A Greener Egypt: Stop littering!

Although littering may appear socially acceptable in Egyptian culture, its foundations lay neither in religion nor in personal appearances and seem to have emerged from a prevailing sense of apathy. Throughout the revolution and immediately after it, Egyptians were invested in their country, its welfare and well being. They went out of their way to clean Tahrir square and their neighborhoods from trash.

Unfortunately, the post-revolution lull has set in and Egyptians are, for the most part, back to their old habits. Although trash collecting and street cleaning are services taken care of by state or by private companies, we Egyptians need to learn to internalize principles behind cleanliness, to understand that it is unacceptable to keep our homes clean at the expense of tossing trash on our stairwells, building entrances, street corners, and beyond.

The anti-littering recipe that has worked abroad has consisted of three basic ingredients: shame, legal punishment, and emotional attachment to neighborhoods and districts. Perhaps in Egypt the formula would need a few tweaks.

“Cleanliness has its roots in religion,” explains Samira Abul Ela, a young woman who lives in Dokki and who was involved in cleanup campaigns post revolution. “In Egypt, if you brand littering as being anti-Islamic or anti-Christian, people are likely to think before they throw things in the street.”

But this view may be a simplistic. According to Sherif al-Bakry, a school teacher in Heliopolis, it is not enough to “guilt” people into taking care of the world around them. “Social and religious insinuations need the backing of large fines and legal ramifications,” he suggests. He believes that without a police force aware of the real problems littering creates, fines would not be enforced and littering would continue.

According to Hala Barakat, deputy director of the Centre for Documentation of Cultural and Natural Heritage (Cultnat), the problem of trash goes beyond littering and traces back to an individual’s understanding of garbage in the home. “People need to start separating their garbage,” Barakat insists, “in order to realize the quantity of garbage they produce and ultimately reduce this amount.” Barakat organizes a group called “Clean Up Zamalek” with Sara al-Sayed from Wadi Environmental Science Centre (WESC). The two women have surveyed the island for places for accumulating garbage as well as broken light posts and sidewalks.

Similar campaigns are cropping up in Agouza, Maadi and other of the city’s suburbs. Preliminary plans include fund raising for street side garbage bins and bi-monthly “hit the streets” events where residents can gather garbage and clean up the streets, hands on.

What can you do? Well, a number of things, actually:

Check Facebook for cleanup groups. If you can’t find any in your neighborhood, try to organize one or contact a friend who might be interested in organizing one.

Start at home. Teach your children about trash and separating it. Try getting yourself to select items from the grocery store that produce less trash.

Confront a litterer. We’re not suggesting you start a fight in the street, but your awareness will trigger others to be aware as well (think: shame factor). Potential comments for a litterer include, “Did you drop something?” (sarcastic but simple), “There’s a trash can over there so please don’t make our country dirty” (clear but requires the presence of an actual trash can, a relatively rare phenomenon in Cairo’s streets), and “Please help me make Egypt cleaner and pick up what you threw in the street.” (A plea, yes, but you’d be surprised who may be affected by some kind words).

Gather ammunition. Not really, just know your facts about littering when someone throws a comment at you like, “We have trash collectors to pick that up,” or “I’m just one person, I can’t affect litter that much.” Here’s a head’s up: litter attracts rats and bacteria and can breed disease, litter can be a fire hazard, and piles of litter next to buildings can cause fires, removing litter from our environment costs a lot of money, litter attracts litter which attracts litter — as soon as you have an accumulation of litter, expect that it will grow and grow, litter looks and smells terrible which means it keeps people away and lowers property rates, and if litter contains broken bottles or other sharp objects, it can harm people and animals.

Carry bags around. You know your car becomes a storage spot for jackets, water bottles and car mugs so you might as well keep a couple cloth bags in the trunk of your car. Cloth bags will allow you to go grocery shopping without adding to the world of plastic bag trash. Extra plastic bags in your purse or in your car are great portable garbage bins, keeping you from the temptation to throw trash out the window of your car or discard trash on the street when you can’t find that all-too-rare garbage bin that isn’t already full.

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