The Recycling School
The Plastic Recycling School, funded by UNESCO under the auspices of the Association of Garbage Collectors for Community Development (AGCCD) was inaugurated in December 2001. Now the project is under the auspices of the Spirit of Youth Association for Environmental Services, which was established in 2004. It targets the children of rubbish collectors in the Mokattam neighbourhood who, for various reasons, lack access to a formal education system. Sixty children ages between 10 and 14 joined in 2000. Ninety children now benefit from the program.
The school aims to provide these children with alternative learning opportunities which will facilitate their integration into the new waste management business when they are adults. It is built on the reality that globalization has put the Mokattam rubbish collecting in direct competition with multinational waste management services against whom they cannot compete. It is designed to incorporate education, work experience, environmental protection, poverty alleviation and earning to create a matrix where one project improves an impoverished community on many levels.
The Recycling Programme
The school’s programme was devised as an answer to a growing problem facing shampoo corporations. A study on Brand Name Fraud conducted by C.I.D. in 1998 ascertained that shampoo producing companies were experiencing substantial losses from having their empty containers refilled fraudulently. The Mokattam neighborhood was identified as the primary collecting point for plastic bottles retrieved from affluent residential areas in Cairo. There the bottles are recovered by the rubbish collectors and traded with other merchants. These merchants connect to a complex link of trading networks in the city through which the bottles are refilled with fraudulent products and returned to the market as brand name shampoos, creams, etc.
This situation opened up an opportunity whereby a technical and literacy education programme could be combined with an income generating work experience for the impoverished children of Mokattam. An agreement was negotiated with the multinationals affected whereby they would pay for the destruction of brand name bottles in order to protect their profits and brand reputation. The boys recover these containers, bring them to their school, and destroy them by granulating them in a machine installed in the school. The boys then fill out a form which shows how many containers they have recovered and granulated. The forms are delivered to the multinationals that produce the shampoo who reimburse the boys for every single empty bottle they collect and destroy.
Technical Training through Work Experience
At the school, boys sort out the bottles according to brand name, colour, size, material and granulate them in compatible batches, observing industrial safety. The school then re-sells the granulated plastic to small and medium recycling enterprises in the neighbourhood. The income generated from this covers the salaries of the teaching staff and makes the project sustainable.
The children relate immediately to the work experience as each child receives a small income according to effort. In the process, they are taught many valuable skills which have an immediate relevancy:
• How to identify and retrieve items suitable for recycling.
• The technology of recycling plastic bottles, how to grade different types, sizes and colours of plastic bottles, to run the granulation machine safely and efficiently, and to package the resulting plastic granules for resale.
• To understand the health and safety risks involved and to take the right precautions, such as suitable clothing, gloves, masks, etc. This is extended to teach them about other hazardous waste materials, such as that from hospitals; they are encouraged to inform their families, so that the whole community benefits.
• Co-ordination and co-operation within a team.
Additionally, the parents are involved and committed as the boys are earning as they learn, and can contribute to the family income.
The work experience is designed with a built-in incentive to learn to read and write. Each boy is given a standard form to fill out to register the number of empty bottles he has brought to the school. They take a copy of this form and are taught to count using the figures in the table. They also have to learn to read and write because they have to sign the form they filled out; otherwise they cannot get their money. Through these tasks, the boys experience the relevance of literacy to their immediate and future income – hence the success of the literacy programme.
For those who master the first stages, there is the powerful attraction of learning computer skills. Fifteen boys have graduated from the basic literacy program and have gone on to computer training on Word & Excel programmes which they use for simple book keeping and accounts. This will hopefully lead them to the skills needed to access e-commerce for recyclable materials. Another relevant skill taught is that of map reading and map making for planning rubbish collection routes, etc.
The school provides a valuable space for the community. The boys embarked on an ambitious plan to paint the building which was previously an abandoned garage. They beautified the exterior and interior and removed the dead plants and debris surrounding the premises and planted trees. It now provides an organized and clean area within the chaos of the informal housing, rubbish sorting and animal husbandry of their community.
The boys’ sisters and mothers use the space as a community club, a place for celebrations (e.g. mother’s day, prize giving days,e tc.) as well as a primary health care reception center and adult literacy instruction place. Guests visiting the school are treated to a tour, a presentation on recycling and learning and a theater and music event.
As well as learning, the school is used for recreational activities – art, theatre, singing - giving individuals confidence as well as skills in group co-operation and organization and allowing them to develop their natural creativity. The art program also integrates the teachings from the health and literacy programs by getting the boys to make up illustrated booklets on health hazards which they take home to inform their families.