Many of you may already be familiar with Annet, a talented baker here in Dahab, but did you know that she also works hard on reducing plastic waste? When I saw a post on Facebook about Annet reusing Tetra Paks as packaging for slices of cake, I contacted her to learn about her efforts. Impressed by what she was doing, I nominated her as a Dahab Defender and asked her to tell us more about what she does. She was kind enough to answer some questions for our blog:
You are well-known in the Dahab community for your delicious brownies. What other baked goods do you offer and where can they be purchased?
– Ah, essential questions first – For the moment I’m only baking for the Hands of Dahab Market (Thursdays at the Tea Garden in Mashraba). [UPDATE MARCH 2016: Annet is baking now for the Dahab Community Market on Friday afternoons at Sheikh Salem.] I also do the occasional special order for a birthday cake or special event – these are often special ‘projects’ such as gluten-free or sugar-free baking. I like to do my foodie research and come up with a nice alternative for these occasions, but I keep this baking down to a minimum as I also have a ‘real job’ to attend to.
What motivated you to start reducing waste?
Living in Dahab, and walking around town, having to step over dirty diapers, plastic, glass etc.. it’s almost impossible not to be motivated to reduce waste 😉 I’m not a diver and only an occasional snorkeler, but I’m obviously also aware of the damage to the coral and marine life from waste disposal. Here in Dahab, as everything is less structured than in Europe, you soon learn to take responsibility for some basic things, such as waste. Without a fully functioning waste disposal system, waste reduction is the way to go. You can easily compost and/or feed organic waste to the goats, recycle/upcycle some of your boxes & bottles for use around the house and garden. I’m definitely not reducing waste as much as I should just yet, but if we can all do a little the effect is already there.
Polystyrene trays, plastic wrap, and plastic utensils are typically used by many sellers to serve or package food. What alternative packaging do you use?
I use mostly paper for all my packaged foods – whether these are recycled magazines or large rolls of ‘brown paper’ for wrapping pie slices and cookies/brownies. I also collect Tetra Paks & small cardboard boxes for more fragile items, such as pies with cream toppings. I think it’s fairly easy to reduce or completely eradicate polystyrene this way. At the market, we’ve also introduced a 5 LE money-back policy for anyone who brings their own containers (this is funded from our table fees). Quite a few people have gotten used to bringing their Tupperware to the market. I still offer plastic forks, but a lot of people don’t take them, as they buy a drink at the restaurant with their cake and then use a teaspoon, or eat with their hands.
Where do you get the materials that you recycle?
I use rolls of paper that we buy by the kilo in Cairo. I cut the large rolls into squares, and a large paper roll will last me at least a year. In addition to that I use magazine pages and recycled boxes & Tetra Paks. So far my own supplies have been pretty much sufficient, but I could definitely use more Tetra Paks
What about in the shopping and preparation of your baked goods? Have you found ways to reduce the packaging waste of the ingredients you purchase?
I usually bring my own bags to the market, and I go for paper packaging (flour for instance) where I can, I also bring my own egg box (also to reduce breakage), but that’s as far as I’ve come in this department..
What has been the biggest obstacle that you have faced in your efforts to reduce waste?
To some extent, a lack of planning on my part. I also find it tricky to transport the pies to the market without using plastic bags – here I’ve been reusing plastic bags from my shopping.
You also offer cooking classes at your home. Can you tell us a bit more about these and any earth-friendly practices you promote through these classes?
Yes, I’ve been offering cooking classes – though at the moment I just find I’m too busy for them. In these classes I always try to show my students how I grow salads & herbs in my own garden. And I always make a point of showing how much of our cooking class waste can go on the compost heap, and how easy it is to have one in the garden. A lot of people are worried about bugs, smells etc., but I’ve never found this to be a problem with my compost.
Do you have any advice for other vendors or small business owners who would like to start reducing waste? Where should they start?
Find suppliers of paper packaging. They are definitely there in Cairo, and I’ve heard rumors of paper packaging in Dahab (maybe you know more about this?).
Try to give customers a small incentive for bringing their own container, maybe a small discount or a larger portion? People really appreciate this and you also reduce cost by not using packaging.
You could also offer reusable packaging, such as a few Tupperware containers or other food containers, for resale in your restaurant/shop, to get people started on bringing their own containers and raise awareness.
Many thanks to Annet and the Hands of Dahab Community Market for their efforts in reducing plastic waste!
Remember to bring your own container to the market on Fridays, Dahabians! And if you have empty Tetra Paks, consider saving them and passing them on to Annet to reuse as plates. (Note: Currently, Tetra Paks are NOT collected and recycled by Hemaya.)
Search for the Dahab Community Market Group on Facebook to contact Annet or other vendors and organizers.
Refuse ~ Reduce ~ Reuse ~ Recycle