Recycling: What It Is and What It Isn’t

The main focus of my blog is sharing ways we can all REFUSE disposable plastic, but I also encourage us all to RECYCLE. Not because it is the answer to our waste problems, but because I know that none of us lives a 100% waste-free life and it’s important to keep waste that can be used again out of the landfill.

Hemeya, the local NGO currently tasked with Dahab’s rubbish collection, sorts the metal, cardboard, glass, and plastic waste and sells it on to buyers for “recycling”. (Read more about Hemeya here.)

But what does it mean to recycle?

First, let’s talk about what it’s not. If you take an empty water bottle and make a planter or a candle holder, that’s not recycling. That’s a great way to REUSE or REPURPOSE the bottle, but it’s not recycling. To reuse something means to use it again after it has been used. You might reuse an item for the same purpose, like reusing an empty jam jar to store your own homemade treats. Or like the returnable Stella (the local beer) bottles that are collected, cleaned, and reused again and again. You might also think of a new use for an old item, like making a bucket from an old car tire. (You can buy these at shops in Asalah!)

A bucket made from an old tire.

A bucket made from an old tire.

Reusing or repurposing items is an excellent way to keep useful waste from ending up in the landfill. It helps save time, money, and energy.

Technically, if a product is recycled, it is broken down into raw materials and be made into the same product. Used printer paper would be made into new printer paper. Discarded plastic water bottles would be made into new water bottles. But these processes are usually difficult and/or expensive, especially when it comes to plastic. So most of the “recycling” that is happening actually involves producing different material, not the same. For example, water bottles are “recycled” and made into plastic egg cartons, like the one pictured below.

used to be a water bottle

An egg carton made from plastic bottles (in America)

Glass and aluminium are more often truly recycled into new glass and aluminium products but NOT plastic. Plastic is usually downcycled, or made into new material or products of lesser quality or usefulness. Over time, downcycling reduces the quality of a material. Plastic water bottles, when “recycled” are often mixed with other plastics to make a new lower-quality hybrid. This new material can then be molded into something like a park bench, carpet, or speed bump. Eventually, plastics that are downcycled reach a point when they cannot be used anymore and they end up as trash in a landfill.

Graphic via Activist Abby

Graphic via Activist Abby

When waste material is truly recycled, that is – made into the same product, there are many environmental benefits. It prevents waste of useful materials. It reduces the consumption of new raw materials. It reduces energy use. It can reduce air and water pollution associated with traditional waste disposal. But since plastics are downcycled, the benefits are much less. New plastic water bottles are continually being produced, using fresh raw materials, using much more energy.

We cannot solve the problem of plastic pollution by continuing to make new plastic products that cannot be recycled because there will still be a constant flow of new, or virgin, plastic – if there is demand. Our first priority, then, needs to be to REFUSE disposable plastic products when we can, REDUCE the amount of products we need, and REUSE them when we are able. The last resort before the landfill is to RECYCLE.

Plastic shopping bags are not “recycled” here in Dahab so if you do only one thing to reduce your plastic footprint, let it be to bring your own reusable bag to the supermarket and green grocer.

In my next post, I’ll talk about upcycling and crafting with reusables. Stay tuned!

Refuse ~ Reduce ~ Reuse ~ Recycle


Taking a Day Trip…without the Plastic!

day trip

Last week, my husband and I took a day trip to Nuweiba. I carefully packed a bag with my swimsuit, snorkel, water shoes – everything we’d need to enjoy a dip in the sea. My backpack carried our paperback books, my cameras, and my current crochet project. Food would be taken care of in Nuweiba. And pictured above are the items we packed so that we could avoid buying or being given plastic bottles of water – a 10 L reusable bottle with a few liters of well water, a reusable stainless steel water bottle, and two stainless steel cups. I keep my water bottle with me at all times so that one is easy to remember. But I knew that wouldn’t be enough water for the day so I grabbed a large container of well water so that I could refill my bottle whenever we needed. I brought the cups in case we felt like drinking from those instead (We didn’t.).

The 10 L containers cost LE 15 each from the local household goods shops in Asalah. You should also be able to find the stainless steel cups at these same shops. Unfortunately, I’ve not seen stainless steel water bottles here in Egypt (I bought mine in America.), but there are plastic reusable water bottles available locally. (For example, the ones made by Tank and available for purchase online.)

If you don’t drink well water, then hopefully you are using the 19 L refillable bottles of water. If so, you can easily fill a smaller container to carry with you on your day trips. If nothing else, you can purchase 6 L bottles of water, which will at least cut down on the amount of plastic consumed. (If you missed my previous posts about drinking water in Dahab, you can read the first one here.)

I have my own car so it is easy to throw these things in the backseat, but bringing these items along with you on an organized day trip shouldn’t be difficult either. There’s usually plenty of room in the Jeeps, Landcruisers, or minivans that are driven on these adventures in Sinai. If you’ve organized a trip with a local tour company and you want to skip the plastic water bottles, let your tour guide know that you will be bringing your own.

Now, all I need to remember next time is to put my swimming gear in the car, which I left behind in the house after taking this photo! Didn’t stop me from swimming though. 😉

Refuse ~ Reduce ~ Reuse ~ Recycle

Quenching your Thirst without the Plastic


Next week's forecast from

Next week’s forecast from

As you can tell from next week’s weather forecast, summer is heating up here in Dahab! With these temperatures, it is very important for all of us, but especially children, to keep hydrated. Drinking water is essential, of course, but it does get kind of boring. For some, water is just too tasteless to drink enough of it throughout the day. So we turn to other refreshments – juices, sodas, sport drinks. Unfortunately, these all come in plastic bottles. And while we may now be able to recycle those bottles, let’s not forget the health risks associated with plastic. It leaks toxic chemicals into our food and drink. (Plus, recycling is not the solution to our global plastic pollution problem and soda is toxic all on it’s own!)

I have never been a soda drinker but used to enjoy a cold tonic water and lemon in the summer. I also love juice. But I gave up both bottled tonic water and juice in Tetra Paks several years ago when I started out on this journey to reduce my plastic waste. This was not a hardship for me as there are several plastic-free options for refreshments that are healthier, tastier, and less expensive.

Option #1: In Egypt, shops selling fresh juice can be found on almost every street and we have several here in Dahab. Take advantage of these! You can stop by the shops and enjoy a glass right there. (Try to remember to tell the juice man that you do NOT need a straw.) Many of the shops also sell fresh juice in reused 1 ½ L plastic water bottles, which is better than a new plastic bottle. If hygiene or time is a concern, bring your own bottle and ask them to fill it with your favorite juice. Nadim and I have done this often with ‘asab (sugar cane juice).

fresh juice

Option #2: Make your own juice! Visit the fruit and veggie stalls and choose your favorite summer fruits. Remember to bring your own reusable bag. My favorite mix at the moment is watermelon and lemon. I’m lucky enough to have a blender but it’s not necessary. You can also use a squeezer or handheld juice press, which are easy to buy here in Dahab.

Option #3: If you’re not a fan of juice, you can also make other drinks. Karkade is another of my summer favorites. Bringing your own bag and buying the loose karkade from the bulk bags means you can avoid all plastic.

Loose karkade bought from bulk bags

Loose karkade bought from bulk bags

Search the Internet for recipes for making your own sodas and other summer refreshments. Get creative! We have many local desert herbs growing in our garden and my husband often makes infusions out of these, which we then chill. Our favorites are shay al-jebel (Pulicaria incisa), dhafrah (Iphiona scabra), and a Saudi mint similar to habaq (Menta longifolia).

If you’re going to be spending the day out and about, fill a reusable bottle with your favorite drink and carry it with you.

What are some of your favorite plastic-free summer drinks? Do you have any tasty recipes to share?

Refuse ~ Reduce ~ Reuse ~ Recycle


Drinking Water in Dahab (Part 1 of 3)

So far I’ve focused on REFUSING the single-use plastic bags provided by most shops and using cotton bags instead. I know there are some of you already doing this and others who are working on cultivating this habit – and that takes time. While we continue to REFUSE plastic bags, let’s talk about our other huge plastic waste problem here in Dahab – the plastic water bottles!

A few facts to get us started:

Along with plastic bags, plastic bottles are among the most prevalent sources of pollution found on our beaches.

The extremely slow decomposition rate of plastic bottles leaves them to drift on the ocean for untold years.

When plastics break down, they don’t biodegrade, they photodegrade. This means the materials break down to smaller fragments. These [smaller fragments] readily absorb toxins which contaminate soil, waterways, and animals upon digestion. Source

Plastic trash, mostly bottles, washed up on the shore of Nabq Protected Area - just 10 km south of Dahab.

Plastic trash, mostly bottles, washed up on the shore of Nabq Protected Area – just 10 km south of Dahab.

It takes three times the volume of water to manufacture one bottle of water than it does to fill it, and because of the chemical production of plastics that water is mostly unusable.

We [Americans] use 17 million barrels of oil each year just to produce all of those water bottles. To put it in perspective, that’s enough oil to keep a million cars fueled for a whole year! Source

Plastic bottles plague our deserts, too!

Plastic bottles plague our deserts, too!


I am sure many of us know that drinking bottled water is not the most eco-friendly or healthful habit around and the facts above help to clarify why. It’s common to read on American or European blogs about how practical and economical it is to simply drink tap water and use refillable bottles instead of buying water in plastic bottles. In fact, in Cairo, that is exactly what I did. I did not like the taste (or the price!) of bottled water so we installed a charcoal filter (to get rid of the chlorine that is added during the purification stage) directly to an incoming tap in the kitchen and had clean, tasty water at our disposal whenever we wanted. I filled reusable water bottles to take with me to work and other outings.

In Dahab, however, water is another story! Most of us are ecstatic just to have tap water provided by the city. If we’re lucky, the water comes on a regular basis and we have a large enough water tank to cover our needs until the next delivery. Many residents are still not connected to city water and must call a water truck every couple of weeks to refill their tanks. Water that doesn’t have to be delivered is a convenience that I waited nearly five years for and for which I am very grateful. So the issue of water is a bit more complicated here in the desert.

In theory, the desalinated water provided by the city to the homes of Dahab is drinkable. It has been processed and purified. The problems are with delivery and storage – dirty trucks, pipes, or tanks that render the water unsafe or unhealthy to consume. Therefore, the majority of residents do not drink this tap water, myself included. Even with the filter attached to the main pipe – I have seen our filters dirty with rust!

Two of my goals for this year is to find out the easiest way to test my water and then research the 3- and 5-stage water filtration systems that are sure to make my tap water drinkable.

So until I have more to share about filters, what are our less-plastic or plastic-free options for drinking water here in Dahab? I’ll be discussing those in upcoming posts so stay tuned.

What is your source of drinking water? Do you have a filtration system in place?


After the latest contamination scandal, can you trust your water? (Egypt Independent)

Plastic Water Bottles Causing Flood of Harm to Our Environment (Huffington Post)

The Story of Bottled Water (YouTube)

Refuse ~ Reduce ~ Reuse ~ Recycle