Nila Mcann
Nila Mcann Image Credit: Antonin Kélian Kallouche/Gulf News

Do you know anyone who makes their own shampoo devoid of any harsh chemicals and stores it in a glass bottle?

Do you know anyone who takes the effort to custom-make a bamboo toothbrush with bristles made of caster beans, not plastic?

Do you know anyone who carries their own “plastic-free” cutlery while dining out at a restaurant?

Meet American expat Nila McCann, 35.

This Dubai expat is an eco-warrior, a crusader, all-in-one, raising awareness on the ills of plastic use and she shows us by example on how to lead a sustainable life free from plastic.

Always an eco-warrior

McCann said she has always felt responsible about her environment. Her father did agricultural development for the Peace Corps – a volunteer program run by the United States government in 141 countries. He worked in Mali, Africa. McCann’s father taught her here to respect the environment and not waste anything - especially food and water.

“My sister and I were raised with the mentality of “do not waste”. Living in Africa, we felt even more responsible about it as there were so many people starving around us. Wasting food and water was considered a sin in our family.”


The way she does it

McCann admits she has taken her sustainable living a notch higher than her parents. “Things were far easier and simpler back in the 70s and 80s. Today, unfortunately more damage has been done to the environment and this means we have to do more and up our ante,” said McCann.

Custom-made products
Custom-made products Image Credit: Antonin Kélian Kallouche/Gulf News

“As a first step, I do not buy products with harsh chemicals or that have been stored in plastic bottles and containers. If I cannot find one, then I make that product myself. For example I make my own deodorant from natural ingredients like baking soda, arrowroot powder, tea tree and coconut oil. My kitchen cleaner is home-made from water, apple cider vinegar and tea tree oil, so is my toothpaste which is made from charcoal. I have not bought a branded toothpaste from the super-market in years. Even my sanitary napkins are made from reusable pads. I do not own a dryer, straightener or a hair curler as they consume energy. All food waste generated in my house is composted too.”

McCann said she carries a sustainable kit with her everywhere she goes. The kit contains wooden chopsticks, reusable utensils, bees wax wrap to store food. She takes her lunch in a mason glass jar which comes with a metal cover.

Why is plastic not good for us

“Plastic does not decompose easily. It just degrades into small pieces. When they are dumped in the ocean, the fish end up eating them. This also means that as human beings we are consuming plastic as we eat fish. Another big issue is that we are producing plastic exponentially every year and this is not helping in the sustainable efforts. Chlorinated plastic can release harmful chemicals into the surrounding soil, which can then seep into groundwater or other surrounding water sources and also the ecosystem of the world. This can cause serious harm to the species that drink the water. Landfill areas contain many different types of plastics.

Nila McCann with her products
McCann said she has always felt responsible about her environment Image Credit: Antonin Kélian Kallouche/Gulf News

Plastic affects human health. Toxic chemicals leach out of plastic and are found in the blood and tissue of nearly all of us. Exposure to them is linked to cancers, birth defects, impaired immunity, endocrine disruption and other ailments. Plastics and their byproducts are littering our cities, oceans, and waterways, and contributing to health problems in humans and animals.

Gloomy facts

According to numbers revealed by the UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment (MOCCAE) in June, the UAE consumes 13 billion bags of plastic and approximately 450 billion plastic bottles a year. Eight million tonnes of plastic make their way into the oceans each year.

On World Environment Day (June 5), the Ministry joined hands with the Indian Ambassador to UAE and heads of two private sector companies to “Beat Plastic Pollution.” They all signed a pledge supporting the cause. The companies laid down their future plans on reducing plastic consumption at workplace.


“It has been a huge challenge adopting the changes in my life. At one point my parents thought I was crazy. There are a lot of things which I had to give up and it was not easy at all. Personally, I cannot live a life with my head in the sand. The world we have inherited from our parents is the one we are passing on to our children. I know our parents did the best they could, but we can do better. People have a responsibility towards their environment and I am doing my bit to protect it. I only wish more people would join me in my crusade to keep away from plastic,” said McCann.