Lara Hussein and Ceylan Uren’s journey into the business of waste management began at their homes. While they recycled regularly at home, they found themselves throwing food scraps down the garbage chute.
“Living in an apartment in Dubai, we did not have the space or time to do composting ourselves with our busy lives and did not find a solution in the market that is accessible to us that would ensure our food scraps do not go to waste and end up in landfills. This is why we decided to do something about it,” explains Lara Hussein in an interview with Inc. Arabia.
It led the duo to start The Waste Labs in 2021 in the UAE. Headquartered in Dubai, The Waste Lab caters to communities and businesses, offering nature-based composting of food scraps and food leftovers customized to every food stream - hotels, restaurants, communities, universities, events, and other establishments.
It aims to create an opportunity for every food scrap to become a solution for society and to benefit local soil, farms, food, and jobs. The Waste Lab also hosts workshops to build a community that practices proper organic waste sorting at source, disposal, and repurposing.
“Waste segregation and recycling in the UAE are still at the early stages, and food waste in the UAE is significantly high,” says Hussein.
Hussein explains that we have been depleting our soils for decades. She believes that composting can turn one of our biggest challenges -- food waste -- into a solution to regenerate soil, potentially leading the way for regenerative farming, food security, organic production, and reversing climate change.
However, the UAE government has made significant leaps towards implementing sustainability practices. This includes enforcing a sustainability law in the hospitality sector for food waste management, introducing the landfill gate fee for waste management trucks in Dubai, and launching Ne'ma -- a nationwide initiative to reduce food waste by 50% by 2030.
“Every business we onboard attends a workshop and/or training on not only how to separate food scraps and food leftovers from the kitchen but also why we are doing this, and how it contributes to creating a positive impact on our planet. We are also working with schools (students and teachers) and businesses to offer workshops, volunteering opportunities, and the option to set up their own composting system if they have space. We are also engaging with communities through talks, movie nights, and food rescue initiatives on different occasions,” explains Hussein.
She believes there is a need for collaboration if we are looking to achieve the goals by 2030. This includes collaboration between the public and private sectors, including startups and SMEs.
“From our experience, smaller companies and startups are coming up with disruptive solutions for the sake of our planet. However, they lack the proper funding – either they don’t get enough or it takes a very long time to get funded. Moreover, a lot of emphasis is on technology which is important; however, there are other nature-based solutions that need to be seriously considered and merged with these technologies and should receive the funding, support, and permits,” explains Hussein.
The Waste Labs team consists of 16 people, they have onboard food rescuers (the drivers), Quality Control (the sorters at the warehouse), compost makers at the farmland, data scientists, educators, as well as F&B operations specialists, and interns who are fresh graduates wanting to explore the field of sustainability on-the-ground. “We all come from different backgrounds and nationalities with a common passion to take care of our environment and of sustainability,” adds Hussein.
“We are also collaborating with other startups, research organizations, and governmental initiatives and participating in events. We believe that, in order to create an impact, we should all work together,” says Hussein.
The Waste Labs has received pre-seed funding and is working on opening the seed-funding round by the end of 2023 for growth and expansion into other emirates and regionally.
“In 2023 up to the end of Q3, we have diverted around 222 tons of food waste and compostable material from landfills and prevented around 225 tons of CO2 emissions,” says Hussein.