Car bomb kills two in Latakia

This frame grab from video provided on Aug. 13, 2017, by the Ghouta Media Center, a Syrian activist media group, shows smoke and debris rising after a Syrian government ground-to-ground rocket strikes the opposition-held town of Ain Terma, in the Eastern Ghouta suburb of Damascus, Syria. (AP)
Updated 20 August 2017

Car bomb kills two in Latakia

BEIRUT: Activists say a car bomb has killed two people in the Syrian coastal city of Latakia, a stronghold of President Bashar Assad’s regime.
The pro-government Latakia News Network Facebook page said the car bomb was detonated at a checkpoint on Saturday.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported the attack.
The government has sought to present the country as slowly returning to normalcy after six years of war.
It held a premier trade fair in the capital, Damascus, last week for the first time since 2011.
But fighting is still underway in several parts of the country, and the attack in Latakia, which has been firmly under government control throughout the conflict, highlighted the lingering instability.
The regime’s forces said on Friday that Russian warplanes were supporting the regime’s offensive against Daesh in a town in central Syria.
The Russian Defense Ministry said the army was now completing the push to encircle Daesh terrorists in the town of Akerbat in Hama province.
Syrian troops have seized key heights in the area, cutting off avenues of supply for the militants, according to the Russian statement.
Daesh has started fleeing the area in small groups, making their way toward Deir Ezzor, the largest city still under Daesh control, it said.
Russian drones are patrolling the area round-the-clock, directing airstrikes, the ministry added.
Separately, the Russian Defense Ministry said its representatives signed a deal with Faylaq Al-Rahman, a Syrian opposition group, to join a de-escalation zone agreement for Eastern Ghouta, an eastern Damascus.
The deal was signed on Friday in Geneva and will go into force later in the day, the ministry said.
Last month, another group in the area, Jaysh Al-Islam, joined the de-escalation agreement.
The de-escalation zone in Eastern Ghouta is one of four proposed in a plan approved in May by Russia, Turkey and Iran.
The plan includes a cessation of hostilities, a halt to Assad’s air force flights over designated areas, and provisions for humanitarian aid access.


Egypt’s creative solutions to the plastic menace

Updated 24 August 2019

Egypt’s creative solutions to the plastic menace

  • Egyptian social startups are taking alternative approaches to fostering awareness and reducing waste

CAIRO: Global plastics production reached 348 million tons in 2017, rising from 335 million tons in 2016, according to Plastics Europe. 

Critically, most plastic waste is not properly managed: Around 55 percent of it was landfilled or discarded in 2015. These numbers are extremely concerning because plastic products take anything from 450 to 1,000 years to decompose, and the effects on the environment, especially on marine and human life, are catastrophic.

While initiatives around the world are taking action to combat this problem, some Egyptian projects are doing it more creatively.

“We’re the first website in the Middle East and North Africa that trades waste,” said Alaa Afifi, founder and CEO of Bekia. “People can get rid of any waste at their disposal — plastic, paper and cooking oil — and exchange it for over 65 products on our website.”

Products for trading include rice, tea, pasta, cooking oil, subway tickets and school supplies.

Bekia was launched in Cairo in 2017. Initially, the business model did not prove successful.

“We used to rent a car and go to certain locations every 40 days to collect waste from people,” Afifi, 26, explained. “We then created a website and started encouraging people to use it.”

After the website was launched, people could wait at home for someone to collect the waste. “Instead of 40 days, we now could visit people within a week.”

To use Bekia’s services, people need to log onto the website and specify what they want to discard. They are assigned points based on the waste they are offering, and these points can be used in one of three ways: Donated to people in need, saved for later, or exchanged for products. As for the collected waste, it is given to specialized recycling companies for processing.

“We want to have 50,000 customers over the next two years who regularly use our service to get rid of their waste,” Afifi said.  

Trying to spread environmental awareness has not been easy. “We had a lot of trouble with initial investment at first, and we got through with an investment that was far from enough. The second problem we faced was spreading this culture among people — in the first couple of months, we received no orders,” Afifi said.

The team soldiered on and slowly built a client base, currently serving 7,000 customers. In terms of what lies ahead for Bekia, he said: “We’re expanding from 22 to 30 areas in Cairo this year. We’re launching an app very soon and a new website with better features.”

Go Clean, another Egyptian recycling startup dedicated to raising environmental awareness, works under the patronage of the Ministry of Environment. “We started in 2017 by recycling waste from factories, and then by February 2019 we started expanding,” said founder and CEO Mohammed Hamdy, 30.

The Cairo-based company collects recyclables from virtually all places, including households, schools, universities, restaurants, cafes, companies and embassies. The customers separate the items into categories and then fill out a registration form. Alternatively, they can make contact through WhatsApp or Facebook. A driver is then dispatched to collect the waste, carrying a scale to weigh it. 

“The client can be paid in cash for the weight of their recyclables, or they can make a donation to a special needs school in Cairo,” Hamdy explained. There is also the option of trading the waste for dishwashing soap, with more household products to be added in the future.

Trying to cover a country with 100 million people was never going to be easy, and Go Clean faced some logistical problems. It overcame them by hiring more drivers and getting more trucks. There was another challenge along the way: “We had to figure out a way to train the drivers, from showing them how to use GPS and deal with clients,” said Hamdy.

“We want to spread awareness about the environment everywhere. We go to schools, universities, companies and even factories to give sessions about the importance of recycling and how dangerous plastic is. We’re currently covering 20 locations across Cairo and all of Alexandria. We want to cover all of Egypt in the future,” he added.

With a new app on the way, Hamdy said things are looking positive for the social startup, and people are becoming invested in the initiative. “We started out with seven orders per day, and now we get over 100.”