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Reconceptualising plastic waste
Published in Ahram Online on 30 - 03 - 2021

A consortium of eight leading companies working in Egypt have signed a new Charter for Recycling Plastic Waste with a view to working as partners on the recycling and safe disposal of materials containing single-use plastic components.
The signing of the charter, meant to help protect the environment and achieve sustainable development, was attended by Minister of Environment Yasmine Fouad, who also announced the launch of the Egyptian Recycling Day, an annual event that will pool efforts to emphasise recycling as a key factor in maintaining health and preserving the country's resources foiner present and future generations.
Work to protect the environment has gained prominence of late due to increased state support for environmental efforts, including the signature of the Environment Sector Strategy. Fouad said at the recent charter event that it was important to see the protection of the environment as a collaborative effort aimed at preserving natural resources and employing them sustainably.
She added that such work would not yield positive results unless people became more aware of the importance of protecting the environment, something that would require concerted efforts by the media. The private sector also had a role to play in generating job opportunities for young people in the environmental sector, she said.
Fouad called on the private sector to sign the new charter and to work on improving the environment with the original consortium. The Ministry of Environment was studying the launch of further green incentives to back the private sector in preserving the environment, she said.
The ministry is also working to make available new financing mechanisms for work in the environmental sector in order to help achieve sustainable development. It has initiated talks with the banking sector with a view to launching climate-change units, as well as supporting policies and legislation in favour of environmental protection in cooperation with the ministries of planning and finance.
The Charter for Recycling Plastic Waste is meant to guarantee sustainable recycling by creating a system in which plastic is not turned into waste but is safely reused, recycled, or converted to packaged fertilisers and other products, Fouad said. She noted that the signatories to the charter have all expressed their commitment to Law 202/2020 on the disposal of waste and its executive regulations, along with other legislation.
Laila Iskandar, founder of CID Consulting, a consultancy company, and a former minister of urban development and informal settlements, said that world production of plastics had increased to 381 million tons in 2015, up from two million tons in 1950, which had meant the world had had to invest more in recycling.
But traditional recycling alone was not enough to solve the plastic-waste problem, she said, and therefore countries like Egypt had started working with packaging companies to make more recyclable products.
Iskandar said that the plastic-waste issue was a complex matter with direct correlations with climate change. Plastics produce about 400 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually, and to solve this problem different sectors must work collectively, she said.
The Ministry of Environment has already taken the initiative to work with various entities to find solutions to the problem.
Mohamed Shelbaya, chairman of PepsiCo Egypt, said that companies wanted to work on solving the problem of plastic waste, adding that if recycled properly, plastic could yield revenues and be used in other industries.
Egypt has one of the highest rates of plastics consumption in the world, he said, adding that PepsiCo Egypt had launched a "Recycle for Tomorrow" platform to encourage waste recycling and improve the environment.
The platform was launched last week with the support of the Ministry of Environment and in collaboration with the "Our Role" initiative, designed and implemented by CID, Shelbaya said.
Moetaz Al-Hout, chairman of Nestlé Egypt, said that preserving the environment and its resources was one of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and was crucial for the well-being of present and future generations.
He said his company had launched its own initiative in 2019 to collect and recycle plastic waste and to recover the same amount of plastic that the company uses in manufacturing its products, based on the principle of "for every ton produced, another is recycled."
He added that the company plans to have all its products packed and packaged in recyclable plastic by 2025.
Al-Hout said that Nestlé Egypt was committed to collecting plastic waste from its products, estimated at 14,000 tons in 2021 and 28,000 tons in 2024. During its project's 10-month experimental phase, the company had collected more than 10,000 tons of plastic waste, he said, with 13 groups and 1,200 participants, including 200 women, taking part.
The company had established rules to work with others as a single sector in order to underline the concept of the shared responsibility of producers and manufacturers, Al-Hout said. It had invited many leading companies in Egypt to join the initiative, which had been welcomed as an important way of protecting the environment.
"We believe that these efforts, with the sponsorship of the ministry of the environment and in collaboration with the concerned parties, will lead to a waste-free environment in Egypt," Al-Hout said.
Hanz Al-Saadi, managing director of the Al-Ahram Beverages Company, said his company supported the reduction of plastics consumption and more recycling to help to preserve the environment in partnership with the government and civil-society organisations and to help to come up with a practical and realistic recycling model for Egypt.
Mohamed Badreddin, an executive at Unilever, said the company had been working to resolve the problem of plastic waste for the last two years and that it now recycles 100 per cent of its products.
However, it was important to continue to build bridges between the private sector and the government to help solve the problem expeditiously and make efforts to preserve the environment more effective, he added.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 1 April, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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