Last week I visited Egypt Waste & Recycling Expo, it was organised by the Egyptian ministry of environment and other public entities, and it was held for three consecutive days. It was interesting to see how the government presented the whole recycling scene, especially that people here roll their eyes whenever the word recycling and Egypt are said in the same sentence. Of course, it is not a common practice here, but we do have a lot of recycling industries. I was told over and over whenever the conversation arises that we don’t recycle in Egypt, but always argued, simply because there is a lot of cash in trash, and trash is something we have in abundance! A treasure, really.
So if businessmen weren’t doing it for the environment they would do it for the money. And there is nothing wrong with that, in fact, anyone who invests his money in Egypt and not somewhere else deserves a tip of the hat. However, I’ve met many major players in the industry who would leave you in awe when they speak about their passion in life, waste management.
The expo was rather small but had a range of different exhibitors showing recycled materials, production lines, treatment systems, solar heaters and even garbage collecting equipment. There was a couple of exhibitors who had nothing to do with recycling or the environment what so ever! But overall, from a young designer’s point of view, I got to learn and discover new materials and industries that are present in Egypt. And it left me wondering how come we do not point a finger when recycling is mentioned and say someone is doing something, not an initiative or a campaign but a well-established company.
Three examples of such companies who were at the expo are; Minar engineering company who manufacture pellet wood from agricultural waste, El Kassas who manufacture wood similar to MDF and chipboard from rice husk and finally Hoppec who recycle old car tires into rubber tiles and courtyards.
Some may not be novel ideas, like pellet wood, but we have little knowledge -if not none- about the industries available in Egypt that we’d even shrug about the idea of their existence in Egypt. It’s lack of awareness from our side but at the same time the way these companies are positioning themselves is not portraying the true value they are delivering.
Taking Hoppec as an example (there is a whole information rich section below about rubber recycling) Their motto is ‘the number one rubber flooring manufacturers in Egypt.’ They have a website set, a facebook page and other social media presence and nowhere is it written that the number one rubber floorings in Egypt are made out of recycled tires! Nowhere! The number one rubber flooring manufacturers in Egypt have ads like this:
They happened to call me after the expo to ask about my feedback and I asked them about this, why don’t you mention so and so on your website, and the guy on the other end answered –of course he had little to do with the website and its content- the website is just done to show the range of products we have.
This really reminded me of Sugru, a playdough like material that dries into a silicone rubbery material, invented by an Industrial designer from Ireland. Sugru is not the only putty that dries into a rubber-like material, other products like this did exist before Sugru. Yes, they might be different in composition but the idea wasn’t completely out of this world. The way they built their business was unusual for such company and that is what made them very successful. That is why I remember the brand name of Sugru, but had to spend a few minutes on google to find the name of the other material and company, and will probably forget it afterwards.
For some reason the word that comes to mind is oomph, Sugru had the extra oomph!
Now let’s talk a bit about car tires because I was super happy to find out about Hoppec. Tires are a very difficult thing to recycle because they have embedded steel and nylon mesh inside. It’s very hard to cut through one of those, I came to know that when I used to take part in tire upcycling workshops to create playgrounds for kids in different areas in Cairo, and we often had to cut the tires in half and no ordinary saw can cut it because of the metal, that’s the first time I heard about a job of the guy who ‘skins’ car tires! So in order to recycle these tires you need several large shredders to mash all the tires into chips and granules, it then passes through magnets to pick the metal parts and the powder rubber can then be used in several things.
In other countries besides using it for courts and playgrounds, they also use it to make rubberised asphalt, it makes the asphalt more resistant to weather changes and hence more durable so it doesn’t crack like normal asphalt and maintains it’s initial condition over the years. Malaysia is known for its rubber industries, they are rich with natural rubber they get from palm trees. I’ve always noticed how the paints they use to mark their roads and color the sidewalk stays for so long, almost for years, I have stayed there for almost four years and never saw a faded, peeled brick or mark. Not to forget that it pours 24/7 almost 360 days a year, real rain! And one day I actually saw them lining a newly repaired road, and it was no ordinary paint, it was so thick, they were not brushing it on the ground, rather scooping it. I was later told that the paint contained rubber and that helped it survive the weather conditions.
So much to say about Rubber and all they could say was 'Love on the rubber'!