Photo Via UrbanEarthlings
Last year, scientists collecting data on sea turtles mating in Costa Rica saved an injured Olive Ridley sea turtle, only to find that it had a plastic straw stuck in its nostril. Scientists later extracted the 10-centimeter plastic straw from the nostril of the 35-kilogram male turtle after taking the needed safety precautions. The shocking video quickly went viral, and was just one of many showing the effects of plastic straws on our environment.
Among several brands encouraging a waste-free, sustainable lifestyle is UrbanEarthlings, whom we spoke to this month for the latest installment of our conscious living series. Formerly known as a community that inspires ethical living, and a platform where founder Amira Ayman can share her “experience with a plant-based diet, minimalism, conscious travel and more,” as she says on the website, UrbanEarthlings has relaunched as a store offering essential products that are both functional and sustainable.
The product that’s taken the market by storm is the brand’s stainless steel gold straws. Now a golden straw may sound like a luxurious item that one doesn’t need, but in fact it is a lifelong companion. I go everywhere with my golden straws and present them to my friends, not only as a product that’ll help reduce plastic waste, but as one that will make your drink taste ten times cooler and better. It even makes for a great conversation starter.
We caught up with Ayman to find out more about UrbanEarthlings, giving back and how to live a sustainable, waste-free life.
What’s your main goal for UrbanEarthlings?
Awareness. I really want to bring people closer to issues we face on a daily basis that are affecting the quality of our lives without us being aware of how much power we have over the situation. Examples are animal abuse and the relationship between our consumerist habits and climate change.
When did your interest for waste-free living start? What made you want to turn it into a business?
When I was an architecture student back in college, we used to learn a lot about sustainability but I had never considered how our lifestyles are related to it. Years later, I adopted a plant-based lifestyle, mainly for health reasons but also as a protest against factory farming and from there, I started understanding how a plant-based diet is gentler on the environment. I continued to educate myself until I came to understand how harmful our consumerist lifestyles are to our psychological state and to every living being on the planet.
I was buying all my zero-waste “essentials” from Europe whenever I traveled, and my mother also took up a habit to buy fabric or reuse old pillowcases to make bags for grocery shopping. I used to get a lot of questions on social media about “zero-waste essentials” and at the same time, I was personally supporting a few animal rescue shelters. I wanted to make these products available in Egypt and I wanted to have a sustainable source of income to help those shelters and so I realized that this can be a “waqf” style project, where it’s a sales-based business but most of its income funds charities and projects that basically help make the world a better place!
How do you source your materials?
For items produced in Egypt, it’s usually my mother with the help of my friends who work in the field. For example, she goes on hunts for synthetic-free cotton fabric with tips from my friends on how to verify that the fabric is plastic-free. For items produced outside of Egypt, I work with an agent who is responsible for verifying that our suppliers source materials ethically, do not test on animals, provide safe working conditions and pay fair wages.
What can people do to minimize their plastic/waste usage?
Consume less in general! Sometimes we think that an item packaged in glass is better than an item packaged in plastic. Well, yes, it kind of is, especially if you’ll forever reuse the jar. But let’s be honest, we are impulsive consumers and we buy a lot more than we need. We believe that convenience at the expense of the planet is inevitable. It really is not. That’s why I believe that adopting more of a minimalist lifestyle is essential to living with less waste.
Where do you think the Egyptian waste-free and upcycling industries stand today?
I see a lot of initiatives addressing the issue. I believe there’s room for more, plenty of room for even more!
What practices can people include in their daily lives to minimize waste and plastic usage?
Other than consuming less, we need to make less excuses for ourselves and start going everywhere with our reusable bags and jars. I also believe in restricting when the only choice is not a good one. For example, if I’m out and I want a coffee to go but I don’t have a reusable cup, I will not have my cup of coffee—it’s not like I’ll die without it, if I can’t make the time to sit and have it in a glass mug. If we start applying this to more and more of the hundreds of choices we make daily, we will be able to make a difference.
Do you believe that consumers’ buying and waste habits can change for the better?
I honestly do not think that reducing my waste, for example, is making much change in terms of having less trash in the world. It does work on something else, equally as important, and that is shifting a mindset. I believe this is important especially for my generation, we are raising future leaders, business owners and policy makers and it’s important that we raise them with awareness of these issues.
Where do you see your brand going in the future?
I would love it if it can support more anmal shelters and do more good overall. I am planning a full range of products that support people going plastic-free, yet I want the brand to stay small.
What fabrics/materials do you prefer to work with?
Natural, organic, biodegradable, always. I do support recycling and I know it’s very fashionable to reuse PET, for example for swim and sports wear, but everytime these items are washed, they shed microplastics in our water streams and soils. I would say it depends on how you’re using the material. If it will be washed, then always 100 percent organic fibers; if it will not be washed, recycled materials are an excellent solution to help get rid of much of the waste we have.
For UrbanEarthlings, it’s still relatively early to decide what I’ll be working with. We are investing 10 percent of all our sales on research and product development so I guess we will have a lot to explore! I’m currently looking at sugarcane pulp, rice straw and palm straw for some of the products.
Follow UrbanEarthlings on Facebook and Instagram: @UrbanEarhlings www.urbanearthlings.com