Do something drastic, cut out the plastic!
On a sunny Saturday morning, a troupe of Cairenes descended on Cairo Rowing Club - not to take a pleasant boat trip along the Nile, but to take on the unenviable task of cleaning it. It marked the launch of VeryNile, the first initiative of its kind in Egypt; one that has found support from everyone from government bodies, to Cairo's Sea Scouts, to celebrities including Arwa Gouda and Amr Saad.
VeryNile comes as the result of a collaboration between Greenish, a social enterprise that aims to spread awareness about the environment in Egypt, and Nile Taxi, Cairo’s very own floating yellow cabs. The sheer amount of support and willing volunteers has come as a surprise to Greenish co-founder, Shady Abdallah, a soft-spoken but determined entrepreneur with much to say about his cause.
“It’s very cool that, on its launching day, we have contributions from the Ministry of Irrigation and several initiatives and groups supporting us," he told CairoScene. "We didn’t expect to get this much support. If this is how we’re starting, I’m very excited to see where we end up later.”
Having arrived at 11AM, we found that almost half of the final amount of 1.5 tonnes of garbage had already been collected from the water, thanks to volunteering groups. “The numbers are very encouraging. Today, we filled around 300 biodegradable garbage bags. We had 200 volunteers today. If you look at the before-and-after pictures, you can see places that were full of garbage looking much cleaner now.”
Off the docks of the Cairo Rowing Club, the Cairo Sea Scouts and Giza Sea Scouts had regrouped for a second round of collection, performing a song and dance with their paddles on their Kayaks, raising the energy for everyone in attendance. Groups of 10 were placed in their respective boats in order to initiate. I was placed in a Nile Taxi with Arwa Gouda and Amr Saad, who could barely contain their excitement about hopping on board.
As we traversed the brown waters, we could already see the beached piles of garbage on either shore: plastic bags, rusty cans, cigarette butts, used needles, a few bottles of beer, a dead cat, foam plates, a wedding ring with a note warning against marriage, and more.
Garbage has clogged many canals along the Nile that are meant to irrigate fields that would feed villages or invigorate local economies. This level of pollution, combined with environmental factors and the dams being built upriver, pose a serious water-security threat. That’s where efforts like VeryNile come and the initiative expands beyond Cairo, from Aswan to the Delta, encouraging local communities and volunteers to clean the water on a daily basis under the motto, “Clean the Nile, One Kilo at a Time.”
Speaking to Abdallah, I was fascinated by how ambitious and expansive the initiative is. “With all these partnerships behind the cause, we wanted to found a body that brings us all together that's exclusively dedicated to cleaning the Nile," explains Abdallah. "That's VeryNile.” It is not a one-off stunt, though, and the long term goal is to be cleaning the Nile in as efficient a way as possible.
“Our next step is clean up with machines, making it more efficient and sustainable," Abdallah revealed. "We’re including local fishermen, too. We’re trying to cut them a good deal: they collect plastic from the Nile, and we’re collaborating with UpFuse to make bracelets out of that plastic. Then, the profits from selling these bracelets would go to them.”
The initiative is still very much an explorative one and Abdallah is positive about finding new ways to not only reach their goal, but to maintain it. “Our mission today is to continue doing this, and to continue trying different approaches to find the most sustainable solution for the garbage issue here.”
As January nears, Abdallah explained, the weather gets colder and people are maybe not as willing to volunteer or contribute to on-ground campaigns, so VeryNile is taking a break until February. “We want to plan on working out the mechanization, as well as including the fishing communities. We’re planning to launch a full plan in February where we’d block a monthly clean-up and fully integrate the communities and volunteers.”