What happens once you throw your garbage away? Who collects it? And what do the people in charge do with it? What is climate change? Is it actually affecting my little island called Zamalek?
Waste and the environment are topics we rarely talk about in our society. We all want to see a better version of Egypt, where we can live in peace and where we can preserve our beautiful land, yet we don’t proactively resolve the deterioration of our soil, the air we breathe and the Nile, which is our only source of water.
The only solution, is waste disposal. It does not only consist of treating it but of also turning it into a source of alternative fuels that could replace major pollutants. We could sum this process into the 3 R’s: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle waste. But do such initiatives actually exist in Egypt?
Reliance Investments: Alternative Fuels as Cleaner Energy for Cement Production
Reliance is an Egyptian company that currently owns and operates 2 waste processing plants in Ismailia and Port Said. It handles solid waste that is generated by 1.6 million people.
As a country, Egypt generates around 20 million tons of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) per year which mostly ends up in open informal dumpsites, city streets, or the Nile. MSW contains organic material (e.g. food, plants), which releases methane, and waste which is combustible material. Therefore, MSW is self-igniting due to the emission of methane from dumped waste, and results in pollution of the air.
This unprocessed waste burns and emits methane and carbon dioxide that contribute to global warming’s dire consequences such as natural disasters and the threat of food and water insecurity… Reliance Investments attempts to take on the challenge.
After the sorting of waste, it is processed into Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF), which consists largely of combustible components of MSW such as plastics and non-biodegradable waste. RDF, a local fuel, is then used as a substitute to fossil fuels in the production of cement and accordingly lowers Greenhouse Gas (GHGs) emissions up to 20% and reduces the import of coal.
The second product is recyclable materials, which include aluminum, glass, carton, paper, and can be recycled as raw materials in multiple industries rather than using virgin ones. Using recycled material reduces the emissions needed to convert minerals into raw materials.
Compost is the result of processing organic waste, which can be used as a natural fertilizer and a soil enricher, thus avoiding further industrial production and associated pollution. Additionally, as mentioned earlier, untreated organic waste would emit harmful greenhouse gas.
Even though this is a huge opportunity to create jobs, reduce emissions and keep our streets clean, the challenges this industry currently faces are many. Waste collection needs to improve as it is low in efficiency. But its costs have to be met and its sums paid. This explains why recycling projects are limited due to low expectations of waste collection. In other words, this can hinder companies from making accurate production plans and process the correct quantities.
In other parts of the world, notably in Europe and the US, governments pay fees to companies to safely dispose waste. This fee is called the “Gate Fee” and is an important financial support to players in the waste industry.
For such initiatives to succeed and flourish, collaboration between all parties and stakeholders has to be enforced. On one hand, cement producing companies must implement their plans to gradually substitute Coal to cleaner energy sources, and contribute to the well-being of the society. On the other hand, public entities have to support such initiatives, for instance by setting up formal processing channels and executing the partial switch to Alternative Fuels in cement production. If climate change erupted due to human activity, it can also be stopped by reforming the way humans do things.
Waste is a cost center that needs to be processed and treated to yield value.