Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 June 2019

Call to get tough on UAE litterbugs

A senior environmentalist has shed light on the devastating consequences of rubbish left behind by careless individuals and is calling for greater education, awareness and a system of fines to crack down on their activities, Jennifer Bell reports
A scenic area in the UAE desert is devastated by the rubbish left behind by careless picnickers. Courtesy Dr Ulrich Wernery
A scenic area in the UAE desert is devastated by the rubbish left behind by careless picnickers. Courtesy Dr Ulrich Wernery

ABU DHABI // Irresponsible picnickers have been told to clean up after themselves when visiting parks and beaches as it is not the job of others to pick up the litter they leave behind.

Dr Mansi Desai, senior environmental officer at Emirates Environmental Group (EEG), said residents dumped rubbish without caring that they were creating an eyesore or harming the environment. She urged people to treat the outdoors with more respect.

“To these people I would like to ask, ‘would they litter in their own houses? If not, then why do it in your locality and country?’,” she said. “The locality does not belong to one person or one entity but to every individual residing within it.”

The problem becomes worse at weekends and in the winter months during the height of picnic season.

“People do not take much notice or pay attention to the environmental damage due to their actions because they are unable to see the extent of the damage as it does not affect their individual lifestyle.”

Dr Desai believed there was an attitude of neglect and a lack of a sense of responsibility towards the environment.

“They think that it falls under the role and responsibility of the local municipalities and recycling organisations to clean up after them.”

She struggled to comprehend the amount of rubbish volunteers came across during the regular Clean Up UAE campaigns organised by EEG.

“We really get to see a variety of rubbish, from plastic bags and bottles to styrofoam cups, glass, cigarette butts, old rugs and throws at camping sites, food containers, old clothes, worn-out shoes, different types and sizes of tyres – to name a few,” she said. “We also come across odd pieces such as bathtubs, chairs, cookers, bed frames and fishing nets.”

As well as spoiling scenic areas, littering can have a devastating impact on the environment.

“Whether the litter is done intentionally or unintentionally, large or small, it can drastically affect the environment for years to come,” Dr Desai said. “But it’s not just us humans that are affected. When you harm the environment you harm every living organism within it.”

One of the biggest issues is discarded cigarette butts. Although small, they can be very dangerous, Dr Desai said.

“The butts contain harmful chemicals, including arsenic, which can contaminate water and soil.

“I have seen the number of desert plants and animals drastically go down over the years and this is not just from the rapid development but also the constant interference of humans with the environment.”

Dr Desai said more needed to be done to change attitudes towards littering.

“I would love to see new types of jobs created, such as desert ranchers, individuals with sound knowledge about the habitat and the desert environment who are empowered to monitor areas and issue on-site violation penalty tickets to people spreading litter,” she said.

“They could come from a specialised arm of the police department. This will not only help monitor the remote desert and wadi areas but also provide new, exciting job opportunities for young individuals.”

She said education, awareness and action were key to cracking down on the issues of littering.

“People need to understand that small, individual actions are worthwhile and can lead to big contributions to reduce our carbon footprint and climate change,” she said.


Updated: January 23, 2016 04:00 AM