On 20 November 2018 – the 56th Cairo Climate Talks session was held at Tahrir Lounge at Goethe in Downtown, Cairo under the title of “Bag It: Film Screening and Discussion”.
With the recent dramatic rise in use of plastic bags in Egypt, roughly estimated 12 billion plastic bags a year, the Cairo Climate Talks hosted a film screening called “Bag It: Is your life too plastic?” followed by a discussion and accompanied by distribution of 250 reusable bags, provided by the German Embassy in Cairo and Banlastic, with an aim to reduce the consumption of single-use plastic bags when shopping.
“Plastic bags can take up to 1000 years to decompose, mostly burned and polluting the air with toxic fumes. Yet unfortunately, billions end up in our oceans every year, killing marine life and polluting our beaches,” said Mr. Philippe Maupai, Head of the Science Department at the German Embassy in Cairo, in his opening remarks. He explained how Germany decreased use of plastic bags from 7 bn/yr in 2000 to around 2,4 bn/yr in 2017 due to imposition of a fee for use of every plastic bag. Moreover, he underlined the power of awareness raising campaigns about the negative impact of littering single-use plastics by referring to the initiative “Enough Plastic Bags” that has been launched by the government in 2017, in Egypt. Finally, he urged the necessity to drastically reduce our plastic bags consumption, thereby setting the scene for the film screening of “Bag it”. The documentary movie, directed by the American filmmaker Suzan Beraza, follows Jeb Berrier and his partner Anne on their journey to use less plastic. The film presents a story about the negative effects of plastic and what we can do about it.
After the movie, in the panel discussion, Ms. Manar Ramadan, co-founder at Banlastic, explained the essence of engagement of key stakeholders: government, private sector, and consumers in order to eliminate the use of plastic bags. She added that if consumers are aware of the external costs of using plastic bags, they will automatically switch to alternatives such as reusable bags when shopping. Furthermore, she added that deployment of regulations and policies will encourage shop owners and consumers to reduce their consumption of plastic bags such as imposition of a fee on every use of plastic bags. Concerning potential ban on use of plastic bags in Egypt, Mr. Shady Khalil, co-founder and managing partner at Greenish Egypt, said that there is still ongoing consideration on banning use of plastic bags, but this might take up to 5 years. Both agreed that interactive environmental education can form a cornerstone to change daily habits especially for young generations. For instance, Banlastic started to support schools in developing a curriculum given to kids to understand the real costs of using plastic bags. This could be a life changing experience.
The panelists and the audience have agreed that indirect costs of plastic bags are much higher than direct costs we pay when we go shopping. Mr. Shady Khalil explained that plastic bags have external costs beyond the costs associated with its production. He added that these costs include the environmental damage, negative impacts on human health, and wildlife loss. Furthermore, he added that such costs are typically not included in most economic analyses. Ms. Manar Ramadan mentioned that many governments such as India, Kenya, and Morocco are banning plastic bags, so Egypt should follow up too, or at least make people pay a fee for using it. The audience also discussed the role of regulations and incentives and how it can lead the private sector to look for alternatives. They also highlighted that deployment of technology such as mobile apps could speed up the elimination process of plastic bags. Having said that, the Egyptian culture might not be ready to use technology in such manner. In addition, they reasoned that adding value to recycling, such as bottles waste recycling in Germany, can significantly lead to the elimination of plastic waste.
Having established the link between plastic packaging and clean water, an audience member asked for recommendations on alternatives for clean water in Egypt, on the go and at home, to limit the usage of plastic bottles waste. “Installing faucet filters that can provide fresh and clean water, with a refillable bottle, you will be able to bring clean and fresh water with you wherever you go.”, Mr. Shady Khalil answered. Furthermore, the audience argued on potential opportunities in Egypt to use less plastic, for instance when shopping vegetables, they are not packed in plastic unlike in Europe.
In the end, the panelists and the audience recommended the necessity for elimination of single-use plastic bags in Egypt. Or at least, other measures to be imposed such as to institute a plastic bag tax, where all consumers would pay a fee for each plastic bag; this strategy has been proven to greatly reduce the plastic bag consumption in Germany.
The Cairo Climate Talks are conceived, organized and hosted as a cooperation between the German Embassy in Cairo, the Egyptian Ministry of Environment, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ). For more information, please visit our website or contact us via firstname.lastname@example.org.
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