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CAIRO: For millennia, the Nile has fed the great Egyptian civilizations with abundant fresh water, rich deposits of silt, abundant fish, and means of navigation and trade. However, nowadays, the river carries another much less attractive wealth: plastic waste.

According to the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, about 4.5 million tons of waste flow into the Nile each year.

The Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research has also found that the Nile is one of 10 rivers contributing 90% of plastic waste entering the world’s oceans. Another study by Sky News in 2021 found that 75% of Nile fish contain microplastics.

To highlight both the environmental damage and the sheer ugliness of the floating pile of rubbish, environmentalists and volunteers recently joined forces to build a giant pyramid – inspired by those on the nearby Giza Plateau – made entirely from discarded plastic.

Built to coincide with World Cleanup Day on September 17, the pyramid is made up of more than 7,500 kg of plastic from around 250,000 recycled bottles collected from the Nile by a team of 60 fishermen over a period of 45 days.

A pyramid of waste highlights the scale of the problem. (Provided)

World Cleanup Day is a global movement that brings together millions of volunteers to remove trash and other mismanaged waste from beaches, rivers, forests and streets around the world.

Designed and built by the eco-initiative VeryNile, created five years ago, the pyramid consists of 170 blocks each weighing around 45 kg.

By assembling these blocks in the shape and scale of a pyramid, organizers hoped to demonstrate the enormity of the plastic waste problem, encourage recycling and responsible waste management, and promote a reduction in single-use materials.

Additionally, by mimicking Egypt’s most recognizable landmarks, organizers also hoped to show that visual pollution from plastic waste is a blight on the country’s beauty and heritage.

To mark World Cleanup Day, organizers held an event called “Play by the World’s Largest Plastic Pyramid”. Volunteers, influencers and celebrities helped clean up with kayaks, created artwork and held recycling workshops using discarded single-use plastic bags.

The pyramid will eventually be disassembled and sent to a local factory, which uses plastic to make ropes and covers for car seats.

World Cleanup Day is a global movement that brings together millions of volunteers to remove trash and other mismanaged waste from beaches, rivers, forests and streets around the world. (Provided)

“We aim to reach and clean every square inch of the Nile in Egypt from plastic waste, because it really harms marine life, and fishermen sometimes have a hard time finding fish,” Hanaa Farouk, project manager at Bassita, the Egyptian social enterprise behind VeryNile, told Arab News.

“Our success over the past few years would not have been the same without working with our amazing team of local anglers and talented women.”

To this day, fishermen depend on the river for their livelihood. However, the plastic waste is killing the Nile’s once abundant fish stocks. That’s why VeryNile is working to restore the fishing industry by making 40 local fishermen their Nile Ambassadors on Qursaya Island, Cairo.

The island of Qusaya, in the heart of the Nile, is now home to several recycling workshops and a workspace where local women make crochet accessories, hats, bags, laptop cases and other produced from recycled single-use plastic bags.

VeryNile offers these communities financial assistance, paying fishermen 10 EGP (about $0.50) for every plastic bottle they collect. The initiative also hires fishermen to sort and compact these bottles before they are sent to factories to be recycled and reused.

VeryNile raises environmental awareness through its cleanup events, which take place at different locations along the riverbank, inside and outside Cairo, bringing together volunteers from various companies, banks and other entities.


7,500 – Kilograms of plastic from 250,000 recycled bottles recovered from the Nile.

These events are done with kayaks or a cleaning boat, which is the first in Africa and can collect 500 kg of solid waste per week.

The Middle East and North Africa region faces a plethora of challenges in dealing with the accumulation of plastic waste; According to the World Bank, more than 570,000 tonnes of plastic are thrown into the Mediterranean Sea every year, wreaking havoc on industries that rely on the sea, from fishing to tourism.

Additionally, widespread consumerism in the Gulf countries has led to the disposal of large amounts of single-use plastic, with five Gulf Cooperation Council countries (Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait) ranking among the top 10 producers of solid waste per capita. . Saudi Arabia produces 15 million tons of waste per year, of which only 5% is recycled.

Egypt is not the only country tackling the problem of plastic waste. Lebanon, Morocco, Jordan, Oman, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and Tunisia have all implemented local and national laws restricting the importation and use of single-use plastic bags. Sharjah, Dubai and Abu Dhabi have all implemented fees on plastic bags and pledged to ban them by 2024.

Kuwait, Egypt, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have written laws or made policy recommendations to ban single-use plastic bags or replace them with biodegradable ones.

In line with Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 reform strategy, the Kingdom plans to invest more than $6 billion in recycling by 2035. Saudi civil society groups are also encouraging people to recycle; Mawakeb Alajer Group has set up recycling facilities where people can drop off everything from used paper to unwanted furniture and clothes.

The Saudi Investment Recycling Company, founded in 2017 to develop recycling capacities in the Kingdom, plans to achieve the objectives of Vision 2030 by enabling the creation of a circular economy, that is to say an economy in which raw materials and finished products are reused. , repaired and recycled as long as possible.

A photo taken on September 29, 2022 shows plastic and rubbish floating on the bank of the Nile in Cairo. (AFP)

In March last year, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced the Green Saudi Initiative and the Green Middle East Initiative. Although their main focus is on reducing carbon emissions, the preservation and restoration of natural habitats are priority objectives.

The Crown Prince then announced the formation of a government body to oversee breaches of the Kingdom’s environmental regulations, pledging to hold polluters accountable.

Egypt is working to reduce plastic consumption in the coming years through a national strategy to eliminate the negative impact of plastic on health, environment, economy and society. The country aims to reduce plastic bag consumption to 100 bags per person by 2025 and 50 bags per person by 2030.

The drive to ban single-use plastics often starts locally, such as in the Red Sea Governorate of Egypt, which in June 2019 banned single-use plastic bags, plastic cutlery used in restaurants, cafes , supermarkets, groceries, butchers, fishing and pharmacies, and during game drives and boat trips.

Following the steps of the Red Sea Governorate, Dahab in South Sinai announced a citywide ban on the use of plastic bags in July 2021.

Women are recycling single-use plastics into fashion and other products as part of a VeryNile eco-initiative. (Provided)

VeryNile’s pyramid scheme comes just ahead of COP27, the United Nations Climate Change Conference, to be held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt during the second week of November.

At COP26 in Glasgow last year, hundreds of countries pledged to support energy transitions and climate change mitigation in the world’s poorest countries – those that contribute very little to carbon emissions and pollution but who are most affected by climate change.

In May, Egypt’s special representative to COP27 President Wael Aboulmagd said helping developing countries adapt to climate change would be a priority at the next conference, although rich countries said that ‘they wouldn’t deliver the $100 billion a year promised for the stated goals.

In late September, Egypt called on all nations participating in COP27 to put aside their political differences. Some countries staged a walkout in June to protest Russia’s presence at a UN climate meeting in Bonn.

Although 90 heads of state have confirmed their attendance at the conference, global economic pressure from coronavirus recovery efforts and the conflict in Ukraine could put environmental concerns on the back burner.