With more and more plastic ending up in our oceans, there’s never been a better time to go plastic-free – but how can you change your habits in Abu Dhabi?
You might not give much thought to your plastic usage on a daily basis. But from that drinking straw in your smoothie to the packaging on your dinner, the price we’re paying for our easy living is the destruction of our planet.
That straw is just a small contribution to the 300 million tons produced each year – half of which is single-use. Most of that ends up in the sea – and there’s currently a rubbish patch three times the size of France in the Pacific Ocean.
As dead whales, turtles and more wildlife wash ashore with bellies full of bags and bottles, it should be a red flag that we need to be doing more to protect our planet for the future.
Not so fantastic
“One of the biggest problems in terms of single-use plastic in the UAE is our use of plastic water bottles,” notes Thomas Dillon, founder of community non-profit group Plastic Free UAE. “From a production point of view, plastic is this amazing, durable and cheap resource. But at this point, it’s everywhere and it takes so long to go away.
“The term ‘single-use’ was the Collins Dictionary word of the year in 2018,” he adds. “That means that it’s a global movement, and Abu Dhabi is catching onto that. Something like only four percent of recyclable plastic actually ends up getting recycled. It’s the sheer volume at which single-use plastic is being produced that is the problem.”
With 400 years – at least – on the clock until a typical plastic bottle will decompose, it’s clear that our addiction to it will outlive us and perhaps even our planet.
So how can we make a difference in our everyday lives? From trading your plastic bottle for a reusable one and taking reusable coffee cups to the café to opting for fabric bags to carry your shopping and avoiding plastic packaging in everything from food to toiletries, there are many ways you can make a difference. But at the heart of that motivation is education.
“One misconception is that a lot of people think that paper cups are fine to recycle, but that’s not true,” Thomas points out. “They’re lined with plastic on the inside, and the lid is plastic. At Plastic Free UAE, we don’t seek to point fingers, but we do want to advise people how they can reduce their consumption.”
As the saying goes, it takes a village, and support from individuals, communities and businesses is crucial to get the message out.
“This project we’ve set up is the community side of the plastic-free movement,” Thomas explains. “It gives people a voice to share advice and a positive message of going plastic-free. The community and having a conversation is really important to this aim.
“Decision-makers and businesses are where this plastic-free movement is really going to take off,” he adds. “One of the things we keep trying to encourage is that more cafés incentivise their customers by offering discounts when they bring in reusable cups and bottles, for example.”
But if we’re going to make real, sustainable change, then Thomas is adamant that we all need to become advocates for that change.
“Making small adjustments to your lifestyle is great, but becoming an ambassador in your home and workplace is a great way to get people to catch on,” he advises. “Converting the people you surround yourself with is one of the most effective ways to get people living plastic-free.”
Change Your Habits
Don’t suck: When you order a drink, be sure to state that you don’t want a straw – or opt to support the local restaurants that have already pledged to give up single-use plastic for good, such as Freedom Pizza, COYA and more.
Bring your own: Your morning coffee comes with a hefty carbon footprint, so bring your own reusable cup to avoid using a paper one with a plastic lid.
Bag it up: Approximately one percent of plastic bags get recycled each year. Rather than recycling, reduce your consumption by bringing your own reusable totes for your weekly grocery shop instead.
Keep it clean: Household products, including deodorant, washing detergent and shampoo, are all housed in single-use plastic. If you have a reusable container, then head to stores including Organic Foods and Café at Nation Towers, where you can dispense the products right into your jars and pots instead.
Sharing is caring: Found a new plastic-free restaurant? Share your finds by searching for community group Plastic Free UAE on Facebook.