikh from November 6 to 18. They submitted a request to hold activities in the summit’s “green zone” designated for civil-society groups, in cooperation with partner institutions.

More Cleanup Campaigns

VeryNile is not the only organisation carrying out campaigns to combat plastic pollution and promote environmentally friendly alternatives like recycling or reusing it. Other campaigns include Banlastic and Bekia.

Some VeryNile projects also create jobs. Besides paying fishermen for the bottles they collect, the group operates a workshop that trains women to turn single-use plastic bags into craft objects.

Egypt’s Ministry of Environment also observed World Cleanup Day by organising a series of cleanup campaigns in the South Sinai nature reserves.

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In other activities, the ministry launched a national initiative in 2018 to reduce the use of plastic bags. Some Egyptian localities have also banned single-use plastics, including the Red Sea governorate and the city of Dahab, in South Sinai.

Sharm El-Sheikh has undertaken similar steps to ban single-use plastics and transform itself into a green city ahead of the climate summit.

Marine Plastic Pollution

According to a World Wide Fund for Nature report issued in 2018, Egypt is the fourth-largest contributor to plastic pollution in the Mediterranean Sea, after Turkey, Spain and Italy.

Globally, it ranks seventh among the countries that produce the most plastic debris that seeps into the seas and oceans, according to the British nonprofit organisation CIWEM (the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management).

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Most plastics do not biodegrade. Instead, they slowly break down into smaller fragments known as “microplastics,”  according to another report, issued by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Microplastics are threatening to marine life, and ultimately to humans when they enter the food chain.

It is expected that waste debris in oceans and the environment globally will amount to 12 billion tons by 2050, if consumption patterns and current waste-management methods continue, the UNEP report says. It adds that the economic damage caused marine plastic debris is not less than $13 billion annually.

“The economic, health and environmental reasons to act are clear,” the report concludes.

Related Reading 

Read more about Egypt’s preparations to host the next U.N. climate summit and other climate-related and environmental issues in Climate and Environment, an archive of Al-Fanar Media’s reporting on this topic.



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