The casual flick of a cigarette butt on the sand, a candy wrapper tossed on the street, or an aluminium can thrown from a car window. We've all seen the casual litterbug dirtying our environment, more from laziness than any ill intent. Now magnify that by 900 tonnes to understand the scope of the problem that Al Ain is tackling.
The average daily waste produced by households in the municipality poses both an environmental and economic challenge. And Al Ain is one of the success stories. As The National reports today, Abu Dhabi emirate is building a plastics processing plant there that could save as much as 50 tonnes of reusable material per day.
The plastics can be sold, but recycling is hardly a cash cow. Generally governments have to pay private companies to run recycling programmes. It does cut out some absurdity, however: waste from the UAE is shipped to India and China, sorted and processed, and then shipped back to be sold as useful items.
The more pressing situation is where to put the rubbish that is not recycled. Illegal dumping, particularly of construction waste, is a blight in rural areas, while even well-run landfills are filling up at an alarming rate. It is a problem felt in every country; the difference is that in Dubai, about 6 to 10 per cent of waste is recycled, compared to 70 per cent in some European countries.
Even aside from this new processing plant, Al Ain was already a step ahead of some of its neighbours - including the capital. There is an organic waste compost operation at the same site, and a consumer recycling programme is up and running in four districts, compared to two in Abu Dhabi. Sharjah too has made strides on sorting and recovering waste material. Most of the emirates have plans on the books for recycling and waste disposal solutions like incinerators, but often there has not been enough follow-through.
Many would put the onus on the consumer who doesn't sort the rubbish at home. There is no question that a culture of recycling, and respect for the environment in general, is sometimes lacking. But the first step has to be to build the facilities that make recycling worthwhile.
"We have all these chicken-and-egg problems," said Jeremy Byatt, a director at Bee'ah, a public-private waste management partnership in Sharjah. "You cannot ask people to recycle unless you have a place to process it."