Plastic or the planet? That’s the question swirling worldwide on this World Environment Day as countries and communities focus on solutions to plastic pollution under the campaign #BeatPlasticPollution.
This is an incredibly important topic because plastic pollution is not only a complex issue that impacts all land, freshwater, and marine ecosystems, but the harmful effects of plastic pollution are also alarming. It threatens human health, cripples vital economic activities, and acts as a catalyst for climate change.
Reports show that the world currently produces 430 million metric tons of plastics each year, of which over two-thirds are short-lived products which soon become waste. Moreover, if ‘business-as-usual’ continues, its production is set to triple by 2060.
In addition, 40 percent of plastic is used only once before being discarded, and every year, up to 14 million tonnes of plastic debris goes into the global ocean.
Thankfully, the UAE has been proactive in addressing the issue of plastic waste long before the plastic problem became a trending topic on social media.
The UAE’s trailblazing role in reducing large-scale pollution, protecting the environment, and promoting a sustainable way of life has seen the country establish a solid reputation in the region as a climate anti-plastic pioneer: whether it is by getting rid of plastic bags, eliminating single-use plastic, banning single-use plastic straws, or adopting a cohesive circular economy strategy.
This has not only laid the roadmap to a future full of abundant opportunities and path-breaking innovation but also opened up major economic opportunities complemented by the UAE’s Net Zero by 2050 goal.
As the region’s first country to pledge a net-zero target, the UAE’s drive is being led by the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, which is at the forefront of collaborating with all stakeholders to adopt measures to monitor plastic waste, reduce emissions and instill a culture of sustainability across projects and communities.
Fostering a recycling culture
The Ministry launched a first-of-its-kind comprehensive policy in the region that aims to remove polluting plastics from the environment and eliminate the use of avoidable single-use plastic and non-plastic materials by fostering a recycling culture.
Of course, that’s a journey where the contribution of every stakeholder counts – and emirates such as Sharjah have taken their own lead to usher in an era of smart and sustainable cities that rethink and re-integrate every element of urban living with a focus on battling plastic and other waste and supporting a circular economy.
That’s a major pivot away from the current linear model of “produce, use, dispose” that is the characteristic of much of urban habitat today and has taken on a more urgent dimension as the UAE celebrates the Year of Sustainability and the region hosts two watershed climate conferences – COP27 at Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt last year and COP28 in the UAE this year.
Sharjah Sustainable City is at the heart of this pivot in the region and marks an environmental leap in the UAE with clear pathways to manage waste and plastic pollution, and foster alternative value chains and circular economic models.
A net-zero community
As part of its efforts, the city is on its way to creating a net-zero community with a reduced carbon footprint and major savings on energy consumption and bills.
On World Environment Day, it is critical to be inspired by such projects and understand how the perception of urban habitats has matured from simply being about stunning views and soaring skyscrapers to championing a zero-waste lifestyle, combating plastic and other pollution, creating sustainable mobility and food ecosystems, promoting health and wellbeing, and being resilient to climate change.
By combining the best of sustainable architecture and sustainable engineering, low-carbon agricultural technologies, clean mobility, and renewables, Sharjah Sustainable City has set a new benchmark for sustainable communities.
As communities around the world rush to embrace an endless stream of innovations, technologies, and best practices in their efforts to beat plastic pollution, Sharjah Sustainable City is clearly a lighthouse that sends out a signal of hope and reassurance in conserving our planet and making sustainable development an essential part of our life and business.
Yousif Ahmed Al-Mutawa is the Chief Executive Officer of Sharjah Sustainable City