“Profiting can be easy, but it’s hard to get to the point where you’re proud of your work,” says Aline Kamakian, 53, owner of Mayrig Restaurant in Beirut, Lebanon.
For the past nine years, Kamakian has worked to reduce her company’s environmental footprint, and today she is turning Mayrig into a zero waste project with passion, persistence and hard work.
Instead of throwing leftovers, plastic and glass bottles together in landfills, Kamakian turns food waste into compost that nourishes plants, plastic and glass into new useful items despite the challenges.
According to a report by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), 17% of all food produced worldwide each year, or 931 million tonnes, is wasted in households, retail outlets and the catering industry.
It is estimated that 3.1 billion people worldwide are not following a healthy diet, and approximately 828 million people are starving. The number of people experiencing hunger has increased by over 100 million due to the pandemic, which has urged the reduction of food losses and food waste.
From a father’s dream to a mom’s recipe
Kamakian launched Mayrig in 2003 to fulfill her father’s dream of owning a restaurant serving authentic Armenian cuisine. She worked with Armenian mothers on creating recipes and platters and decided to name the restaurant “Mayrig”, which means “mother” in Armenian.
Aline Kamakian, founder of Mayrig Restaurant in Beirut. Photo: UNIC Bejrut / Georges Roukoz
“The name of the restaurant pays tribute to mothers for their efforts to preserve Armenian culture and traditions, and the company aims to support Armenian mothers by offering them job opportunities and ways to generate profit,” explains Kamakian.
Kamakian raises the awareness of its employees about the importance of working to green their restaurant. “When we started sorting, my employees thought the additional tasks were ineffective and exhausting. But over time, they began to realize how important it is to Lebanon’s environment. Today, they are happy to sort and process waste, ”he notes.
Following the financial crisis that hit Lebanon in 2019, the costs of sorting, composting and recycling became an additional burden for Kamakian, and Mayrig greening was violated due to other priorities.
“The high cost of transporting food waste to a composting plant has threatened to keep the initiative going,” he says.
Before giving up her dream, Kamakian was looking for a financing option. Fortunately, the UN Lebanon, through the Beirut-based UNEP Regional Office for West Asia, was looking for restaurants in the Mar Mikhael-Gemmayze area that it could work with to reduce the waste problem in Lebanon.
As part of this project, part of the SwitchMed II program, funded by the European Union and implemented in cooperation with the local civil society organization NUSANED, the United Nations supports Mayrig by collecting food waste. “I don’t have to worry about managing the composting of food waste anymore because someone is in charge of it,” emphasizes Kamakian.