Egypt’s creative solutions to the plastic menace

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Go Clean is currently offering its services in over 20 locations across Cairo and Alexandria, but the rest of Egypt is in its sights. (Supplied)
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Go Clean is currently offering its services in over 20 locations across Cairo and Alexandria, but the rest of Egypt is in its sights. (Supplied)
Updated 24 August 2019

Egypt’s creative solutions to the plastic menace

  • Egyptian social startups are taking alternative approaches to fostering awareness and reducing waste
  • While initiatives around the world are taking action to combat this problem, some Egyptian projects are doing it more creatively

CAIRO: Global plastics production reached 348 million tons in 2017, rising from 335 million tons in 2016, according to Plastics Europe. 

Critically, most plastic waste is not properly managed: Around 55 percent of it was landfilled or discarded in 2015. These numbers are extremely concerning because plastic products take anything from 450 to 1,000 years to decompose, and the effects on the environment, especially on marine and human life, are catastrophic.

While initiatives around the world are taking action to combat this problem, some Egyptian projects are doing it more creatively.

“We’re the first website in the Middle East and North Africa that trades waste,” said Alaa Afifi, founder and CEO of Bekia. “People can get rid of any waste at their disposal — plastic, paper and cooking oil — and exchange it for over 65 products on our website.”

Products for trading include rice, tea, pasta, cooking oil, subway tickets and school supplies.

Bekia was launched in Cairo in 2017. Initially, the business model did not prove successful.

“We used to rent a car and go to certain locations every 40 days to collect waste from people,” Afifi, 26, explained. “We then created a website and started encouraging people to use it.”

After the website was launched, people could wait at home for someone to collect the waste. “Instead of 40 days, we now could visit people within a week.”

To use Bekia’s services, people need to log onto the website and specify what they want to discard. They are assigned points based on the waste they are offering, and these points can be used in one of three ways: Donated to people in need, saved for later, or exchanged for products. As for the collected waste, it is given to specialized recycling companies for processing.

“We want to have 50,000 customers over the next two years who regularly use our service to get rid of their waste,” Afifi said.  

Trying to spread environmental awareness has not been easy. “We had a lot of trouble with initial investment at first, and we got through with an investment that was far from enough. The second problem we faced was spreading this culture among people — in the first couple of months, we received no orders,” Afifi said.

The team soldiered on and slowly built a client base, currently serving 7,000 customers. In terms of what lies ahead for Bekia, he said: “We’re expanding from 22 to 30 areas in Cairo this year. We’re launching an app very soon and a new website with better features.”

Go Clean, another Egyptian recycling startup dedicated to raising environmental awareness, works under the patronage of the Ministry of Environment. “We started in 2017 by recycling waste from factories, and then by February 2019 we started expanding,” said founder and CEO Mohammed Hamdy, 30.

The Cairo-based company collects recyclables from virtually all places, including households, schools, universities, restaurants, cafes, companies and embassies. The customers separate the items into categories and then fill out a registration form. Alternatively, they can make contact through WhatsApp or Facebook. A driver is then dispatched to collect the waste, carrying a scale to weigh it. 

“The client can be paid in cash for the weight of their recyclables, or they can make a donation to a special needs school in Cairo,” Hamdy explained. There is also the option of trading the waste for dishwashing soap, with more household products to be added in the future.

Trying to cover a country with 100 million people was never going to be easy, and Go Clean faced some logistical problems. It overcame them by hiring more drivers and getting more trucks. There was another challenge along the way: “We had to figure out a way to train the drivers, from showing them how to use GPS and deal with clients,” said Hamdy.

“We want to spread awareness about the environment everywhere. We go to schools, universities, companies and even factories to give sessions about the importance of recycling and how dangerous plastic is. We’re currently covering 20 locations across Cairo and all of Alexandria. We want to cover all of Egypt in the future,” he added.

With a new app on the way, Hamdy said things are looking positive for the social startup, and people are becoming invested in the initiative. “We started out with seven orders per day, and now we get over 100.”


Popeyes flexes its muscles in China as KFC feels the heat

Updated 20 November 2019

Popeyes flexes its muscles in China as KFC feels the heat

  • Popeyes signed a lease in Shanghai for its first store in China on Monday

SHANGHAI: US fried chicken chain Popeyes wants to become the top chicken brand in China, the chief executive of its parent company said on Tuesday, as it prepares to take on KFC, the leading player in the world’s most populous market.

Popeyes signed a lease in Shanghai for its first store in China on Monday, which is expected to open next year.

The company outlined plans in July to build 1,500 restaurants in China in the coming decade, becoming the last of Toronto-based Restaurant Brands International Inc’s main brands to enter the country.

By contrast, Yum China’s KFC has about 6,300 stores. Yum has said that it is acutely aware there is more opportunity to expand in China, noting that while it was in 1,300 Chinese cities, there are still as many as 800 cities without a KFC store.

Popeyes’ July plan was “just really to put a framework on the short-term potential business,” Jose Cil, RBI’s CEO said in an interview in Shanghai.

“I think we can be the No. 1 chicken brand here in China and all around Asia,” he said, adding that consumers in the region were looking for options. He dismissed concerns that a slowing China economy and trade tensions had dimmed prospects for growth in the long term.

Cil’s remarks comes as the Cajun-inspired fast food chicken chain experiences a surge in popularity in the US after a newly launched fried chicken sandwich went viral on social media.

Demand was such that Popeyes had to stop taking orders after only two weeks before relaunching it this month.

The sandwich will also be offered in China, he said.

Cil noted that RBI’s other two main brands had seen rapid growth in China.

Burger King has expanded to around 1,100 stores in China from less than 100 in 2012. “We think we’ll keep growing at a steady pace,” Cil said.

And Tim Hortons, its Canadian coffee chain, just opened its 28th store in China after launching there in February.

“We are preparing ourselves to be able to accelerate growth in the coming years,” Cil said of
the brand.