Dubai Can
Dubai Can, within a month of setting up re-fill stations, was able to prevent at least 250,000 bottles from ending up in the landfill Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: With the launch of the Dubai Can Initiative on February 16, Dubai residents are well on their way to adding a new chapter in sustainable living and bringing the emirate closer to the vision that the Rulers have envisaged for it.

In a month’s time, this campaign, under the theme ‘One small change, one big impact’, which is intended to encourage each resident to carry his or her own water bottle that can be refilled at over 39 refill stations that have srpung up throughout the city, has been a game changer in introducing an interactive sustainability education for all as it is aimed at complete elimination of single-use plastic items that end up in the city landfills, causing grave environmental damage.

Involving each resident at a personal level

Speaking to Gulf News about the dynamic new initiative envisaged by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Executive Council, Yousuf Lootah, Executive Director of Tourism Development and Investment at Dubai Tourism and Commerce Marketing and Vice-Chairman of Dubai Sustainable Tourism Programme, shared the idea behind the campaign and the remarkable milestones it has achieved in a little over a month since its launch.

Yousuf Lootah

“Since the launch of Dubai Can on February 16, 2022, we have installed more than 39 water refill fountains throughout the city in areas with maximum footfall such as parks, beaches, malls, galleries and so on. We intend to install at least 50 such refill fountains by the end of the year,” he said.

For locations of the 39 refill stations across Dubai where you can refill free drinking water, log on to VisitDubai website Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Over a quarter million plastic bottles reduced in a month

The campaign has already reaped rich benefits. Lootah added: “Within a month of setting up these 39 re-fill stations, we have been able to prevent at least one quarter of a million bottles from ending up in the landfill. Nearly 117,000 litres of water has been dispensed from these re-fill stations and we are not counting the impact that some of the other bodies such as restaurants, hotels and corporate organisations have had on the reduction of single-use plastic. We are focusing on individuals who have been motivated to use the re-fill stations to re-fill their water containers. Our main purpose is to motivate the community at an individual level. This was phase I.

"In the next phase, that starts in July, we will start levying a small tariff of 25 fils per plastic bag requested by a customer at super markets and groceries. This practise has been introduced in 91 contries worldwide and has been found to be effective in discouraging the use of single-use plastic. Ultimately, we want to have no plastic ending up at our landfills. This is an integral part of our sustainable development goals.”

How is the campaign being implemented?

The initiative is already having an impact on people’s behaviour and habits and is bound to educate and realign residents towards the philosophy of reduce, reuse and recycle by encouraging all to use refillable water bottles. It will drive awareness on plastic alternatives and issues of sustainability and will provide access to free and safe drinking water through the installation and use of water stations across the emirate.

The second aspect of the campaign involves involvement of the private sector. Ranging from corporate sector companies to restaurants and hotels, everyone is being drawn into the circle.

For instance, at the Avivo Healthcare head office in Dubai with 25 employees, the practise of handing out plastic water bottles has been completely stopped. Ravindra Agarwal, CFO of the group told Gulf News: “We required at least 800 plastic water bottles for our employees every month. Now we have asked our staff to bring in their own refill bottles and fill them at the One Central water station and completely eliminated the use of single-use plastic in our office.”

Ravindra Agarwal
Ravindra Agarwal says re-useable bottles and using a water refill station has done away with single-use plastic at his workplace Image Credit: Supplied

Many other corporations are following suit too. Many restaurants have joined in the movement. Among the best-known outlets already offering tap water refills are Cassette (The Courtyard), Limetree Cafe, Tom & Serg, Organic Foods & Cafe, and The Sum of Us. You can find more information on the Refill App that has a comprehensive list of outlets offering tap water and refill options in the UAE.

Lootah further added: “The beauty of the campaign is the involvement of the community on an individual level. Earlier, people often wondered, what one person’s contribution could actually mean? This campaign has empowered each individual to act on his or her own and has shown that small individual steps can contribute towards making a big change.”

However, Lootah added that as of now, the participation of restaurants and hotels in the campaign is entirely voluntary. “As of now, our community is still exiting from a hard and long -fought pandemic. Therefore, we are only motivating restaurants, hotels and corporations to adopt the re-fill strategy. We do not believe in pushing these groups and their contribution as of now is voluntary.

"Yet, in a month, we have seen a tremendous change in many of these organisations who have adapted the sustainable approach. I must thank entities such as Dell, Emaar, Nakheel, Emirates NBD, Dewa, Expo 2020 Dubai, Shamal, ARN, Talabat and many others who have whole-heartedly embraced the Dubai Can initiative and have voluntarily adopted the sustainable re-fill strategy. They have been our strong allies in successfully implementing the initiative,” Lootah said.

Campaign a wake-up call

According to Goumbook, a prominent socio-economic enterprise and a leading sustainability partner of the campaign, UAE residents use on an average 450 plastic water bottles per year, leading to a yearly consumption four billion bottles. In 2019 alone, 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic was produced.

In global terms, a staggering 91 per cent of all plastic is currently not recycled. More than 1.1 million marine creatures are killed by plastic waste annually. By 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans as per Dubai Can.

Tatiana Anotelli Abella

Tatiana Anotelli Abella, one of the leading environmental influencers in Dubai and the founder of Goumbook, a social enterprise for sustainable living, told Gulf News: “Dubai Can will be a major enabler in behaviour change of the consumer. A lot of us are eco conscious at home, but when we are thirsty and outside home and run out of water, all of us discard that plastic bottle and purchase another one. The campaign will empower us to go for a refill, be educated about filtered tap water, which is healthy for consumption and bring awareness to a majority of people who are unaware about this, within the network.”

Download the Refill app

Consumers can download the Refill app to scroll through a list of restaurants that offer tap water and refill options.

This small step will eventually involve the entire private sector and spread the refill campaign to completely do away with plastic bottled water.

Zero waste the ultimate goal

Amruta Kshemkalyani, another Dubai-based sustainability expert, founder of the social enterprise Sustainability Tribe and the social initiative ZerowasteUAE, while congratulating Dubai Rulers on this dynamic initiative, pointed out the need for having more filling stations in remote rural places such as hills, mountaintops, deserts that are a hot-spot for tourists.

Amruta Kshemkalyani

“The consumption of single-use plastic has jeopardised the bio diversity of UAE as these plastics have entered the food chain as camels and marine creatures swallow tonnes of plastic discarded in seas and deserts. Setting up of refill water fountains in these areas will discourage people from discarding plastic bottles here,” said Kshemkalyani.

How one cafe is leading by example

Taking the first step, New Zealand-based coffee shop group, the RAW Coffee Company, has implemented sustainable coffee preparation solutions in Dubai. Describing their process, Kim Thompson, founder of Raw Coffee Company, said: “Water is a key ingredient in a good coffee and we know without correct chemistry, we cannot consistently deliver a great coffee experience. We also sell and maintain espresso equipment. So, we have seen first-hand how quickly using poor water quality causes damage of corrosion to your valuable coffee equipment."

Kim Thompson

She added: "We have gone deep into our understanding of water and now have a division within our servicing department to specialise in supporting our commercial customers with water solutions,” said Thompson who offers complimentary water beside a cup of coffee to her clients and also composts the coffee waste for farming and gives away the waste generated for creation of bio-fuel.

Every individual can make a big difference

Lootah elaborated: “The contribution of every single individual counts. People have to believe in themselves and the fact that the smallest of action on their part can create a big impact. When people seriously understand that it is important to carry their own refill bottle and replenish it at any of the re-filling stations, they will stop reaching out for the plastic bottle. Everyone must carry his or her own refill bottle. Dubai Can is retailing its own branded refill bottles at Noon for as little as Dh36. This is our planet and we have to show love to it. UAE can be a shining case study on elimination of single-use plastic if people whole-heartedly adopt the Dubai Can initiative.”

Did you know?

* Every UAE resident uses 450 plastic water bottles on an average every year, leading to a yearly consumption of more than four billion plastic bottles.

* 8.3billion tons of plastic were produced in the UAE in 2019

* By 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans.

* A staggering 91 per cent of all plastic is not recycled at all.

* Plastic waste kills 1.1 million marine creatures annually.

* Plastic or Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) coated containers take a long time to biodegrade in landfills. A coffee cup takes 20-30 years, water bottles plastic straws and toothbrushes can take up to 450 years to degrade.

Source: Goumbook

Tips to reduce personal waste when out

• Carry your disposable, folding cotton bags made out of used or discarded clothes at home.

• Carry a refillable non-plastic water bottle always.

• Carry a cloth napkin for personal use, instead of paper tissues.

• Carry a small plastic-free kit for personal use on your person when on the go — this includes a bamboo straw, a stainless steel lunch-box, wooden or steel cutlery. Accept your food in this, when out for leisure at the beach or desert or park.

• Make sure you carry more than one kit with you.

Source: ZerowasteUAE.