Becoming Zero Waste is not something that happens overnight according to Doua Benhida, Founder of The Zero Waste Collective. She started her journey nearly two years ago and her ultimate goal is for this initiative to become the one stop shop for UAE residents to become zero waste, to learn more about the problems and to be part of the solution.
Can you tell me about The Zero Waste Collective, how and why you started it?
The Zero Waste Collective was founded in 2019 to create awareness on the topic of single-use plastics, and the importance of starting living a Zero Waste lifestyle. I do this, through my talks to schools, corporates & the community. It’s also the first zero waste online store that exclusively supports local & small businesses. The idea was to support them so people can get their zero waste swaps made in the UAE – instead of getting it from abroad or a big corporates which is not really sustainable.
What would you suggest should be the first steps on the journey to becoming zero waste?
KNOWLEDGE. I can’t emphasis this enough, ever. I’ve been doing talks for 2 years now nearly, and can tell you that people have got SO much to learn on the topic of Zero waste. Myself included! I never stop learning, every monthly I do a new talk, and I know I will leave teaching, but also learning – so many hidden gems in the UAE, so many aspects to Zero waste that people don’t tend to see. Once you know, you know. And you can’t unknow or unsee the damage that single use causes to the planet (and your health too), it can be knowledge about the problem, but also about the solution.
I’m sure may people ask you, but how can this be possible when almost everything we do leaves some kind of waste from shopping for food to just decluttering our homes?
See the thing is, as long as the supply chain, the big corporates, the regulations, the governments don’t catch up with their way of producing, there will only ever be so much we can do. Even the items in bulk we buy come in plastic, but it’s a “bigger bag” instead of 10 small ones. The world is just catching up now with the mess. I like to think about the Zero Waste movement where you have people that are trying to clean up the mess, and people, like me, that are trying to stop it from entering our landfills & oceans. So, let’s start with that now. The movement is growing worldwide, and I can assure you in the UAE, there is momentum happening too.
Last thing I’ll say on this topic is that zero waste isn’t a destination. It’s not something you just become in X amount of time, and move on. It’s a journey, it’s a lifestyle. So no matter what you do, always go back to the 3R : Refuse, Reduce, Reuse – Once you can’t do that, move on to the 4th R – Recycle, and my version of the famous R’s is REPEAT.
What is the response like to your talks i.e. how responsive is the UAE in terms of making a shift to a zero-waste lifestyle?
That’s an interesting question because you’d be surprised at how little people actually know about the problem, and even less about the solution. One of my favourite things I enjoy about my talks, is watching peoples’ faces and reactions as to how bad the problem is.
I believe people are ready to make a shift, but most of the people I meet through my community talks come to learn HOW. I present the solution of how to live Zero Waste with a holistic approach: zero waste isn’t just your plastic waste, it’s also about saying no to fast fashion, taking care of your food waste by composting, supporting local, ethical businesses, being mindful about your carbon footprint and so on and so forth – I present it this way so I make sure that no matter where you are in your journey, there is always something you can do. I always start by mentioning how bad the problem is, to focus on how important it is to act.
We live in our bubble, with our daily habits, routine and work and this kind of problem goes unseen unfortunately – a lot of people also don’t think this happens here, but the first pictures I show are from the UAE’s problem with single use plastic. Because people don’t see it, they don’t feel the sense of urgency to react, and that’s what my talks are all about – they truly are eye opening to so many of the UAE residents so by the end of it, people are willing to make a change, and start by my online store. I have met over 400 people in just my community talks, and I like to think that’s double the impact with the power of word of mouth – So definitely planting a seed somewhere.
Can you share with us some of the products on your site and the entrepreneurs and stories behind them?
It all started with 2 brands – and when I noticed people didn’t know about these locally made or local businesses, that brought these sustainable products to the UAE. 98% of the products on the website are locally made, handmade & chemical free such as soap bars, shampoo bars, cleaning products (with options to refill obviously) beeswax wraps and much more. Two specific brands have an ethical purpose behind it, such as supporting a village of women in India, and the other one is to help the mentally disabled children in India too.
The idea I want to convey is to encourage people to buy local because by doing so, you support a family, you respect & appreciate the work done by a person rather than a corporate.
What is the biggest challenge in your daily life?
I’d say the lack of awareness of the people around me: from friends, to family, and staff. It becomes irritating that I make so much effort and yet sometimes it all just feels like a drop in the ocean. It’s not enough to make me quit or give up, but it does feel difficult. That’s why I enjoy following influencers, and being part of active FB groups such as Plastic Free UAE, or in touch with Azraq and Connect with Nature.
We help each other, work together and try to build a stronger sustainable community feel.
What would you like to see more happening to reduce waste and to encourage more people to recognise the impact of for example plastic on the environment?
We need to have more bulk options in different hypermarkets, supermarkets & have more staff educated on this so that when people bring their own mugs, jars, produce bags, they easily accept it. That’s a lot of work to be done as it will all come down to the authorities and regulations.
I wish the entire system changed and said goodbye to single use or at least start with compostable items, so long as they get composted. My wish list is way too big, but for now, I can only be hopeful that people understand the benefits of living sustainably – if not for the environment and future generations, then at least for their own health.
Like Barack Obama said “We are the first generation to see the impact of climate change, and the last one to do something about it” – so let’s do it!
[cmsms_divider type=”solid” margin_top=”50″ margin_bottom=”50″ animation_delay=”0″]
Doua Benhida, founder of The Zero Waste Collective.
Doua has been Zero Waste since 2018 and still continues enjoying her journey with her husband and son – while she is Zero Waste, they aren’t YET!
Her aim is to help UAE residents in their journey to Zero Waste: from educating through talks, to offering local Zero Waste swaps made by entrepreneurs.