The other day, my mother was approached by a skinny Asian man in a ragged uniform just outside our home.
He asked if she had any plastic waste she could spare. He explained to her he sold such waste to a recycling company in Musaffah, to supplement his low wages.
Kind-hearted woman that she is, my mother asked him to come back in a week.
At the beginning, separating plastic and paper waste into separate bins did not come naturally but within days the entire household was involved in mum's recycling project. Considering we are a small family, I was shocked at the amount of recyclable waste we produced.
The man eventually made a modest amount of money from our recyclable waste, and we did our small part to preserve the environment. Just as importantly, we did not stop recycling. It has become a habit.
This led me to think about the broader implications of this new lifestyle.
While Abu Dhabi aims to be a world leader in many areas, such as renewable energy, I was disturbed to read it is the world's number one waste-producing city relative to its population and size.
Last week, the Centre of Waste Management in Abu Dhabi reported the city produces 13,000 tonnes of waste daily and almost 5 million tonnes per year.
The average person in Abu Dhabi accumulates 1.8kg of waste per day.
A friend of mine who works at a ministry in Abu Dhabi said it spent about Dh70 million (US$19m) on paper material each year, and none of it is recycled because of the need to keep sensitive information confidential.
Abu Dhabi has a population of just 1.9 million people but requires more than 200 acres to serve as a landfill. The Government spends Dh1.5 billion annually to process and destroy waste.
As the emirate continues to grow, more space will be required to accommodate waste, which will affect the quality of air and groundwater reserves, not to mention consume a lot of land that could be used for more useful projects.
Abu Dhabi's Environmental Agency has done much to raise awareness, but we really need more private-sector initiatives to pair with government campaigns to provide incentives and business opportunities.
Some argue that while recycling is good for the environment, it is a bad business.
It is true carting waste away requires significant amounts of time and money but businesses around the world have shown it can be profitable.
It can also generate revenue for companies not directly involved in the recycling process — all they have to do is provide separate bins for items such as general waste, paper, and plastic.
In Abu Dhabi, Zone Waste Paper will pay Dh400 per tonne for paper waste, which it turns it into tissue paper. Moreover, it will pick the waste up.
I strongly believe this where the Government should step in and take a firm lead.
As an incentive, organisations that participate the most in preserving the environment should be awarded and acknowledged in various media forms. Those that do not should be penalised in some way.
Organisations can also take part by establishing a quota system that obligates employees to print on both sides of paper and not exceed a certain printing limit per month.
Those who go beyond the limit should be required to pay to purchase more credit; a similar action was taken by the American University of Sharjah.
As for government authorities with confidential information, the Government could establish a separate recycling factory that specialises in collecting paper and plastic waste from these authorities, recycling it, and returning it back to them to cut costs
In addition, home owners should be encouraged to take part and be acknowledged for their participation. While there are recycling containers around the capital, there should be more. They should be prevalent in every neighbourhood, leaving no excuse for residents to not take part.
With the help of national funds such as the Khalifa Fund, young Emiratis can qualify for start-up capital for business ideas that would earn them money and help their environment.
The fund launched in 2007 with a budget of Dh2 billion aimed at encouraging young Emiratis to be entrepreneurs.
But instead of helping them establish restaurants and cafes, why not provide extra incentives for those businesses that help alleviate the large amount of waste we produce in the city?
Abu Dhabi has invested billions of dollars in huge projects such as Masdar City but for us to truly become a green city, we need to make great changes at a more micro level - in small businesses and neighbourhoods, for sure, but especially in our personal habits.
There was a time when wearing a seat belt or refraining from talking on the phone while driving seemed absurd. These are now basic habits, and to do otherwise feels unnatural.
This will eventually be the case with recycling, but only when we truly realise that while Abu Dhabi is rich, our earth is not an infinite resource.
Manar Al Hinai, an Emirati, was named an Arab Woman of the Year. She was a founding member of a new environmental consulting organisation in Abu Dhabi.