Dahab Defender: Dive Urge

Dahab Defenders 3It’s been awhile since we’ve nominated a Dahab Defender, but that doesn’t mean that people aren’t out there doing some amazing things. Just that we here at Don’t Mess with Dahab have been a little busy with other projects. Now that summer is here, we hope to have more time to devote to this project. So let’s kick off this summer with our newest Dahab Defender: Dive Urge ~ Dive Resort, Hotel, and Restaurant!

Last week, I had the chance to chat with the owners, English/Egyptian couple Lynne and Helal. We were joined by two of their three children. This is truly a family-run enterprise and each of them is a Dahab Defender in their own right. Together they have created a truly eco-friendly dive center. As Lynne and her son, Samah, gave me a tour of the compound, I was in awe of all the simple yet effective practices that they have put into place to care for the environment.

As Lynne explained, their logo, a hand cradling several starfish, sums up the philosophy that they have built their business on – caring for the sea and surrounding environment. When Dive Urge opened over 15 years ago, Lynne and Helal knew that they wanted to do things differently than other dive centers. The first decision they made was limiting the ratio of divers to guides to 4:1. (Most dive centers do 8:1.) This helps ensure that a guide is able to care for each guest and helps lessen the impact on the marine environment. But they didn’t stop there.

Waste Reduction and Management

Dive Urge sorts their trash – plastic, glass, and metal – for recycling. They provide bins both inside their compound and also along the boardwalk so that people walking by can also use them.

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To cut down on the waste that needs recycling, there is a water dispenser in the central room that all guests pass through. Guests are provided with bottled water but are also strongly encouraged to refill these bottles from the dispenser.

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Besides water bottles, guests are also provided reusable cotton bags for their personal use during their stay. They are encouraged to use these instead of accepting the plastic bags from the shops.

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It’s not just the guests who use cotton bags! The staff at Food Urge, the restaurant, also bring reusable cotton bags with them with they go shopping for veggies. The restaurant also sorts their trash and any appropriate food waste is given to the family goats. Goats eat everything! 😉

Dive Urge also organizes desert safaris and mountain dinners. To reduce the waste produced on these excursions, they have ditched the disposable plastic cups and have switched to providing reusable cups and utensils. Not only is that a lot less trash, the reusable cups don’t get blown away in the wind. That’s important in our very breezy town!

Energy and Water Consumption

Tips for guests on how to be responsible travelers can be found in each room. Guests are encouraged to reduce their energy consumption by turning off the lights and air conditioning when no one is in the room. Management also reserves the right to switch off the A.C. if left on while guests are away. Guests are also encouraged to take short showers, unplug electrical devices that aren’t in use, and to set their air-conditioning to 24 – 27 °.

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To further conserve resources, Dive Urge does not clean and launder the rooms every day. Guests must ask for cleaning services. This saves a lot of energy and water!

The rinse pool at the dive center has recently been made shallower, allowing them to use less water for each rinse. After the equipment has been rinsed, the water is used for the grass in the garden.

On top of all of this, Dive Urge also cleans the sea every time that they dive. The guides will always collect any trash that they can (without it interfering in their guests’ safety). Lynne and her family also clean litter from the beach and the streets on a nearly daily basis. What super role models for new divers and local residents!

Because of their dedication to the environment and the needs of local people, you can now find Dive Urge on ResponsibleTravel.com, an excellent website focused on small holiday companies that give something back to their communities.

It is obvious that Dive Urge does an outstanding job protecting our local environment and teaching others to do the same. Please, if you pass by the dive center, stop in and tell them what a great job they are doing! Share their story with other owners or managers you may know. It might just be the inspiration and ideas that others are looking for.

A very big THANK YOU to Lynne and Helal for all their hard work and dedication!!

Help Keep Our Playgrounds Litter-Free!

Lately, we’ve been spending time at one of the playgrounds in the city. Most of the public playgrounds leave a lot to be desired, but this one is relatively nice and provides plenty of shade. Sadly, I rarely see children playing there (unless they’re with me) but the playground gets a lot of foot traffic as it’s on the edge of the city across the street from the resorts. Many local workers and residents walk from the hotels up to the city, taking a path that goes through the playground. That would be one explanation for the abundance of litter. Another would be the lack of adequate rubbish bins.

Today, I finally remembered a bag and cleaned up most of the aluminium cans. These can be recycled. In fact, they can be sold for LE 2.5 per kilo. I don’t have a good scale to weigh them, but I probably collected around 2 kilos today. I will give my bag of cans to a young Bedouin friend who will be happy to take the bag to sell the cans and buy some snacks with the profits. (On my next visit, I will collect the recyclable plastic bottles.)

Playground Cans

::Please help keep our playgrounds clean::

+ If you finish a drink and there is no rubbish bin around, hold on to the can until you find one or until you get home. Don’t throw the can or bottle on the ground.

+ Sort your trash at home and keep a bag for cans. Pick up cans you see on the street and bring them home. Call Hemaya to collect your trash and recyclables from your house. Read about the benefits of recycling aluminium here.

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+ Skip the sodas altogether! Buy a refillable bottle or jug and make your own drinks. They’ll be better for your health and cost less money. Read some suggestions here.

The playful children (and adults!) of Dahab thank you!

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.

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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 https://www.facebook.com/ActivistAbby

Graphic via Activist Abby
https://www.facebook.com/ActivistAbby

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

Dahab Defender: Annet Fransen

Dahab Defenders 3Many 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:

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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.

Paper packaging instead of plastic.

Paper packaging instead of plastic.

Reusing magazines as food containers.

Reusing magazines as food containers.

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

Tetra Paks as plates.

Tetra Paks as plates.

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.

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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

Trying Out Hemaya’s Trash Collection

This weekend I decided it was finally time to test out Hemaya’s offer of free collection of sorted trash. 

Hemaya pick up (1)

Here’s what I had for them to collect:

  • one sack of plastic bottles (Mostly from the litter I collect from the streets, so it took only about 2 weeks to fill this sack.)

  • half of a sack of glass jars and bottles (I’ve been setting these aside for 6 months.)

  • two boxes of cardboard (Again, this is 6 months worth.)

Yes, it took us a long time to collect enough glass and cardboard to justify a call for collection. But we have enough space at the back of our house that it doesn’t bother me to hold on to these sacks for so long. And because I clean the street in front of my house on a regular basis, it didn’t take nearly as long to fill that sack of plastic!

My husband gave Shargawy at Hemaya a call on Saturday evening to arrange pick-up for the next day. He told us that they would call us between 8:30 – 9:00 a.m Sunday morning. It was no surprise really that 9 o’clock came and went and there was no call from Hemaya. We called them, no answer. At about 10 o’clock, they finally returned our call to tell us they were in the neighborhood and would be at our house shortly. And they were! 

Hemaya pick up (2)

We had placed the boxes and sacks outside, but did not leave them unattended because the goats would have had a feast on that cardboard – and left a mess behind! Plus we just wanted to wait to see the whole process through.

The driver told us that next time we could call Shargawy (the “big boss”) to let him know we had bags and then simply leave the sacks outside and they would collect them on their usual daily route, which passes by our house at around 8 in the morning. The goats, sheep, and other street animals do not usually manage to rip open the flour sacks that we are using, so as long as they are tied off properly leaving these outside shouldn’t be a problem. So even if you only have one bag for them to collect, go ahead and give them a call. They collect trash every day so it should not be a problem for them to pass by and collect your bag.

You can reach Shargawy at +0122 60 89 204.

Have you started to sort the recyclables from your trash? Have you tried to call Shargawy and arrange a pick-up? How did it work? Please share your experience with us. 

And if you missed the first post about Hemaya, read about Trash Collection and Recycling in Dahab.

Trash Collection and Recycling in Dahab

Have you ever wondered what happens to the trash you “throw away” in Dahab?

Have you ever wondered about the people who collect all our trash?

Meet Hemaya Association.

Hemaya, meaning “protection” in Arabic”, is an NGO, founded in Nuweiba in1997 by Sherif el Ghamrawy (of Basata Ecolodge). One of Hemaya’s many projects is the solid waste management here in Dahab. They are in charge of collecting, sorting, and transporting our trash. The waste is sorted – glass, plastic, aluminum, and cardboard – and compacted in the Industrial Zone in the city. These compacted bundles are then transported to 10th of Ramadan City (outside of Cairo) where they are sold to traders who RECYCLE the material. 

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We visited the center in the Industrial Zone today and asked them what we could do to make their job easier. The answer: Sort your trash. Then call Shargawy at +0122 60 89 204 to arrange free pick-up.

That’s right. If we sort our recyclable trash at home, Hemaya will collect it for free and it will be RECYCLED!

I have been sorting the glass and cardboard at our house and it’s taken a few months for the boxes to be full, but now that they are I will call Hemaya and request a pick-up. I will also start to sort the trash I collect from the street in front of my house.

TIP: REUSE the large flour sacks from the bakery or ask a shop for a cardboard box to use to sort your trash.

TIP: If you don’t want to wait as long for a pick-up, organize with your neighbors and together you’ll probably collect enough for more frequent pick-ups.

It was mentioned today that the local hotels could be doing a better job at sorting their trash, which they have all been asked to do. So if you are a hotel or business owner, please encourage (or better yet, require) your staff to sort the recyclable items in your trash. Provide separate bins for your guests. Then educate the staff and your guests about these bins. Some simple signs would help the guests. For example, it would be best if bottles were empty before being put in the bin. Having water left in the bottles slows the compacting process down as the bottles have to be emptied first.

If you are organizing a clean-up event, you can also call Hemaya and arrange for them to pick-up the bags from you. You don’t have to worry about sorting this trash. They will take care of that part for you. (Probably because it will be pretty easy as most of it will be plastic!)

For our clean-up event a few weeks ago, a Bedouin man drove the 40+ bags of trash we had collected to a center in Sharm el Sheikh where he was able to sell the trash to traders. He would probably have earned between LE 150 – 200 for the whole load (which is why he did not charge us anything).

Do you already sort the trash at your home? If not, are you willing to do so? Why or why not? Does your hotel/restaurant/business sort their trash? Do you provide bins for your guests? What tips do you have for other establishments wanting to sort their trash?

Read more about how Sherif started the organization here.

Read more about Hemaya here

Refuse ~ Reduce ~ Reuse ~ Recycle