Although cities are engines of economic development and concentrations of human activities, they are also hubs for consumption with the resulting environmental degradation. An urban metabolism study of two diverse districts of Cairo – a formal district and an informal one – aims to understand flows in these districts and propose locally-responsive interventions.
Less-recyclable waste in informal districts
The district of Imbaba, with around one million inhabitants (mostly low to middle income) and a density of 600 inhabitants per hectare, is representative of the majority of Cairo’s informal districts. A low rate of per capita waste generation and recycling is attributed to lower affluence, and frequent reuse of materials prior to discarding. But there is a massive total amount of waste due to the enormous population size. The district could benefit from more efficient and hygienic local waste management facilities distributed among small vacant parcels to collect, sort, and store until the pickup of municipal waste.
More recyclable waste in affluent areas attracts informal waste collection
The Zamalek district, an island, is part of the upscale city core with greater numbers of middle- to high-income households, 17,000 inhabitants, and only 121 inhabitants per hectare. Due to higher rates of consumption and less reuse of materials, there is an established system of informal waste collection with recycling rates approaching 80%. A careful handling of organic waste could improve the system to compost organic waste to provide fertilizer for agriculture and urban farms, as well as transforming waste to energy.
Locally tailored solutions are essential to achieving sustainable development. Creating downstream value for resources ensures an efficient circular metabolic system.
This text is based on the paper Enhancing livability through resource efficiency: An urban metabolism study in Cairo presented by Heba Allah Essam E Khalil at the LafargeHolcim Forum “Re-materializing Construction” held at the American University in Cairo, Egypt.
Inspired by the discussions by 350 leading thinkers from architecture, engineering, planning, and the construction industry from 55 countries, Ruby Press Berlin has published The Materials Book that evaluates current architectural practices and models, and introduces materials and methods to maximize the environmental, social, and economic performance of the built environment in the context of “Re-materializing Construction”.