According to the ND-GAIN index, which calculates a country's vulnerability to climate change and other global challenges, as well as its willingness to improve its resilience, Egypt is the 83rd most vulnerable country to the impact of climate change.
Egypt has maintained this rank for the past 10 years, which requires the integration of environmental issues into all policies and all plans.
However, a few measures in everyone's daily life can change the game, reduce the dangerous impacts of climate change on the Egyptians and the planet and improve our quality of life.
The simplest formula is the so-called three “Rs”: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. But now it has become 4-Rs, adding Refuse to the formula. It is about consuming less, re-consuming what we use, recycling what we no longer need, and, finally, daring to say “no”. The task is far from easy in a country where environmental awareness is almost non-existent and appears as a luxury and not easily accessible. But, indeed, small steps will pay off.
1. Alternative modes of transport
In Greater Cairo, the levels of fine toxic particles in the air (PM10 and PM2.5), which pose the greatest risk to health, are sometimes higher than those recommended by the World Health Organisation. We can reduce our carbon footprint by changing the means of daily travel.
A carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gasses (including carbon dioxide and methane) that are generated by our actions, including burning fuel, and is one of the main causes of the increase in the rate of global warming.
If you can, choose to travel by public transport. Commute, use a scooter, or even a bicycle. The metro is one of the most important ecological means of transport, because it works with electric traction and not with diesel; it is also the fastest means of transport.
Another option is carpooling, where you can share a car with several people wanting to reach the same destination. For more exceptional trips, if possible, opt for trains, which for the moment still run on diesel, but will be replaced in the future by electric trains. The country is also expected to switch to battery-electric buses (e-buses) soon, with a project to purchase around 100 e-buses, financed by the World Bank. The project was launched by Mowasalat Misr in 2020 but came to a halt shortly after.
There is still more to be done regarding measures and the infrastructure to encourage and facilitate the use of electronic private cars. Since July 2021, only 691 electric cars have managed to obtain a licence.
2. Avoid single-use plastic
Egypt produces about 5.4 million tons of plastic per year, which makes it the biggest plastic polluter in the Arab world. Plastic releases toxic chemicals and is one of the most dangerous threats to marine life. It takes hundreds of years to decompose a single bag.
The best idea is to replace plastic bags with reusable or recyclable ones. The two most common types of materials are non-woven polypropylene, which is a more durable form of plastic, and cotton. Straw bags are still a good idea. Dare to say “no” every time you are offered a plastic bag at a grocery shop or a pharmacy or disposable cutlery in a coffee shop.
A healthier and greener choice instead of using bottled water is to invest in a water filter or a filter jug and drink good quality tap water. It will do your finances well too. A single person consumes an average of three bottles of water (1.5 litres) per day, which cost at least EGP 12, while a water filter costs on average EGP 5,000, i.e. the consumption of a single person per year. You can also switch to reusable steel or glass bottles.
3. Use tap water consciously
Egypt suffers from a water deficit of 54 billion m3 per year and the annual share of water is 560 m3 per capita, according to government figures, which puts the country well below the international water scarcity threshold (1,000 m3) and close to absolute scarcity at 500 m3.
So why not reduce water consumption in general by simply reducing the time in the shower by a few minutes or avoiding leaving the water running? Close the tap as soon as you no longer need water, fix taps that keep dripping. Using water conscientiously and sensibly is a must.
4. Sort your waste
Egypt generates about 90 million tons of waste every year, including at least 26 million tons of solid waste. Theoretically, garbage sorting, which consists of using separate bins or containers to paper, plastic, glass, and organic waste is the solution. Moreover, the Go Green initiative offers special bins for this practice.
The government started a similar initiative in 2013 in two neighbourhoods: Zamalek, one of the richest areas; and Zawya, an impoverished district. A similar initiative took place four years later in Heliopolis, but it failed. Garbage collectors took the recyclable waste to sell to factories and abandoned the organic waste.
The best practice in the meantime is to sort waste at home.
5. Switch to minimalism and vintage
Buying wisely is another way to protect the environment. Less use of products, whether clothing or furniture, is an effective way. Buy only the necessary number of groceries, vegetables, or fruits that you know you will consume, not more. Even the waste of a single product will have an impact on the whole environment in the long run.
You can also buy second-hand products, such as laptops, handbags, and clothes.
Chat with friends or check out the growing number of vintage e-shops on Facebook and Instagram. Buying second-hand also applies to many other categories of goods: games and toys for children, household appliances, furniture, cars, etc, and at the same time helps to develop the circular economy.
6. Buy eco-labels
Eco-labels guarantee that the product bearing them meets specific criteria that minimise the environmental impact. Even if it's extremely rare in Egypt, when you have the choice, go for eco-labelled products.
7- Save electricity
Use long-lasting bulbs. Energy-efficient light bulbs reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Also, turn off the light, fan, or air conditioner when you leave a room. Air conditioners and refrigerators release harmful substances that add to greenhouse gasses. For your future purchases, opt for electrical appliances that consume less energy.
8- Learn how to recycle
With a little creativity, you can transform your useless or unwanted objects into a treasure. Create some works of art, toys, accessories, and give a new life to these products. Make a lantern out of candles and clean jars, handles and door knobs from spoons and turn cans into plant pots. Browse the Internet for inspiration and thousands of tips.
9- Plant your own garden
Plants produce oxygen. We learned that as children. You don’t need to have a big garden; just plant mint, parsley, flowers, or aromatic herbs on your window or balcony. Make your choice. This will purify the air.
And finally, help others understand the importance of environmental protection.
*The French version of this article is published in Al-Ahram Hebdo under the title "Vivre vert: Dix règles d’or"