Offering interesting and systemized information, tips and guidance for a healthier and more eco-friendly life in Egypt, EgyEcoLand’s social media platforms educate followers on waste-free living and encourage them to take the first steps towards a cleaner Egypt. The platform was launched by three Ukrainian expats, who have been living in Cairo for more than three years. Halyna Chepurko is freelance copywriter, minimalist and zero-waste lifestyle promoter. Kateryna Troino works for a renewable energy consultancy company, and is concerned about the damage humans cause to the planet. Irena Geumei is a freelance teacher and translator, zero waster and upcycling guru. The three expat girls speak to Egypt Today about how they came up with the idea of EgyEcoLand, their main goal, as well as their future plans on and off social media.
When did your interest in waste-free living first start?
I got interested in an eco-friendly lifestyle after I moved to Egypt. I noticed that all the retailers here hand me plastic bags for free and use them excessively. In Ukraine, if you need one, you should pay for it. That’s why a lot of people there choose to reuse the old ones. I once watched a video of one Ukrainian zero-waste blogger who was doing her grocery shopping without any plastic bags. Since then, my life has changed; I’ve started trying to reduce the consumption of plastic bags as much as I can.
My interest started with healthy eating and cooking. I realized the importance of knowing what goes into the food we eat and wanted to reduce the amount of chemicals and pesticides entering my body. The realization that the pesticide-laced food we eat, the polluted air we breathe and all the chemical-based products we use daily negatively affect our quality of life gave me a push to do something about it.
The first time I felt really concerned about the topic was when watched the documentary Before The Flood featuring Leonardo Di Caprio, who was designated a UN Messenger Of Peace. I was astonished to find out that people knew about climate change decades before I was even born; and still, they did nothing significant to stop it. Of course, it is all a matter of money and power. When I moved to Egypt, I was surprised by the amount of plastic bags I was given at the supermarkets, so I started refusing them automatically and packed the products the way it was convenient for me while using less plastic bags, or I refused plastic bags completely in certain cases. Then, seeing people littering in the streets and in transport was absolutely heartbreaking, so I started thinking that it would be great to do something about it. So, I started commenting on my friends’ habits that were not sustainable. Then, the girls and I came up with the idea of EgyEcoLand.
Where did the idea of a social media platform come from?
In our perspective, the root cause of the current environmental situation in Egypt lays in two dimensions: the government and citizens. We can’t change the government’s policies at the moment, especially since the government is launching a lot of initiatives to change the situation. But we can always reach out to people and raise their environmental awareness, helping them adopt eco-friendly habits and providing them with support, as it is always easier to do something when you are not alone. The digital era we are now living in now offers the easiest way to reach people—social media. Therefore, we started with two commonly used platforms; and it was the right choice. Day by day, our following grows, so we are able to reach more and more people.
What’s your main goal?
EgyEcoLand’s main goal is raising environmental awareness, providing Egypt’s residents with information on all aspects of eco-friendly lifestyle and creating a community of like-minded people to give them support and inspiration to change their habits and become more eco-conscious. We believe that once 10 percent of population is driven by one idea, this idea will spread further to reach the other 90 percent of people
What tips do you have for people who want to minimize their plastic usage and waste?
The main advice on how to minimize plastic usage is to refuse as many disposable plastic products as you can. It is harmful to our health, as most types of plastic release carcinogenic chemicals, especially when in contact with hot food and liquids. A lot of people think that all plastic can be recycled. In fact, not all types of plastic are recyclable; and if it’s mixed with carton or metal (for example, Tetra Pak packaging, “paper” cups, some types of food packaging, and so on), it makes it [paper] very difficult to recycle as these layers have to be separated. There are a lot of alternatives to all the disposable items like metal straws, travel mugs, cotton bags etc. If you can’t refuse something, try to reuse it; as long as it’s not harmful to your health. [For example], plastic water bottles are made of PET plastic and are not recommended to be reused. People can learn about all types of plastic, their recyclability and alternatives from our posts.
Where do you think waste-free and up-cycling industries in Egypt stand today?
In our opinion, the waste free industry is at its initial stage of development. There are a lot of things that need to be done to grow and develop the eco mentality and change people’s habits. To start with, people should know what types of waste they produce; and only then, can they start reducing it. Now, most people don’t think about it—everything goes into one trash bin, people are used to many things being done in a certain way (for example, ordering takeaway food that comes over packed with unnecessary disposable cutlery); and no one thinks it could be done differently.
On the other hand, we are very positive that this [waste-free] trend is developing, and we meet more and more people who are concerned and aim to reduce their waste step by step. There are also several organizations that upcycle waste and turn it into beautiful products, and we are quite certain there are more organizations or maybe even individuals who do upcycling projects and should be known and supported.
Do you believe that consumers’ buying and waste habits can change for the better?
To be honest, it’s hard to be a conscious customer in Egypt, as every retailer and every restaurant tries to provide their “best” service by offering a lot of things for free and when you want to refuse it can be awkward. But the conscious lifestyle is becoming a mainstream around the world, and Egypt is no exception. It may take several years before most people change their habits, but we are sure that one day it will happen.
Summer is here and people will be traveling and heading out to the beach. What is the best, environmentally friendly way to travel this summer?
We would recommend to carpool or use public transport in order to decrease carbon dioxide emissions; take your own flask/mug and refill it whenever you can instead of buying water in plastic bottles; bring your own toiletries when traveling to avoid using the ones provided by the hotels, as soap packed in paper is no worse than shower gel and takes up much less space. Do not print your tickets or hotel booking confirmations unless it is absolutely required—you can always show your reservation on the mobile; try staying in eco-friendly hotels… Most importantly, people should not leave trash at the beach and should try to pick it up when they see any.
Do you have any travelling or packing tips that people can follow this summer?
In general, we would like to advise minimizing your carbon footprint by flying less or at least flying non-stop, as well as buying carbon offset. The longer the distance, the more efficient flying becomes because cruising requires less fuel than other flight stages. Around 25 percent of airplane emissions come from landing and taking off. By buying carbon offset, people put money towards replanting trees, which absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
When choosing a hotel, check the reviews to see whether the hotel is eco-friendly or not. Get reusable small bottles for your toiletries and refill them every time before travelling, so you don’t have to use the ones provided by the hotels. Do not use hotel toiletries if you don’t really need them. Remember to bring your toothbrush and toothpaste, so that you don’t have to get a new one every time.
Use your towel for several days, don’t leave it on the floor as in many hotels it’s a sign that you want it to be replaced.
Check if the tap water is drinkable in the country you are going to, and pack your reusable water bottle, it will save you money and reduce your plastic usage.
Take your travel mug and use it to order takeaway drinks, you can also get a cutlery travel kit that you can use instead of disposable cutlery when you order takeaway food.
Use public transport instead of taxis or rented cars—it’s very convenient in most countries, cheaper and obviously more eco-friendly. Buy gifts that are guaranteed to be useful. Make sure you only buy souvenirs people will be happy to receive. Otherwise, don’t get them.
What plans do you have for EgyEcoLand?
Our goal for 2019 is to create a website where all our posts will be translated into Arabic to reach a wider audience. Another goal is to start cooperating with schools, universities and companies to conduct various workshops for them. We are planning to run a campaign aimed at encouraging local producers and retailers to reduce and gradually refuse plastic packaging. We are also planning to organize more street cleanups in Cairo and hope that more people will join us.
Do Your Part: easy ways to minimize waste
There are many ways we can reduce our consumption if we follow the “5R” concept, which refers to the well-known 3Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle), and can be widened further by following the following steps:
Say no to things you do not really need, even if they are given to you for free.
Change your consumption habits. Buy things that are only absolutely necessary. Look for products without any packaging or the ones that can be recycled. Get one product that can be used over and over again instead of large amounts of it.
Use the same item more than once instead of disposing it right away. Repair broken things instead of purchasing new ones.
Give old material a new purpose. Be creative.
Waste can be recycled and used again in production. It requires far less resources than producing a new material. Make sure your waste is being collected by Zabbaleen (Garbage Collectors), or contact one of the recycling companies to collect it from you on a regular basis.
In Photo: EgypEcoLand team. Courtesy of EgyEcoLand
If you’d like to learn how to live eco-friendly in Egypt, you’ll find over 400 posts on different aspects of sustainable living on the Facebook and Instagram pages of @egyecoland. For specific information, you can use the hashtag #EgyEcoLand_... and add a keyword, for example #EgyEcoLand_Plastic, #EgyEcoLand_Food, etc. A list of hashtags and the most popular questions from followers can be found in the stories highlights.