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Changing the world, one bag at a time

15-year-old Dubai resident makes paper bags to avoid wastage

Image Credit: A.K Kallouche/Gulf News
Abdul Muqeet Mannan, aka Paper Bag Boy, with his hand made Guf News Paper Bags.
Gulf News


Every year, on March 22, we mark World Water Day, which is about taking action to tackle the global water crisis. In the same week, millions of people around the globe switch off their lights for one hour to celebrate Earth Hour and leave their positive mark on climate change. But, one Dubai-based student has made it his life’s mission to save the planet.

Abdul Muqeet, a 15-year-old environmentalist, has been concerned about the environment from the young age of eight and fights the battle every day. One day, in 2010, as his teachers spoke of World Environment Day, which occurs on June 5 every year, he was left curious about the use of plastic, which was that year’s focus as stated by the United Nations (UN). He went back home and asked his mother why plastic was bad for the planet and when she explained, his mission began.

He told Gulf News: “I wondered if plastic was so harmful to our environment, then why did we use it so often. Couldn’t we replace it with something else? That is when I decided to convince my family to use paper bags, made out of old newspapers.”

Every day, his family would read the newspaper and then throw it out because “it was of no use anymore”. Some people he knew would send it for recycling, while others would dump it in the trash.

According to a report published by online group The Paperless Project, the world produces more than 300 million tons of paper each year. An estimated 18 million acres of forest are lost each year, which is equal to the size of 20 football fields lost every minute. And as far as the issue of discarding paper is concerned, such paper is a major component of many landfill sites, accounting for about 35 per cent of solid waste.

On the other hand, recycling just one ton of paper can save up to 17 trees and this is why Muqeet has continued to work towards saving as many trees as he could by recycling and reusing paper in all these years. He approached his friends, neighbours and father’s colleagues and started collecting the newspapers that they didn’t need anymore. On the weekend, he would dedicate his time to making paper bags and spreading awareness.

And thus began his association with Gulf News. The first article on his work was published as a community report and the rest is history.

He said: “I attended a workshop to learn how to make those bags. And today, I teach people how to do it.”

In the past seven years, he has been to over 200 workshops, locally and internationally, to spread awareness and “thousands of people were made aware of the harms of using plastic”.

He said: “To make one bag, you just need one sheet of newspaper. By using one set of newspaper, I could make up to 25 bags of different sizes and then distribute them to supermarkets in my community and encourage them to use those instead of handing out plastic bags to their customers.”

As an eight-year-old, when he was first invited to speak at a session, he says he was very nervous. “But, I had a lot of support from my family and so was able to make it through easily,” he added.

As part of these sessions, he met with students, taught them to make the bags and even use newspaper to wrap gifts or toys. “Many people use a plastic wrapper on gifts, which is not good,” he said.

Wrapping paper, made of plastic, is designed for single use only. Some people might try to re-use it, but this can also only be done once or twice before the paper has to be discarded. A report published in the UK-based The Telegraph states that every Christmas, more than 365,000 kilometres of wrapping paper rolls are used and thrown in the UK alone, which is enough to stretch around the world nine times.

One of the problems with traditional wrapping paper is that its dying and lamination make recycling difficult, as stated by the UK-based Wrag Wrap, a company selling reusable fabric wrapping products. So, instead of using this glossy paper, Muqeet has replaced it with newspapers and has learnt different techniques to wrap gifts that make them “look interesting”.

He said: “I use methods from origami to make the packages appealing. I usually make paper birds. Newspapers can also be used to make envelopes.”

As he grew older, his passion towards the cause grew. Over the years, he did a lot of research on how his efforts would make a difference.

He said: “From my research, I learnt that if I recycled one ton of paper, the energy saved would be equal to powering a television for three hours. Saving so much paper only takes about three weeks and helps reduce pollution.”

His biggest success, he believes, is that so many people have realised the ill effects of plastic. Many people he has spoken with have agreed to only used recycled bags and abandon plastic.

“Many childen I come across have started recycling and many children, internationally, have vouched to make and use paper bags, similar to mine. In Canada, a book is being published titled ‘The Power of Youth’ and my efforts and campaign will be highlighted in it,” he said.

In today’s electronic age, people are starting to consider going paperless. But there’s still a long way to go. Nevertheless, Muqeet will continue to raise awareness and “change the world!”