Rewinding: Egyptian fishermen exchange plastic waste from the Nile for money
Fishermen in Cairo, who have seen their daily catches decline due to the high plastic pollution of the Nile, are now helping to clean up the river as part of a government-backed project that is also helping to increase their income.
The Nile has always held a special place in the hearts of the Egyptians, providing not only fish, but over 90% of the country’s fresh water and most of its fertile soil.
But over the years, the river has suffered from increasing levels of plastic and industrial pollution.
“When I throw my dip net it is supposed to sink to catch the fish, but when it hits a plastic bottle the bottle floats the net to the surface and we only catch rubbish,” says Ahmed Abdel Miguid, 40 years. a fisherman from Cairo.
There are no official statistics on the amount of plastic pollution in the Nile, but a study by the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research found it to be one of 10 rivers contributing 90% of plastic waste. in the world’s oceans.
The plastic waste that floats along the country’s lifeline also affects its ecology. A recent study conducted by Sky News and supervised by a British scientist found that 75% of Nile fish analyzed contained microplastics.
Cairo fishermen say plastic waste usually accumulates around algae in the river and along its banks, where the fish feed. Many of them get stuck in plastic debris and die, especially the younger ones.
The water was always cloudy from the garbage, but now I drink it because it becomes like tap water
Cairo fisherman Gomaa Ramadan
Fishermen blame plastic for a dramatic drop in the river’s stocks of edible fish species which not only affects its ecological balance, but also threatens their livelihoods.
These alarming pollution indicators and the deterioration of fishermen’s livelihoods prompted VeryNile, a Cairo-based environmental initiative, to start a collaboration with fishermen to clean up the river in exchange for money.
VeryNile, which is supported by the Egyptian Ministry of the Environment and some local and international institutions, was launched in 2018 to clean up the Nile and raise awareness of the dangers of single-use plastic for the environment.
The initiative does this through volunteer cleanups and campaigns to convince businesses to stop using plastic bags.
These cleanings made it possible to collect more than 40 tonnes of waste in two years. But when the Covid-19 pandemic struck, VeryNile had to change its approach.
“We couldn’t organize any clean-up events, so we decided to start the fishermen’s project because we always wanted to help them… It is a more sustainable solution for the fishermen and the environment than our events because they would work and clean on a daily basis, unlike our irregular events, ”said Mostafa Habib, co-founder of VeryNile.
Mr Habib said the fishermen have been of great help to VeryNile as they know the river best and their boats can reach areas that the volunteers cannot.
The Reviving Cairo Fishermen project was officially launched in September last year, but VeryNile started working with fishermen five months ago, he said.
Hany Fawzy, the project manager, said more than 40 fishermen have already joined us.
Fishermen only collect recyclable plastic bottles and are paid 11 Egyptian pounds (about $ 0.70) for each kilogram collected.
Mr Habib said it was more than double the rate paid anywhere else in Egypt because they want to compensate the fisherman for the loss of fish due to pollution.
The above-market rate means VeryNile has to resell the plastic to recycling centers at higher prices compared to other suppliers, creating the challenge of convincing recycling factories to do business with them.
“We spent most of the last year storing the waste we received and no one would buy it from us until we found factories that would work with us just two months ago,” Habib said. .
The fishermen managed to get 13 tons of plastic bottles out of the river in less than a year, he said.
Mr. Fawzy explained that the accumulation of plastic waste is seasonal.
“There are more plastic bottles in the river during the summer because people make more trips on the Nile then, and Nile tourism is more common in this season,” he said.
Although they only catch one type of trash out of the river, fishermen can already feel the difference in the purity of the water and the amount of fish.
“The water was always cloudy from the waste, but now I drink it because it becomes like tap water,” said Gomaa Ramadan, 49, a fisherman from Cairo.
“These days the quantity of fish is showing an increase due to the river being cleaned and the algae and rubbish removed,” said another fisherman from Cairo, Saeed Mohamed, 35.
The same opinion was shared by VeryNile.
“After our very first cleanup event, we were delighted with the results,” said Habib. VeryNile said about 250 volunteers participated and collected 1.5 tonnes of trash in three hours.
“But three weeks later, the same place was again full of garbage. So we had to clean the same areas over and over again. However, after a while people started to understand what we were doing and they stopped throwing their garbage in the cleaned areas, ”said Habib.
“This change will be made through awareness campaigns,” said engineer Yosra Abdelaziz, member of the technical support office of the Ministry of the Environment. “We are currently working on an awareness plan in collaboration with the Ministry of Higher Education which will target university students as they are the future of our country.”
The fishermen’s clean-up project is currently focused on the governorates of Cairo and Giza. The initiative plans to expand into other areas in the future.
“We want to have our hubs all over Egypt, but we are still testing the full success of this project,” said Habib.
Ultimately VeryNile doesn’t want to stay forever. “We hope that in 10 years we can close our doors and start planting trees instead. “
“We hope that people will stop dumping their garbage in the Nile, so that we can stop cleaning up after them. “
This article is written in collaboration with Egab.