Harbinder Singh, Director of Project Development at a Dubai-based waste recycling facility Image Credit: Supplied

Demand

The only thing stopping us is our laziness

We can absolutely turn back from this point. It is never too late, it is just a lazy excuse to say otherwise. This problem is a lot bigger than plastic waste – it’s about resource consumption. We are over-utilising virgin resources, instead of reusing them. Let’s look at it as a budgeting issue. If we are given a million units of any given resource, and we use it within six months, the business is bound to fail. In the same way, we are using resources a lot sooner than they can be kept up.

Regarding steps to be taken now, we can go back and mine landfills to recycle. The sooner we start, the more value we can get out of the resources. You can’t get plastic back to the same quality it initially was, when it is recycled. It is not designed for recycling. Unlike steel or aluminium that can be recycled over and over again. Plastics come in different densities, if different types are recycled together the value decreases. So we need to reduce the waste we produce.

We are very lazy, we need to start by buying less. That will demand the industry to produce less. We are tackling the issue the wrong way. Around the world, I think going zero waste is possible. The only thing stopping us is our laziness. People don’t understand the seriousness and take it for granted because it is easy and cheap. In the UAE, the more the merrier. We like big packages, elaborate boxes and ribbons – these are trash. I don’t want to take the glamour out of gifts but if you use ribbons, try having a balance by getting recycled boxes. We need to pay attention to packaging. It is usually recyclable. Try buying in bulk rather than many little packs.

From Mr Ivano Iannelli

CEO of Dubai Carbon, an environmental service provider for a low-carbon economy

Hope

Social media is making a difference

If you think about it, when we were growing up, we were always told to use plastic bags to dispose of garbage because of health and safety concerns. Now, years and generations later, people are being told to reduce plastic. But the fact is that you can’t eliminate plastics altogether. There are two aspects to this problem. First of all, there is no effective substitute for plastic. You can reduce packaging material, for example, or try to recycle more, but you cannot eliminate plastic completely.

Secondly, you need to have plastic components for waste-to-energy plants (plants that generate energy from the primary treatment of waste). Plastic have high calorific value and they are necessary for waste-to-energy plants.

But why aren’t people recycling? It takes time to create behavioural changes in society. You teach children, and when they become adults, they implement what they learnt. It usually takes about two generations for environmental protection to become part of people’s DNA.

Another reason people don’t recycle is because they don’t see it in their face. Plastic goes into oceans and people are careless. If you saw the waste after you have littered, you would take the effort to recycle and also reduce use. The fact is that if you see something tangible in front of you, you make a change.

Social media, however, is changing that. The younger generation is able to see a lot more and is helping to promote the message of environmental protection.

If you look at the UAE, Dubai Municipality promotes recycling and has set up centres all across the city. Then you have private companies like Bee’ah, that have contracts with companies and are able to collect waste and are building waste management centres. Then you have global players – FMCG companies like Coca-Cola or Dell, that are specifying the amount of recycled plastics used in their products.

However, these changes will take time. In Europe, it has taken them time but they take recycling and environmental protection quite seriously. So, there is still hope for humanity and for my kids.

From Mr Harbinder Singh

Director of Project Development at a Dubai-based waste recycling facility

Aim for zero

Living a zero-waste lifestyle is bliss

You can stop using plastics, believe me, you can. I embarked on a journey towards a zero-waste lifestyle when I watched a TED Talk. This lifestyle seems to me the only option to save our water bodies, our land, our environment and Mother Nature. This is a self-enriching journey and even though I am still far away from completely adopting this lifestyle, I try to do my bit.

Recognise, refrain, reduce, reuse, recycle, and finally, stop is the mantra.

As they say, every great journey starts with a single step, so does the journey towards a plastic-free lifestyle. First and foremost, recognise your plastic usage - become aware of quantity and type of plastic waste that we create in our day-to-day life. Refrain from shopping temptations which fail to add any meaning in life. Reduce the existing plastic waste - declutter and donate stuff which is no longer required. Reuse, repurpose and be creative with existing items. Recycle the waste such as your milk bottles, cosmetic containers and electronics with companies that reuse and recycle plastics to make products.

Invest in steel cutlery and wrap it in a reusable napkin and carry it in a pouch everywhere you go. Carry your own drinking water bottle everywhere. Carry your reusable, foldable trolley bags and cloth bags for shopping. Opt for package free delivery solutions at the stores – the easiest option is to speak to store manager for plastic-free packaging.

By making these small, positive changes in lifestyle, an average citizen can attain a plastic-free lifestyle to at least 80 to 85 per cent. The remaining can be achieved by making deeper changes in lifestyle such as making your own stuff at home. For instance, homemade food, cosmetics and toiletries can be experimented with. Also, one can start with composting and small vegetable gardens in the balcony or backyard to reduce waste further. One can also go for loose grains and pulses and indulge in grocery shopping at fruits and vegetable markets. The list is endless and the key is minimalism. Plastic-free, zero-waste lifestyle is a life in perfect harmony with Mother Nature. It’s bliss. Life finds new meaning and you find renewed focus. It’s an effort we owe to the generations to come.

From Ms Srishty Jain

Vice president at a boutique investment bank and zero-waste campaigner

Impact

People need to understand how plastic impacts them for this issue to become important

If we look around us, plastics seem to be incorporated in every part of people’s daily routines; from the pens that are used in the office, to the bottles we drink our water from, to the bags we carry our groceries in. But this does not mean that we are too dependent on them. There are alternatives out there, we can choose to make that change in our everyday lives, and re-think our plastic use.

Governments and organisations across the world are working to address this issue. In the UAE, there are regulations that retailers and organisations must adhere to but the solution lays with each and every one of us. Corporations and businesses have a responsibility to be more sustainable but as consumers we are the real catalysts of change. There are habits that every one of us can pick up to make a difference in our daily lives. We can re-use and recycle plastic materials or rethink disposable plastic material such as single use plastic bags. As global citizens, we should take responsibility for our actions. It should not depend on a law, per se. A good action should come from within. Retailers are beginning to take action and I feel it is gaining momentum. At Emirates Wildlife Society – WWF, we have taken a step forward to reduce plastic pollution in the UAE through our recently launched ‘Re-Think Plastic’ initiative. The Re-Think plastic initiative has been supported by several retailers including that have introduced oxy biodegradable bags and reduced plastic bag distribution in stores. Other stores, in collaboration with EWS-WWF, have launched jute bags to encourage reduction of plastic bag distribution within their stores. We can expect that if further enablers are put in place to encourage people to make the right choices, this can have a significant impact on the consumption of plastic in the UAE. It is important that plastic reduction campaigns are integrated with education and awareness initiatives so people understand the positive impacts their actions are having, and why they are making the change.

It is important for people to understand what the impacts of plastics are and how it impacts them, for this issue to become important. From the work that we do, and the published studies that we read, we see how important it is for us to tackle the issue of plastic pollution and debris. Plastic that is not discarded correctly or recycled, ends up in our ocean, which in turn has a very large impact on the marine species and habitats that reside within it. In fact, more than 267 species in the marine environment are known to have been affected by plastic entanglement or ingestion. Due to exposure to solar UV radiations, plastic turn into tiny particles called microplastics, which are then ingested by small organisms. Contaminants leached from plastics tend to bioaccumulate in those organisms that absorb them, and chemical concentrations are often higher at higher trophic levels. This causes a threat to the basis of every food web and can have serious and far-reaching effects, especially on humans who consume marine-grown food.

From Ms Manya Russo

Marine Programme Officer at Emirates Wildlife Society – WWF

— Compiled by Falah Gulzar, Special to Gulf News

and Huda Tabrez, Community Web Editor

Gulf News asked: Do you recycle all the plastic you use?

Yes 29%

No 71%