“Generating profit might be easy, but it is hard to reach a point where you are proud of your work,” says Aline Kamakian, 53, owner of Mayrig Restaurant in Beirut, Lebanon.

Over the past nine years, Kamakian has been working on reducing the environmental footprint of her business, and today she is transforming Mayrig into a zero-waste project with passion, perseverance, and hard work. 

Instead of throwing away leftovers, plastics, and glass bottles together in landfills, Kamakian transforms food waste into compost that nourishes plants and plastics and glass into new useful items despite the challenges. 

According to a United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) report, globally, 17 per cent of all food produced each year, amounting to 931 million tonnes, is wasted from households, retail establishments and the food service industry.

An estimated 3.1 billion people worldwide do not have a healthy diet, and some 828 million people go hungry. The number of people experiencing hunger has increased by over 100 million due to the pandemic prompting the need for urgent to reduce food loss and waste.

From a father’s dream to a mother’s recipe

Kamakian launched Mayrig in 2003 to fulfil her father’s dream of having a restaurant that serves authentic Armenian food. She had been working with Armenian mothers on creating recipes and platters and decided to call the restaurant “Mayrig,” which means mother in Armenian.

Aline Kamakian, founder of Mayrig restaurant, Beirut
Aline Kamakian, founder of Mayrig restaurant, Beirut. Photo: UNIC Beirut/Georges Roukoz

“The restaurant’s name salutes mothers for their efforts to preserve Armenian culture and traditions, and the business aims to support Armenian mothers by offering them job opportunities and ways to generate profit,” Kamakian explains. 

Kamakian has been raising awareness amongst her employees on the importance of working towards greening her restaurant. “When we started sorting, my employees thought the extra tasks were inefficient and exhausting. But, with time, they started realizing how important this was to Lebanon’s environment. Today, they are keen on sorting and treating waste,” she notes.

After the financial crisis hit Lebanon in 2019, the cost of sorting, composting and recycling became an extra burden for Kamakian’s business, and greening Mayrig was compromised for the sake of other priorities.

“The high expense of transporting the food waste into the composting facilities threatened the sustenance of the initiative,” she says. 

Supporting a circular economy

Before giving up on her dream, Kamakian sought funding opportunities. Fortunately, UN Lebanon, through the UNEP Regional Office for West Asia based in Beirut, was looking for restaurants in the Mar Mikhael – Gemmayze area to partner with in reducing the waste problem in Lebanon.

Under this project, which is part of the SwitchMed II Programme funded by the European Union and implemented in collaboration with local civil society organization NUSANED, the UN is supporting Mayrig by collecting their food waste. “I no longer have to worry about managing the composting of food waste because someone is taking care of that,” Kamakian points out.