Looking at our daily consumption, it’s hard to believe the incredible amount of waste we create. There’s too much. But though living waste-free may seem impossible to most, the zero-waste movement taking the world by storm is quickly changing minds.
The Zero Waste International Alliance (ZWIA) was founded in 2002 to provide guidance and set the standards for a waste-free world, according to ZWIA.org. The ZIWA Planning Group adopted the first peer-reviewed, internationally accepted definition of zero waste in 2004 as “the conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging, and materials without burning and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health.”
Continuing our sustainable living series, Egypt Today talks with Eman Mossallam, the founder of @zerowaste.egypt, the Instagram platform where she documents her journey to achieving a zero-waste life. Mossallam’s goals are to create much-needed awareness, while educating her audience with the correct information after years of trials.
“I’ve always been passionate about the environment, but I was hooked since I first heard about the zero-waste lifestyle a few years ago through an interview with Bea Johnson, the mother of zero-waste living on Ahmed AlShugairi’s Ramadan show Khawater. I started researching and reading more about the topic, and it didn’t take long before I [started] to change my life for the better.”
Johnson, who is also known as the “Priestess of Waste-Free Living,” has been a key player in the waste-free community. Her blog-turned-book has earned her worldwide recognition among environmentalists and others as she has brought down her family’s waste to one liter per year. Her book Zero Waste Home offers “hundreds of easy tips for sustainable living that even the busiest people can integrate: from making your own mustard, to packing kids’ lunches without plastic, to canceling your junk mail, to enjoying the holidays without the guilt associated with over consumption.”
A strong social media presence is key to influencing younger generations as they are the ones who can make a difference, not only because they want to, but because they understand how critical the situation can get if we don’t start making changes, explains Mossallam. “I wanted to reach future generations, hoping to inspire them to become positive change makers,” she says, adding that she wants “to reach the largest number of people possible, to be able to give them the know-how to change their daily habits, choices for a more sustainable, low carbon footprint.”
Mossallam continues that back in 2018, Egypt’s Environment Minister Khaled Fahmy stated that 80 million tons of garbage is collected each year in Egypt. Yet each year, people who live a waste-free life have proven that it is possible to cut down on waste consumption enough so that their waste fits in a Mason jar. We all can cut down on our waste easily and achieve effective results, Mossallam advises, if we “purchase less, buy things of good quality so they can last a lifetime, use what you already have and borrow what you don’t. Make sure you know that waste comes in many forms; it’s not just plastic that we’re fighting against. A zero-waste lifestyle aims to less, zero-waste in food, water, resources, money, time, and so on.”
Mossallam’s response when we asked her if the shift in lifestyle was hard is, “Absolutely not! There are a lot of changes you’ll have to make, start with the easiest ones to you and don’t cripple yourself by putting impossible targets that you might not achieve when you’re just starting your journey.” Other small changes one can adapt is to “take shorter showers, eat less meat, pack your lunch, coffee, tea and so on for work, school or university. Don’t waste food, buy local produce, buy less clothes, buy second hand. The options are endless.”
Mossallam currently lives in Dublin, Ireland, with her husband and cocker spaniel Milo. She has lived a waste-free life here in Egypt and in Dublin, and believes that a misconception most people have is that it is difficult to live a waste-free life in Egypt. “I have to say it’s much easier going zero-waste in Egypt.
Than it is in Dublin. Most, if not all, of our produce in Egypt is local and package free. The abundance of local souqs and attarin spice stores in Egypt makes buying in bulk a breeze.”
Because packaged food in supermarkets carries a higher price than that sold by street vendors, most Egyptians have the luxury of opting for fresh produce. It is also a lot cheaper to eat home-cooked meals than ordering takeout, and also wastes less time considering that the delivery time is a lot longer than the cooking process.
When it comes to sharing the waste-free lifestyle with friends and family, Mossallam says that “the key is not to force your lifestyle on anyone, but to lead by example. My husband has been more than supportive about this and has tagged along since day one. I always talk to him about what I read and the findings I’ve reached and keep him involved in every step. . . . The point is we have to minimize our consumption, leading to less waste to deal with. Follow the 5 Rs in this exact order: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rot.”
When it comes to implementing waste-free plans within specific entities such as hotels, restaurants, and other corporations, a lot can be done, says Mossallam “from refill shampoo, conditioner, and soap dispensers instead of disposable ones, and charging hotel guests for food waste; providing refill water stations instead of single use plastic water bottles; applying motion detection light sensors; the switches are endless.”
Tips for a Waste-Free Holiday
1. Avoid traveling by plane and opt for trains, buses, or cars when or if possible.
2. Pack your reusables with you, you’ll need them.
3. Don’t forget to opt for natural sunscreen, which won’t affect marine life and contaminate the sea or ocean.
4. If you’re staying at a hotel, skip on housekeeping services, some hotels will even give you points on your loyalty card for doing so.
5. Try to make a habit of picking up any plastic, debris, trash that’s already there (on the beach or anywhere).
6. Do not throw any cigarette butts on the beach! They’re made of plastic and will affect marine life.
7. Travel light, don’t overpack and try to avoid buying new things on your vacation. Make memories and take lots of photos instead.