x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Family cleans up at recycling awards

The Badshahs spend most Fridays scouring Sharjah for recyclable waste, with no reward except the pleasure it brings them.

DUBAI // Like many families, the Badshahs look forward to Fridays.

But theirs are usually spent in parts of Sharjah most residents avoid visiting unless they have to: the industrial area, the grounds near labour accommodations, empty parking lots, littered residential compounds. Their focus is the waste plastic, glass, paper and aluminium cans, which they sort and take home to store on the balcony of their high-rise flat.

On Saturdays, they drive from their Sharjah home to the offices of the Emirates Environmental Group (EEG) in Dubai, where the refuse is weighed and sent for recycling.

With this routine, it is perhaps little wonder the family won six out of the eight categories at yesterday's awards ceremony for the country's top recyclers.

Mohammed Badshah, 23, who is celebrating his birthday today, collected the most glass and cans of the family: 3,474kg in all.

"We all care about the environment," he said, saying it had taken little effort to persuade the rest of the family to adopt the cause after reading an article about the EEG's campaigns. "At times, people think we are weird. They don't understand why we would be doing this for free, they say we are wasting our time. People don't know the meaning of voluntary work."

Every year, EEG organises campaigns to collect paper, plastic, glass, aluminium cans, beverage cartons, electrical batteries, mobile phones and printer toner. The organisation recognises the top-performing schools, private and public entities, and individuals in each of the eight categories.

At yesterday's awards ceremony, which coincided with World Environment Day, Mohammed's father and sister also took to the stage.

Akbar Badshah, a 52-year-old construction company employee, won the plastic category for collecting 2,167kg of recyclable debris. A British citizen of Indian origin, he also collected the largest amount - 16kg - of beverage cartons known as Tetra Pak. The cartons are made of paper, plastic and a small amount of aluminium and would take up decades to disintegrate in a landfill.

Meanwhile Haseena, 25, collected 7,640kg of paper and cardboard, and 315kg of old printer cartridges.

Ms Badshah, a researcher in Sharjah Free Zone, agreed with her brother that many people misinterpreted their efforts.

"Many people just think about earning money and their families," she said.

Some people react with amazement, she said, while others hand over their recyclables.

Ms Badshah said that despite some inconveniences, such as having to live with a balcony full of waste for days, the family enjoys their self-appointed mission.

"It depends on how you take it. If you think it is boring, it is going to be boring," she said. "We take it as fun.

"Most people do nothing on Fridays. We feel very excited. There is something useful we have done this day.

"On Saturdays, we go to Dubai and weigh the waste, and there is always a sense of curiosity to know how much we have collected."

She has a two-and-a-half-year-old son, whom she often takes along on collecting expeditions. She joked that their efforts also constitute a good workout.

"I lost five kilograms last year," she said.

Habiba al Marashi, the chairwoman of EEG, said that if more people were like the Badshah family, the UAE would quickly lose its status as one of the world's most wasteful nations.

"I have known them for three years, and every year they get better and better," she said. "They are a very committed family, they come diligently every week.

"They are down-to-earth, very nice, a smiling family."

Recycling reduces the demands for virgin resources and helps save energy and landfill space.

Mrs al Marashi thanked schools, private companies and government departments who took part in the campaigns, collecting a total of 20.2 tonnes of aluminium cans between September 2010 and May 2011. The campaign diverted from landfill 1,460 tonnes of paper and cardboard, which is the equivalent of almost 25,000 trees, and collected 111 tonnes of plastics and 278 tonnes of glass.

vtodorova@thenational.ae