Bekia, the first Egyptian startup to deal in waste management, lets its customers make some money out of their household waste. Through Bekia (literally meaning ‘old things’ in Arabic), the customers can barter their paper, plastic, electronic waste or even used cooking oil in exchange for cash or services like metro tickets, groceries, school supplies. The waste collected is then properly segregated and sent to recycling factories.
Alaa Afifi Kamal, the co-founder and CEO of Bekia talks to Sucheta about how big the problem of waste is in Egypt, the social impact his start-up has created, and how tech-based eco-solutions can help sustain our planet.
Sucheta Chaurasia(SC): First things first, how did you come up with the idea of Bekia?
Alaa Afifi Kamal(AAK): Egypt has 100 million people and we have a lot of waste in our streets. We in Egypt don’t have startups that can invest in waste and its management. We only have people who can collect the waste from the streets. We need a solution to the problem. So we thought of using the waste management problem as an opportunity because we have a lot of ‘valuable’ waste in our homes that simply ends up on the streets. We could use that, right?
SC: How does Bekia work? What does the process look like?
AAK: Firstly, we push our clients to segregate the waste in their homes themselves. This includes plastics, paper, electronics, and so on. Then the clients use our mobile application, website, WhatsApp, or call centre, to input the amount of waste they have and their addresses. I then send my collector to their place for picking up the waste. Once we collect the order from the client, we send the due cash in their smart wallets through our application. They can use this cash to purchase stationery items, metro tickets, groceries and more. They can even donate this cash to a person in need. The cash can also be withdrawn from nearby ATMs. It is very simple!
Once we collect the orders in our warehouse, we send the segregated valuable things to the recycling factories. We are only the intermediary between the clients who want to make a profit from their valuables and the factories that want to recycle those materials. We cover all of Cairo and Giza.
SC: How has the response of the users of Bekia been so far?
AAK: Honestly, back in 2017, we spent around seven months to receive our first work. Before Bekia, there was no such start-up here; so people did not know how to use our service. It’s a niche market. People rather disposed of their waste in the streets or gave it to the local collectors. So a lot of time was spent just to convince people and educate them on how to use our application. Now we have a lot of people using the application. We have served 40,000 people and have recycled 10,000 tonnes of inorganic waste since we started. About 200 big corporations in Egypt use our services. In fact, a lot of people are waiting in the pipeline to expand our operation in their areas. We are working on expanding our services to them.
So, yeah! It is not easy, because we are an operational startup. We do have a lot of problems. But still, I think we create a great impact on our community.
SC: Do you use your services?!
AAK: (Laughs) I do, I do, I do. For sure!
SC: What positive environmental impact, do you think, has Bekia brought about?
AAK: We do create an environmental impact, but, I think we mainly create a social impact more. When I educate people, I change their mindset accordingly. We do have a lot of people with great knowledge and education about managing their waste, but they cannot find the service. Now we are operating and providing the required service. So when I check my numbers and see that my customers use my service three times per month, sometimes even four or five times a month, it makes me happy. It’s a super super achievement!
SC: Waste is a really big problem and you offer your services in recycling the valuable waste. Do you also motivate people to reduce their waste altogether?
AAK: We do both. Honestly, I cannot change the world. People will not listen to me when I say, “Hey, don’t use single-use plastic because it pollutes the sea.” They need alternatives.
However, people will listen to me when I say, “Hey, please don’t throw waste in the streets. Give me the plastic waste and I will give you back some cash.” You see? They need something in return. We take it step by step.
SC: What is next in store for Bekia? What are your future plans?
AAK: Firstly, we need to sustain operations in Cairo because, as mentioned earlier, we have a lot of people waiting in our pipeline. Then we need to discover new markets in Africa. We plan to expand to Alexandria by next year, say, by the first quarter of 2022. Tanzania has a lot of waste, so there is a thick market for us there. They have a great ecosystem to do that. We are looking for investors. If we succeed in securing investment in the upcoming two years, I think we can explore a lot in Africa.
SC: Do you think tech-based eco-solutions would help in sustaining the environment? Do they offer hope in conserving our planet?
AAK: Yes! Technology has two sides. The other side of technology is not healthy for people. I cannot mention the examples, but technology does have a bad side to it.
On the other Do you hand, I love technology which is used to make people’s life easier and happier; to provide meaningful solutions to modern problems. I think Bekia is using the positive side and we are happy to use technology wisely.
Eco-Spotlight is a digital publication that focuses on different aspects of climate change solutions: projects and ideas focused on sustainable development, social entrepreneurship, environmental businesses, eco-friendly practices, and similar green initiatives. Through our solution-focused interviews and articles, we want to bring good news to the forefront and remind the world – without hope, there is no future. We also syndicate our content with White Print, India’s first English lifestyle magazine in Braille.