We sit down with the CEO and the COO of Environ Reform who tell us all about their revolutionary app that allows people to report accumulated street garbage to Environ Reform which then sends someone to clean it up, while giving the government a much-needed tool for waste management oversight.
It’s easy to make Egypt look clean and beautiful in a #ThisIsEgypt campaign, but sadly this isn’t the reality on its garbage-strewn streets. With no efficient system in place or accountability for those providing waste management services in Egypt, the increasingly stinky issue remains an ugly problem. Looking to solve this problem is the Egyptian-based NGO Environ Reform, who have created an ingenious app and a system that can help the government, waste collectors, and residents clean up Om el Donya. Wanting to learn about the roots that sprouted this green-changing project, I sat down with COO Amr Fathi and CEO Mostafa Khairat to find out why this app may be the waste management solution Egypt has been waiting for.
It's no secret that Egypt isn’t as clean as can be, in some cases downright disgusting. Concerned about the state of Egypt’s environment, Amr Fathi set out to find a way to help clean the country. "We fundraised a factory and started the company Environ, which recycles mainly plastic bottles. We sort it, wash it, cut it, and then sell it to polyester factories to use it as raw materials. The problem was in buying the materials because collectors were seeing what we were doing so they kept increasing prices, which meant we needed to start going into collection," Khairat explains.
Pivoting from recycling to collection was an eye-opening experience for the company, which soon discovered that an ineffective system with little oversight existed between the government and waste collectors – which some may know as zabaleen. Refusing to use this disrespectful term, Fathi often refers to them as 'waste collectors' or 'the company', and with that respect began to blossom a working relationship benefiting both outfits. The next step was finding a financial backer who shared the same passion for cleaning the environment and could help sponsor Environ's new branch, Environ Reform, to test the concept. Filling the role was Dr. Seddik Affifi, who was more than willing to finance their first test project cleaning up the Omraniya district in Giza. According to Khairat, "First we had to prove the concept, so we started with a one-year pilot project in Omraniya in Giza, which amounts to 25,000 residential units and 5,000 companies. The operation cost roughly 2.5 million EGP and was very successful because people could see we were giving back to the community."
To do so, Environ Reform launched their app to residents of the district with the simple instructions that if they see garbage accumulating in their neighbourhood to simply take a picture of the mess. The picture is instantly shared on the back-end of their app, where they track where it is and send a waste collector to clean it up. In the event that the cleaning company is unable, Environ Reform would send out an emergency truck to deal with the matter. For the cleaning company to be alerted vastly improved their ability to manage the area. The problem wasn’t strictly the fault of so-called zabaleen, as over a decade ago they managed to effectively dispose of most of Egypt’s organic waste using pigs. That was until swine flu created a panic in Egypt. "They used to use pigs to eat all the organic matter and then collected the recyclables, but after swine flu went global, pigs were slaughtered and they no longer had a method to deal with organic waste," explains Khairat. Not only did this decision to cull pigs deprive them of a food source, but also resulted in them foregoing the collection of organic waste.
In an attempt to fill this void, the Mubarak government reached out to a foreign company to deal with Egypt’s waste. According to Khairat, "The Foreign company hired didn’t work because performance KPI wasn’t being properly monitored. For example, if you have a contract with the government for one million a month for a certain number of units, you only receive the million after the work has been judged or graded. If you receive a grade of 80 percent then you get 80 percent of the million. The problem was there was no structure to this system, no way to log the penalties, so the penalties became easily manipulated." With very little oversight at a time where corruption ran rampant, it became noticeable to many that waste management was better under the ‘zabaleen’ than under the foreign company.
Where Environ Reform solves the problem is with oversight using their invaluable back-end, which will be able to give the government a way of monitoring services provided while giving residents an opportunity to input feedback on the job done. "The end goal is to have the application be used by the government and the residents. As it stands, if you have a complaint about the job being done, there is no one and no way to file a complaint. At the same time, we’re providing the government a monitoring system and training without asking anything in return," explains Khairat.
One of the only concerns from the government is that, in order for the project to work, they would need to purchase smartphones and data for their supervisors to use the app. However, these concern do not trouble Environ Reform, who plan to solve this problem by reaching out to further possible sponsors not only to provide equipment needed but for another amazing side project that identifies garbage heaps on streets and not only removes them but beautifies the area by adding benches and landscaping. "Another part of this project is beautifying spots. We want sponsors who will donate money to fund projects to clean up an area, renovate schools, and even add landscaping. In exchange, we will make sure that the area mentions that it was beautified by the sponsor," Fathi passionately describes.The Ministry of Environment is in talks regarding the use of the app for its supervisors, and Environ Reform is optimistic that by end of the year they will be able to service all of Giza and, if that’s successful, the rest of Egypt. What makes this app and non-profit NGO stand out is that it finally puts an efficient cost-effective system for government, waste collectors, sponsors, and resident to solve one of Egypt’s most embarrassing problems.
Environ Reform is currently available for download on Apple and Androids, but at the moment is only servicing Omraneya district in Giza, and soon all of Giza. To learn more about their important work check out their Facebook.