Local environmental festival brings recycling groups closer together

A group of activists from the Middle East and Denmark attempted to bridge gaps between environmental organizations and the public with a recycling festival held at Darb 1718 cultural center over a week ago.

The group, the DEMENA Climate Ambassadors, is a collective that was formed in 2010 by various organizations in Egypt and Jordan, as well as groups in Denmark. Their vision is to strengthen youth participation and initiatives in the region and support Danish-Arab dialogue among young people. The name stands for Denmark and the Middle East and North Africa.

“The purpose is to use environmental activism as a platform to create interconnectivity between the two countries,” says Mohamed Baha, a member of DEMENA.

However, a large part of DEMENA’s vision is also to create domestic interconnectivity between NGOs and people in Egypt through events and getaways, and Friday’s festival was the latest of these events.

“While having many NGOs and environmental organizations is a good step for Egypt, many continue to work in isolation from one another, which can be counterproductive,” says Baha. “With these events, we advocate that different NGOs get together from time to time, and learn what others are doing, how they can work together, and where they should specialize.”

He says the final goal is to be able to efficiently use waste as a resource and not a burden.

Many NGOs came together for the festival, which was accompanied by several musical acts that played on the roof, including musical environmentalists Zabaleen, who use garbage as their percussion instruments.

Organizations including Nawaya, Re-Art, Be Green, RecycloBekia, Gezazy, El-Misbah El-Mudii, Green Maadi, Dayma and the Maadi Youth Association set up stalls in Darb 1718’s outdoors area to advocate their ideas.

Members and visitors lay around on the grass enjoying the music and signed up for the organizations.

Maadi Youth Association members performed rap songs, using rhyme to express environmental ideas. The association fights for youth employment, advocates against drug use and provides improved access to medical facilities.

Groups such as Nawaya and Be Green went around advocating daily tips about recycling and discouraging pollution. It suggested that people separate trash at home and call the right organizations to come collect it, and refuse to accept the polystyrene trays that local supermarkets usually use to package meats, cheese and other goods.

Recycling initiatives were also able to learn from one another.

RecycloBekia — an initiative that aims to recycle electronic waste, which is extremely hazardous to the environment because of certain metals in it, such as mercury — usually exports all of its goods to China.

Catherine El Taweel of the environmental group El-Misbah El-Mudii told RecycloBekia members about the importance of recycling household items domestically, rather than exporting them to China.

“When people collect garbage here, they often export things to China that can be recycled here, and that is money that is being lost,” she says. “If we’re going to recycle, local initiatives have to keep pushing to recycle domestically, because the benefits double that way. Not only do you have better waste management, but the money produced is put directly back into the economy.”

Many of the organizations sought to put a fun and creative spin on recycling. Re-Art is a recycling initiative that collects garbage from people’s houses and uses it to create artwork or household items. Another group, Gezazy, collects used bottles and cuts out the bottoms, filling them with lights to create impressive lamps and lanterns.

“Recycling doesn’t have to just be this boring process that nobody wants to engage in,” says Mostafa Abdel Maged, who runs the Gezazy store in Maadi. “If you create beautiful things from the items collected, it touches people in a different way that inspires them to recycle.”

The festival helped environmental groups connect to one another and learn different ways to recycle the waste they collect, such as selling certain items to Gezazy or Re-Art.

“I was actually unaware that there were so many different NGOs in Egypt and people collecting recyclable waste that I could connect to, rather than personally going door to door,” says Abdel Maged. “Knowing others definitely helps to develop a network that separates tasks so that people can recycle more efficiently.”

The day ended with Zabaleen’s performance around sunset.

“Garbage can be recycled in many ways, whether it be at a factory, or for art or music,” says Baha of DEMENA. “It doesn’t have to be a tedious task, and our goal is to also help the public see that.”

This piece was originally published in Egypt Independent's weekly print edition.

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