x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Conspicuous consumption leads to conspicuous waste

We're among the world leaders in generating waste; shouldn't we be among the leaders in recycling?

In a country that has an abundance of everything, you would think that we could protect it from becoming a wasteland of trash. Just count the amount of things that we amass, food that we throw away and unnecessary stuff we buy just to prove that we can.

A recent article detailed how Dubai is running out of space to dump all the rubbish that it creates; in fact, one of the dump sites will be closed down because it has reached capacity. I just shook my head at the story: not only are we contributing to an avalanche of waste, but in many cases it is just dumped in the desert or incinerated, which creates more pollution.

Amid all the commercial and residential development of recent years, our efforts should be focused not only on where people live, work and play, but also on how to live cleaner and less wasteful lives.

With an average of 550 kilograms of rubbish per person per year, the emirate of Abu Dhabi is among the world's largest per capita waste producers. The Government's solution - recycling - is just getting underway.

The ethic of the three R's - reduce, reuse and recycle - is actually just a theory here, with many businesses jotting down made-up numbers to satisfy the auditors. The fundamentals don't mean much. Some people will mock recycling efforts because at the end of the day, after rubbish has been sorted at home into different recyclable categories, it's all dumped into the back of the same rubbish truck.

We are in the habit of giving up too easily. Most people who live in a large city look for convenience rather than take the trouble to do the right thing and be a good citizen. And even people who continue to recycle or reuse find their efforts are futile when carefully separated waste goes into one big landfill.

In such a fast-moving country, government, business and members of the public all define the national character. This is a collaborative process. No single element of society can solve all of these problems.

Once people are educated about the importance of recycling, and separate bins are provided, rubbish collectors need to demonstrably keep the different categories of waste separate, and waste-collection companies need to show that the processing is done in an environmentally friendly manner.

Al Ain provides a good example, with processing plants treating medical, animal and construction waste officially opened by Abu Dhabi's Centre of Waste Management last year.

There is much more that businesses and the public could do. To start with, markets should stop handing out plastic bags. I can't count the number of times I bought a pack of gum, and was given a useless bag.

In terms of personal responsibility, there is a lot we can do to conserve. Instead of throwing food out, we can give our leftovers to charities or mosques. Consumers should consider what they buy in terms of the byproducts that will be left behind.

Artistic and creative people can make use of the things they already have at home so that they don't throw it away to make room for something new. Sometimes, old is gold. The stuff you think isn't "in" anymore could actually be vintage.

Government programmes have a role to protect the environment and encourage recycling. But all of us have a responsibility to lend a helping hand.


Aida Al Busaidy is a social affairs columnist and former co-host of a Dubai television show

On Twitter: @AidaAlB