In 2018, according to a report by MAGNiTT, an online community for startups and investors in the MENA region, Egypt had “the fastest-growing startup ecosystem in the Middle East and North Africa.” Both public and private initiatives have provided funding and expertise to contribute to this growth. Many of these startups tackle problems with far-reaching social and developmental consequences. Several startups are transforming waste management in Egypt by creating innovative solutions for sustainable waste management.
Baramoda is an agri-tech startup with the goal of “building a sustainable future for food security systems by 2050 in Africa.” Its main four concerns are the risk of water shortages, high agricultural waste, harmful chemical fertilizers and the loss of soil productivity. Roughly 80% of Egypt’s water resources are used in agriculture. With climate change pushing temperatures higher, these challenges, if left unaddressed, could trigger destabilizing water politics in the region. This would prevent millions of people from getting the water necessary to fulfill their basic needs.
Baramoda’s main product for alleviating these problems is bio-organic compost made of agricultural waste. This compost reduces irrigation demands by 30%. It also reduces the use of chemical fertilizers by 50% and increases land productivity by 20%. As of 2020, the company recycles more than 15,000 tons of waste a month which produces more than 80,000 tons of bio-organic compost. In addition to this product, Baramoda is developing an online platform for waste management in Egypt. This software will allow farmers and agricultural businesses to share information and coordinate waste collection and recycling efforts.
Bekia is a Cairo-based startup that has set up a bartering-style system for people to exchange recyclable waste for basic goods. The company picks up customers’ recyclable waste free of charge. It in turn gives them points based on the type and amount of waste given. Customers can redeem these points on Bekia’s website for groceries, metro tickets, medicine and a variety of other household items. To finish the cycle, the company then brings the waste to recycling centers. It also fixes and resells discarded electronics if still reusable.
By December 2019, three years after Alaa Afifi Kamal founded it, Bekia had received more than 10,000 orders and collected more than 20,000 tons of waste. Since 44.8% of households in Egypt dispose of waste by dumping it on the street, bolstering waste management in Egypt through urban recycling programs fulfills an unmet social and environmental need while also being able to realize high commercial value. During the next few years, Bekia hopes to expand beyond the Egyptian cities of Cairo and Giza.
Up-fuse is a Cairo-based sustainable fashion brand engaged in the upcycling of plastic bags. Upcycling is the act of reusing discarded materials in a way that produces something of greater value than the original. Up-fuse uses plastic bags to create backpacks, handbags, wallets and more. Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, it also produces face masks. Moreover, its production process is highly integrated into the local community.
The company collects vast amounts of plastic in collaboration with Manshiyat Nasser Landfill, home to more than 60,000 entrepreneurial garbage workers, also known as Zabbaleen. Up-fuse relies on artisanal workers from three Egyptian NGOs to assist with the design and processing of its recycled fabrics. These NGOs support refugees and women with disabilities. The brand began in 2013 when founders Rania Rafie and Yara Yassin noticed how, contrary to Egypt, supermarkets in Berlin charged for plastic bags. From this inspiration, Up-fuse has upcycled more than 250,000 plastic bags.
Every year, Egypt generates approximately 30 million tons of agricultural waste and six million tons of industrial waste. Baramoda, Bekia and Up-fuse have each developed unique and ingenious ways of turning this environmental challenge into a social and commercial opportunity. As these startups show, a wave of innovation and entrepreneurial spirit can meet challenges, finding solutions even where the situation seems dire.
– Alexander Vanezis