When conservationist Ryan Ingram realised that in the UAE, 95 per cent of food is imported, yet the country dumps 1.8-2.4 million tons of food each year, he decided to change that. Sudeshna Ghosh speaks with him
Ryan Ingram spent several years working in the UAE hospitality industry before setting up the country’s first independent food waste consultancy service, TerraLoop. When faced with the reality that little was being done to curb the hospitality sector’s damaging environmental footprint, he decided to bring together his background in conservation with his experience in luxury hotels, to help drive change.
1. Tell us about your background in conservation?
It began when I was just four years old… camping, fishing and bird watching with my grandfather in the South African Bushveld. I grew up loving, appreciating, and understanding the natural world around me, enough to decide to study nature conservation. I started as a wildlife farm manager, where I learnt to balance conservation with a commercial operation. In 2005, I found myself in Dubai, guiding international tourists in the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve . But it was not until I was commissioned to set up a new nature reserve in Ras Al Khaimah, and establish responsible tourism activities for the Banyan Tree Al Wadi Resort, that I became acutely aware of the heavy burden the hospitality sector was placing on our valuable resources.
2. Is that what prompted you to start TerraLoop?
Yes, it was this awareness of the heavy use of water, energy, and food, combined with large scale dumping of waste into landfill, that led me to seek out how I could develop a solution that supports the industry. The stimulus was the discovery of the fact that while 95 per cent of food is imported into the UAE, the country dumps 1.8-2.4 million tons of food each year. There are ways to divert and reduce this waste, but there were no food waste consultants in the entire Middle East region in 2016 – I decided to change that.
‘The stimulus was the discovery of the fact that while 95 per cent of food is imported into the UAE, the country dumps 1.8-2.4 million tons of food each year.’
3. Why TerraLoop – what does the name mean?
The name TerraLoop embodies exactly what I stand for and believe in. ‘Terra’ is simply Earth. ‘Loop’ represents respecting the wise use of our planet’s resources, considering their life cycles to be circular, not linear. We believe that waste is a resource, misplaced, and our tagline is ‘Tread Responsibly.’
4. What are some of the projects TerraLoop is currently involved in?
We’ve been contracted to design and implement a Food Waste Programme for the Government of Ras Al Khaimah. Called Food Waste Diversion Network, the programme is initially focused on diverting the large volume of food waste produced at fruit and vegetable markets, butcheries, and malls from landfill, to get treated on-site and turned into resources such as compost – we are using upcycled shipping containers to house the waste conversion equipment. We are scheduled to go into implementation in January 2018, and expect to be able to offset 98 per cent of carbon emissions from these food waste sources.
5. What are some of the ‘green’ practices you’ve introduced for corporates, that can be adapted and adopted?
One example is a ‘No Bin Day’ in hotel staff canteens – once a week, the waste bin is removed from the canteen and meals that are served to the staff have no bones nor peels, which means: ‘what you put on your plate, you have to eat’. This creates an acute awareness of how much food gets wasted and helps to develop a culture of Zero Waste.
Another is planting indigenous flora in the gardens of a hotel to not only showcase the beauty of the local plants, but also attract birds, butterflies etc. These local plants require significantly less water to survive, thereby lowering the demand on resources.
5. Do you think the hospitality industry is doing its bit towards conservation and sustainability?
If you consider that the hospitality sector is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, resource consumption, and use of natural areas for development, it has a HUGE role to play in conservation and sustainability. So, the honest answer is ‘no’. But, things are starting to change.
7. Coming back to conservation, you’ve also been involved in some marine rehabilitation projects in the UAE – can you tell us a bit more about that?
Yes – we are in the planning stages with the Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority for an artificial reef system that brings recreation, fisheries, heritage, and technology together in one dynamic project. Basically, it’s an artificial reef which will create a habitat for rehabilitation of marine life, as well as offer snorkelling trails, diving opportunities and much more, for the tourism industry. It will be located in Al Marjan island, and we hoping to get it off the ground soon.
8. Can you share one of your most memorable moments from working in conservation?
Seeing the delight on the faces of local Emirati children when meeting a herd of Arabian oryx for the first time. Their excitement at holding a sand boa and tracking an Arabian red fox’s foot prints across the dunes. I believe the greatest value in having these ‘wild’ areas in the local environment is the role it plays in inspiring the young to understand, respect and protect their resources.
9. What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced with TerraLoop?
Driving appreciation for the extent of the food loss issue, and the really accessible solutions available to the food service industry, is still very much of a challenge – and will continue to be until anti-food waste policies are established and enforced across the UAE.
10. And finally, if you could change any one thing in the world, what would it be and why?
Dissolve the need for money and replace the power it holds over the majority of the world with a sense of sharing, equality, and respect.