Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 27 May 2020

#TheWorldIsNotAnAshtray: How one man in Bahrain collected 7,600 cigarette butts over 10 days

The German resident is already planning his next collection challenge

Bahrain resident Kai Miethig using 600-millilitre plastic bottles to collect more than 7,600 cigarette butts. Courtesy Kai Miethig
Bahrain resident Kai Miethig using 600-millilitre plastic bottles to collect more than 7,600 cigarette butts. Courtesy Kai Miethig

A few weeks ago, while Kai Miethig was out cycling along Bahrain’s King Faisal Highway, he noticed a pile of discarded cigarettes strewn across a sandbank next to the corniche. “Every Saturday, I usually run from Bahrain Financial Harbour to Reef Island and back that same way, but this time I found too many cigarette butts,” the German architect tells The National.

Instead of simply ignoring the pollution, he decided to do something about it. So he went back the next day, armed with a few 600-millilitre plastic bottles he’d been meaning to recycle, and ended up stuffing some 800 stubs in them in the space of one hour.

The results of day one in the Bahrain Butt Collection Challenge by Kai Miethig. Courtesy Kai Miethig
The results of day one in the Bahrain Butt Collection Challenge by Kai Miethig. Courtesy Kai Miethig

The island resident then went out for 10 days over the space of two weeks and collected a total of 7,687 cigarette butts, stopping only once the area was completely clear of them.

Physical activity meets environmental activism

Bahrain, like the rest of the world, has enforced a number of social-distancing regulations amid the coronavirus crisis, including closing down restaurants and having people work from home.

Residents wearing face masks are still allowed outside to exercise, however, and so Miethig felt this was the perfect opportunity to combine some physical activity with environmental activism.

He called it the Bahrain Butt Collection Challenge.

“You can do a duck-walk from one metre to the next, then squat down and collect cigarette butts in that area. You just have to wear gloves,” he says. “Everybody during the coronavirus time is doing a workout challenge and blah, blah, blah challenge, but no one is doing something for the environment,” he says.

Yet, while Miethig tried to get other people to join in, he said people were apprehensive. “A lot of people are doing fitness activities and running, but when it comes to cleaning other people’s [rubbish] they’re not fussed,” the 'wastrepreneur' adds.

Kai Miethig loaded the bottles onto his bicycle and turned the environmental challenge into exercise. Courtesy Kai Miethig
Kai Miethig loaded the bottles onto his bicycle and turned the environmental challenge into exercise. Courtesy Kai Miethig

Miethig is no stranger to heading up eco initiatives, after all. He’s the founder of W-AI-STE, which implements artificial intelligence in the process of waste management, as well as a keen member of CleanUp Bahrain and, most recently, he worked with the region’s Spartan Race organisers to collect litter at the last obstacle course they held in his adopted home country. This included 10 boxes of banana peels and 46 bags of bottles and caps.

‘Bahrain is like the living room’

Miethig has been living in Bahrain since 2007, when he moved over from the UAE, where he’d helped to build the first zero-steel-waste precast factory in Dubai, as well as the Formula One track in Abu Dhabi.

“Bahrain was calm and cosy,” he says, while reminiscing on the days when Sheikh Zayed Road was only three lanes and “very congested”.

This photo gallery shows what life is like in Bahrain amid the coronavirus pandemic:

“I always say Dubai is like the showroom, while Bahrain is like the living room.”

And he’s determined to keep his living room clean; he’s already planning the next cigarette butt collection challenge in another particularly polluted area of the island, and he’s decided to create a stand-up paddle board out of the stubs he’s picked up. This idea was inspired by a similar project in Australia, and the paddle board will eventually be available to rent from Beach Culture at Bahrain Bay, the proceeds of which will go to a charity that’s yet to be determined.

“First we need a sponsor to pay the cost to build the board, so it will probably launch after summer,” he adds.

#BahrainIsNotAnAshtray

Roughly 2.5 million cigarette butts are littered in Bahrain every day, Miethig has figured out using world estimates. About 30 to 40 per cent are thrown in the bins, meaning more are discarded on the ground than anywhere else. This is in a country where the population is only around 1.2 million.

Overall, cigarette butts account for about 30 per cent of the world’s litter, and this has serious consequences for nature, he says, as they’re non-biodegradable, contain toxins that can seep into soil and can be eaten by wildlife.

“I created a hashtag #BahrainIsNotAnAshtray and this can be used for every region or every country.”

A war on plastic

Miethig is also concerned with the amount of plastic waste he comes across. As a freelance consultant, he is currently working on a training programme for Carrefour staff on how to convince customers to use fewer plastic bags, and his next mission is to produce a documentary for the region, based on the 2016 film A Plastic Ocean by Craig Leeson.

Since we are in the Middle East, which mainly has desert as land, I want to produce a documentary called A Plastic Desert

Kai Miethig

“We started screening it here as an environmental awareness programme. But the problem is not only with the ocean, but the land, too, obviously.

“Since we are in the Middle East, which mainly has desert as land, I want to produce a documentary called A Plastic Desert.”

This project would see him ride a camel from Dubai to Bahrain in the days between the country’s two National Days (December 2 and December 16, respectively). He would do so via Saudi Arabia.

“The weather is perfect and I can sleep in the ‘five billion star hotel’,” he says. “I did calculations and it is 890 kilometres, and a camel can do 60km to 70km a day. We’ll do three hours of camel riding, followed by a three-hour break, then a three-hour ride, and so on.

"Along the way, we would meet people, discuss the environment and collect plastic. It would be an awareness-raising camel trip.”

Updated: April 27, 2020 03:45 PM

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