Bekia is a term we have been familiar with in Egyptian cultural heritage. It indicates old, unused items that are often dumped in garbage bins.
Over the past several years, Egypt has suffered from a rubbish problem, and is still suffering from the lack of separation of waste materials and their abundance on roads.
Egypt annually produces about 22bn tonnes of waste and the government cannot deal with that waste effectively, which represents a social problem.
Opportunities arise from the womb of suffering. A group of Egyptian youth decided to look between the folds of crisis for opportunities.
Alaa Afifi, co-founder of Bekia, decided to launch a platform to trade waste that can be recycled with commodities and foodstuffs.
For waste like empty plastic bottles, people can get bags of sugar or rice, metro tickets, or even medicines and household items.
Bekia plans to expand its market outside Egypt next year, its co-founder told Daily News Egypt in an interview, the transcript for which is below, lightly edited for clarity.
What is your full-time job?
I am currently a product manager at an e-commerce company in Egypt, alongside my company, which I founded almost a year ago.
How did you come up with the idea of creating the Bekia platform?
Bekia is the first barter platform to replace waste that can be recycled with goods and products that we use in our daily lives.
We started the launch of the Bekia platform in May 2017, before which we conducted market research and studies for six months in the Zabaleen (Garbage Men) district to learn about the process of recycling electronic waste and what waste is valuable and how to benefit from the waste.
Our goal from the beginning at Bekia was to exploit the problems existing in Egyptian society and turn them into investment opportunities.
The problem of garbage is one of the major problems experienced by different governments, and we saw a great investment opportunity.
We came to the idea of the platform in August 2016. We followed up with the workers in the Zabaleen district to learn details about investment in garbage.
But we had a problem—the extent to which the population accepted the general idea of using a website for the disposal of waste, and we found a solution only after the flotation.
In November 2016, when the currency was floated, commodity prices rose dramatically and household spending on food doubled, giving us a good chance to overcome the problem of pushing people to use the platform.
We decided to link the delivery of recyclable waste to basic commodities to encourage people to use the platform to dispose of waste.
Can you further explain that point?
The concept is very simple. If you have recyclable waste, such as used oil, plastic bottles, paper, or electronic waste, you can record that on the platform for the system to evaluate them and grant you points that can be used to buy other commodities. A member of the Bekia team then communicates with the user to carry out the exchange.
Anyone can replace waste with goods through simple steps across the platform:
Here is how it works:
1. Separate each of the “bekia” items.
2. Visit www.bekia-egypt.com and chose a suitable time for you and chose the bekia you have and want to exchange.
3. Wait for our visit at the time you specified, and we will bring your goods.
When did you officially start your business?
We started our activity officially in May 2017 and began covering six areas in greater Cairo: Zamalek, Dokki, Mohandessin, Agouza, Manial, and Ard El-Lewa.
These areas are close to our storage in Ard El-Lewa to cut the costs of transportation.
In the first two months from the start of our operation, we did not receive a single request.
How many people are working with you?
At first, there were two of us as co-founders, now we have five. In the coming period, we will employ more people to help our expansion plans.
How did you overcome the problem of people not responding to the idea?
During the first two months, there were not requests. We worked to improve the system and leased a car. We also launched a Facebook ad campaign to promote the car’s location, which we changed every week, so that clients could come and exchange their desired waste for commodities.
What did you achieve a year after your company started?
Currently, we are located in 16 areas in greater Cairo. We have about 2,600 customers and have conducted 7,000 replacements. We managed to get rid of 60 tonnes of waste.
What goods can customers obtain in exchange for waste?
There are more than 40 items that customers can obtain in exchange for waste, including dairy, pasta, rice, sugar, oil, flour, water, vinegar, tuna, and even Nescafé.
Since last week, we have allowed the replacement of waste for metro tickets. In the next few days, we will be replacing waste for school supplies.
We have now reached the final stages of negotiations with a company in the field of medical services so that customers receive a discount coupon on doctor bookings through that company in exchange for waste.
Why did you opt for the barter system instead of giving users money for the waste?
The financial value that the customer will receive for the delivery of waste will be low and discouraging. But getting the goods that can be used daily encourages them to exchange waste. We also have deals with hypermarkets to obtain goods at lower prices, which means that clients can get the goods cheaper than market value.
The main objective of the Bekia platform is to improve people’s lives by helping them to safely dispose of waste and to obtain added value from their waste.
What new things should we expect in your service?
In the coming days, we will allow customers to exchange their waste for medicines. We have also been able to buy a private car for the company, so that daily collection and exchange of waste will be easier.
How will you earn revenue from your business?
At the beginning, we were making big losses because there was no return. But now we are making revenue. Currently, we are working to breakeven between expenses and revenues.
But the profit is dependent on reaching a critical number of clients so that revenues can offset spending. We are working in the coming period to improve the service, and to disseminate a recycling culture among more people.
What is the fate of the waste you collect?
At first, we used to deliver the waste to the waste recycling plants, but now we are trying to repair some of the electronic waste we receive and resell it.
What is the amount of waste you have collected?
We plan to reach 500,000 tonnes by the end of the year. In two years, we plan to establish a recycling factory so that we can be self-dependant throughout the entire process.
How much investments have you made so far?
Currently, we have invested over EGP 500,000, all through self-financing.
Do you have plans to raise investments?
We already have plans for investments to support our business, but not for the time being. Most of the investors we talked to have set impossible conditions and wanted large stakes of the company for little money, which is unacceptable to us. We have confidence in our service’s growth.
How do you identify what waste can be replaced by points?
We have an accounting system in the platform that changes daily by changing the price of a certain commodity in the market. There is an estimate of the prices of the replaced waste. The system can then estimate points for waste and match them with goods points.
We determined the price of waste based on our market study.
What is the most common waste?
Plastic bottles are the most replaceable type of waste and the least valuable, as every 80 bottles equal a kilogram of plastic.
What is the most valuable waste?
Used oil and electronic waste.
What is the most common commodity users receive instead of waste?
Pasta, noodles, milk, rice, and salt.
Why did you choose the waste market to invest in?
At the beginning, we explained that we are looking into problems to find investments. Garbage is one of the main problems facing Egyptian society. There are 22bn tonnes of waste produced in Egypt every year. This highlights the importance of the market.
Do you have plans to expand beyond Egypt?
We are planning to enter new markets with our services and, therefore, we are considering expanding into a new market starting next year. We are currently studying two markets to choose one to enter.