Dubai mum and sustainability activist Natasha Bajaj likes to get her son out into nature as often as possible
Dubai mum and sustainability activist Natasha Bajaj likes to get her son out into nature as often as possible Image Credit: Supplied

Has your attitude to green issues changed since the pandemic hit? Perhaps you were all about reusing and recycling, until concern about germs and spreading the virus made disposable items the order of the day? Or perhaps the seriousness of the pandemic has been a wake-up call that you need to prioritise halting climate change, which research shows is connected to the increased likelihood of further pandemics?

Whatever your own situation, it's clear the pandemic has affected different people in different ways. We wanted to delve a little deeper, to find out how UAE parents feel at the ground level. Here, Dubai-based mum, founder of fashion label Nats and Jun ( and sustainability activist Natasha Bajaj speaks to fellow UAE parents and shares her own story of how COVID-19 has affected our attitude to green issues...

I often wonder what the world will be like post-Coronavirus, when we can walk around freely without wearing a face mask, travel the world and finally hug our loved ones again like we could before. But I also wonder about the future of the world itself – about the health of our planet, as well as the health of us humans.

As the world has changed around us, how has that changed our perception of the Earth and our behaviour towards it? Have the limitations of lockdown and the drastic impact of a deadly virus meant we have become more sustainable as humans, or less?

"Don't make Mother Nature angry"

As a parent I have always been aware of the environment and the impact of our carbon footprint. Every sentence in my house begins with “Do you think Mother Nature would like that?” But it’s only recently that I realized how much of an impact our sustainable lifestyle is having on our little boy.

A few months ago, when shopping with my five-year-old son at a grocery store, he spotted that a lady was packing away her newly bought groceries in a plastic bag. My little boy said: “Mother Nature will get very angry at you for using a plastic bag!”

Under normal circumstances if something like this happened I would want to crawl away and hide myself somewhere out of embarrassment. But this time, I had a huge smile on my face. I nodded in encouragement, so he continued: “Don’t make Mother Nature angry or she will put you in the naughty corner!”

The lady didn’t know how to react; she just apologized to him and left the store.

It made me wonder whether COVID-19 has had any impact on our attitude to sustainability at all, or if the pandemic has meant we have perhaps even take steps backwards in the fight for a more sustainable planet?

Natasha Bajaj
Instead of being embarrassed, Natasha was proud of her son for standing up for his beliefs

One step forwards, two steps back?

At the beginning of the pandemic, much was made of how humans being forced to stay indoors in lockdowns was making space for animals to enter and for nature to flourish once more. While some of the images that circulated on this topic turned out to be hoaxes, there’s no doubt that there has been some positive impact for the planet. The reduction in air travel, for one, as well as the decrease in commuting have had an effect.

NASA researchers used satellite data on air quality to find that pandemic restrictions have reduced global concentrations of the harmful pollutant nitrogen dioxide by nearly 20% since February 2020, with some countries’ levels dropping by up to 50%. This surprised the researchers, who hadn’t anticipated that human behaviour could make quite such a significant difference to air quality. In New York, peak congestion went down 47 percent, in Los Angeles it went down by 51 per cent, while in India - after years of being shrouded in pollution - the capital Delhi momentarily saw some clear skies.

Yet the pandemic has also brought with it a huge increase in plastic pollution from the use of disposable medical gear. As I write this article, I discover that the global market for disposable masks is projected to accelerate at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.4% to reach US$28.8 billion by the year 2027, compared to only $800 million in 2019. Most disposable masks are made from a fabric based on the plastic polypropylene, which can persist in the environment for decades. The UN estimates that around 75 per cent of these used masks, as well as other pandemic-related waste, will end up in landfills, or floating in the seas.

But there is hope. What NASA’s air-quality studies show us is how we as humans can have a positive impact on the planet if we make sustainable changes.

And there are signs that more and more people in the Gulf region want to do this. The latest survey by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) found that 80 percent of participants in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are willing to live more sustainably, while some 56 per cent strongly feel that they should alter their everyday lives and become more considerate of their activities towards the environment.

This is encouraging news, and being a parent and a sustainability activist, I was very keen to ask some UAE-based families their take on it and find out what more we can be doing here to help in the move towards sustainability…

What UAE families are doing to become more sustainable

Katy Rice Eco Souk
Katy Rice is the founder of Eco Souk and mum of three Image Credit: Supplied

“I consider sustainability as crucial a part of being a parent as teaching manners and kindness”

Katy Rice is the owner of environmental kids’ concept store Eco Souk ME, as well as a mother of three. “As a family we always limit our waste and consider the items we purchase as much as we can,” she says. “We avoid anything unnecessary and have made many swaps in our home; we recycle, we have a water filter on our tap instead of using plastic bottles, and instead of toothpaste tubed we use toothpaste tablets - which are locally produced, made with natural ingredients and have less packaging to go to landfill. We also buy loose rice, lentils and produce from local suppliers, use reusable jars and shopping bags, and we inevitably avoid plastic toys too.”

Katy says she is always looking out for sustainable replacements, pandemic or not: “There is a lot that is beyond our control, but we look for alternatives, and we do our best every day.”

Katy says that she considers sustainability to be a vital part of her job as a parent: “I see it as equally as important as teaching my children to use manners and be kind in fact.

“The future of the planet is in the hands of our generation and our children’s. How they see me behave will become second nature to them - this is the best part. They will automatically grow up doing what we do now - and the benefits for the planet and in turn them, are huge.”

Anu Agarwaal
Anu Agarwaal is the founder of The Green Eco Store and mum of two Image Credit: Supplied

“During lockdown we realized how little we humans need to use in order to live”

Anu Agarwal, founder and CEO of The Green Ecostore and a mum of two, says “My family and I have always tried to live a sustainable life. We have continued with most of our sustainable habits - recycling our waste, using reusable shopping bags, reusable water bottles, using LED bulbs etc. We all wear reusable cloth face masks. During the lockdown we realized, how little we humans need to live. Yet, we buy so much more than we ever need or use. Mankind has to learn to do with using less and reducing our waste.”

Anu says she would like to see a garbage collection facility for recycling waste from homes in the UAE. “Currently, most communities have a single Recycling Bin. However, we need a service where ‘recyclable waste’ can be collected directly from homes on a regular basis. This will encourage more families to recycle waste.”

She also said that public awareness and motivation still has a long way to go. “In the UAE, we need more retail and corporate participation in recycling programs. We distribute the Preserve range of food storage products, and they are 100% made entirely from recycled yoghurt cups. We need collection programs to reuse plastic. We need Barista's and cafes to encourage use of reusable coffee cups rather than disposable coffee cups. We need more public-private partnerships to focus on reusing and recycling.

Rachel Higgins is the Principal of Jumeirah Primary School and a mum of two

Inspiring kids with paperless learning and ‘seed pencils’

Rachel Higgins, Principal, Jumeirah Primary School, and mother of two boys, told me how the changes schools have had to make for the pandemic have had some positive environmental impacts. She says that the strict school safety guidelines that are in place to protect students and teachers mean that no paper can change hands in the classroom, resulting in work being completed digitally and a huge reduction in paper use as a result. For any paper that is used within the school day, they actively recycle any waste in collaboration with recycling initiative Green Box.

They have also introduced a special gift for each student, presented to them on their birthday. Each child receives a pack of three seed pencils, which they can use in school, and once it cannot be sharpened anymore, it can then be planted. The pack consists of three pencils giving a Coriander, Chilli and Tomato plant! “We have a designated space in our Sunny Garden for anyone that maybe doesn’t have the facility at home to grow their plant, but they can still see it grow every day,” says Higgins.

Abhishek Bhardhan is the founder of Anvi Earth and dad to a four-year-old girl
Abhishek Bhardhan is the founder of Anvi Earth and dad to a four-year-old girl Image Credit: Supplied

“Every little bit makes a difference”

Abhishek Bhardhan, father of a four-year-old daughter and dadpreneur who has an eco-friendly business called Anvi Earth, which sells affordable organic products for kids, says sustainability has always been extremely important to him. “There's been so much negativity in the news about entire ecosystems being wiped out due to pollution, fires etc. We are definitely more mindful, and we feel like every little bit makes a difference.

“Starting from our daughter’s cutlery to her personal hygiene factors we are trying our best to only use sustainable materials”.

He said they as a family always try to be mindful about the environment and have tried to always use sustainable modes of living. Recently they have also invested in an electric car as they wanted their 4-year-old daughter to grow up knowing the difference between petroleum and battery. A few months into the purchase and the little one already knows that they are contributing to the some form.

Jerri Wilmott is a social media influencer (@my.wildtribe) and mum of three living in Dubai
Jerri Wilmott is a social media influencer (@my.wildtribe) and mum of three living in Dubai Image Credit: Supplied

“Sustainability isn’t a choice but a necessity”

Mum of three and UAE social media influencer Jeri Willmott says, “we cannot maintain our quality of life as human beings if we destroy the environment and the resources provided by it.”

She mentioned that as a family they avoid using disposable face mask and use only reusable ones. “The disposable face masks are just adding to already great concerns over plastic pollution and the resulting wildlife and human health impacts. Plastic waste can smother the environment. Some animals cannot tell the difference between plastic items and food and end up choking on pieces of litter.” Jerri says that as a family they have been already practicing sustainable living before the pandemic. “We practice Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. This means things like instead of buying plastic toys or kids’ costumes, I make them myself instead, using what we already have at home.”

Natasha Bajaj
Natasha Bajaj wants to urge fellow UAE residents and parents to lead a more sustainable lifestyle Image Credit: Supplied

While the UAE has made great strides towards a greener society, we still need more public-private partnerships to focus on reuse and recycle. As a mum and activist I strongly feel sustainability needs to be made a priority in schools and in government policies. Things like solar panels, nature-inspired architecture, recycling bins in every household, stopping the use of plastic bags, as well as plastic straws are just a few examples that every family should look into.

The climate is changing, and so should we. (Or watch out – my son might just tell you off in the grocery store...)