x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Clean sweep

Annual litter clean-up campaign attracts massive following as volunteers tackled 44 sites across the UAE.

Volunteers from
Volunteers from "Rice and Spice", part of the Taste Department of the Jumeirah Group, carry rubbish they've collected in the desert

More than 23,000 volunteers, mainly schoolchildren, removed 125 tonnes of rubbish yesterday in one of the biggest clean-ups the UAE has seen. The annual campaign, organised by the Emirates Environmental Group (EEG), cleaned up 44 sites across the seven emirates, including wadis, beaches, mountains, protected areas, oases, parks and even commercial and residential sites.

The rubbish was collected in biodegradable plastic bags and the gloves worn by the volunteers will be washed and used again to remind participants of the need to save resources by recycling. Apart from the practical benefits of removing the rubbish, which in the case of plastic bags can mean saving wildlife from choking on them, the campaign aimed to educate people not to litter. "When you throw away garbage like this you are destroying a natural habitat, which is very fragile," said Habiba al Marashi, the EEG's chairman.

"When students come to these kind of places, we hope they will build an affinity to the area. They are the future generation and we want to remind them of what the outdoors has to offer and the need to keep it clean. It is also a way of keeping healthy." Cassandra Brown, 17, from New Zealand, Renae Hursthouse, a 16-year-old Australian, and Hala al Eaisi, an 18-year-old Emirati-American, volunteered after the problem was discussed in their environmental science class at the American Academy for Girls.

"We've been talking about pollution and how plastic does not decompose," said Cassandra. "It wasn't that dirty but we still got four bags. It was mostly plastic bags, buried under the sand, so we had to do some digging." The girls worked at a seven square-kilometre area in Al Khawaneej in Dubai. Twenty tonnes of waste was removed by 2,500 volunteers at the site, which is popular for picnics. Another volunteer at the site was Najiba al Maffaq, 36, an Emirati housewife who was digging out plastic bags with her son, Sultan, aged six. Her daughters, both in their early teens, were picking up rubbish with a group of girls nearby.

"I am here for three reasons: this is my country and I want to keep it clean. I want to give an example to my son and also support my daughters who are also here with their school. I even brought our housemaid to clean," Mrs al Maffaq said. Veronica Wong, a sales co-ordinator from the Philippines, was one of 150 employees of Crowne Plaza Dubai who rolled their sleeves up. Ms Wong and a colleague, Jenny Cuizon, a receptionist also from the Philippines, gathered two bags of garbage, mostly plastic bags, cans and bottles.

"This is our third time. Even our general manager is here," Ms Wong said. Ms Cuizon said: "The garbage is not that much if you compare it to the Jumeirah Beach Park where a lot of people go. Here we passed by many areas which were already cleaned." But that was not the experience of volunteers from Dubai's Central Veterinary Research Laboratory, who on Wednesday filled two skips with rubbish from an area of only 50 square metres in Zabeel.

"We cleaned the area just behind the lab," said Dr Ulrich Wernery, the laboratory's scientific director. "It is a beautiful area with many beautiful trees and a lot of birds, but there was so much rubbish. I think people go there at night to dump it." Household waste, plastics, construction waste and even a discarded bathtub were among the items removed, Dr Wernery said. The campaign was first organised by the EEG in 2002, when 4,500 volunteers heeded the call.

vtodorova@thenational.ae