Seeds for change: Eco-friendly businesses branch out in Iraq

Green entrepreneurship is growing amid concerns about the country's environment and agriculture

Plantable paper produced by Eco Life, an enviroment-focused start-up in Iraq. Photo: Eco Life
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Abdul Rahman Abdul Kareem and Mariam Yarub believe that small changes can have a big impact and that everyone can play a role in creating a better world for future generations.

For the first time in Iraq, the young entrepreneurs have introduced plantable paper and biodegradable packaging that not only help to reduce waste but also help the environment.

“We are facing mounting environmental challenges and we are seeking to improve the lifestyle to one that is more environmentally friendly and for that we present a wide range of eco-friendly products,” Ms Yarub told The National.

A biodegradable oil lamp made by the company. Photo: Eco Life

Iraq has suffered severe environmental degradation as a result of water scarcity, climate change and alarming levels of pollution.

The country is ranked the fifth most vulnerable in the world to climate change, according to the UN Environment Programme.

One of the most pressing issues is dwindling flows in the two main rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates, mainly as a result of upstream dams in Turkey and Iran and poor water management.

The country is experiencing its worst drought in decades, with temperatures above 50°C last summer. Many of Iraq’s lakes have shrunk.

Desertification affects 39 per cent of the country and 54 per cent of agricultural land has been degraded, mainly due to soil salinity caused by historically low water levels in the two rivers and reduced rainfall.

Trees once covered more than 60 per cent of Iraq's land but this has dropped to less than 4 per cent, according to experts.

Faced with these threats to the environment, Mr Abdul Kareem and Ms Yarub saw an opportunity to make a difference.

In 2020, they founded Eco Life, a company dedicated to producing environmentally friendly products.

Their first venture was skincare products, beauty soap, shampoo, drinking straws and shopping bags — all made from natural and sustainably-sourced materials.

“All our products are locally made from materials from Iraqi nature, mainly plants,” Ms Yarub, 28, said.

“It wasn’t easy to convince people who were focusing only on prices, but later more people started to accept the idea of protecting the environment
Mariam Yarub, co-founder of Eco Life

At the beginning, they launched campaigns on social media and held events to spread awareness about the benefits of eco-friendly products and the importance of reducing waste to protect the environment.

“The whole story is new to our society,” she said. “It wasn’t easy to convince people who were focusing only on prices, but later more people started to accept the idea of protecting the environment."

Early this year, Eco Life introduced plantable paper and biodegradable containers, which it plans to make plantable as well in future.

“Now Iraqis can use the plantable paper for business and gift cards or wedding invitations, or for any other purpose,” Ms Yarub said.

“You can now keep the memory you love in the form of a plant instead of paper,” she added.

Plantable paper is made from post-consumer materials embedded with flower, vegetable or herb seeds. When planted, the seeds germinate and grow while the paper composts away.

Plantable paper has been in production for decades but this is the first time it is being made and used in Iraq.

Mr Abdul Kareem, 26, said demand for the new product was increasing

“It is a weird and lovely experience and Iraqis love it,” he said.

Eco Life's plantable paper is mainly infused with seeds of seasonal flowers, but clients can request seeds for vegetables or herbs, he said.

The price varies depending on the paper size and the printing, but starts from 75,000 dinars (about $50) for 100 A4 sheets. The eco-friendly containers have been distributed to a limited number of clients for trial.

Green entrepreneurship is being widely adopted in Iraq to create sustainable activities that respect the environment and improve agriculture.

Marwa Al Nuaimi, the founder of Green Gold, which specialises in converting waste into organic fertiliser, has ordered Eco Life's containers for the seedpods her company produces.

Called GG Balls, the seedpods are marketed as "a gift that evolves" with time.

Ms Al Nuaimi said they are meant to raise awareness about the importance of agriculture, increasing green spaces, and the community’s role in reducing pollution.

“This is the first time to see such products in Iraq and that will improve agriculture in Iraq," Ms Al Nuaimi said.

She is optimistic about the future of environmental entrepreneurship in Iraq because of “increasing interest among people and their orientation towards creating a green environment”.

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Updated: February 14, 2023, 6:32 AM