Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 12 December 2019

UAE Portrait of a Nation: The eco-friendly mum waging war on waste

Dubai resident Doua Benhida is aiming to educate the Emirates on the benefits of a zero-waste lifestyle

Just months after having a baby, Doua Benhida decided to embrace mother nature.

Surrounded by nappies, shopping bags, feeding bottles and takeaway containers, she had an eco epiphany that plastic was taking over her life.

The day of her revelation was January 1, 2018, and it has proved to be a New Year's resolution that has stood the test of time.

The 28-year-old Moroccan-French national has now been living a zero-waste lifestyle for over a year - and is determined to spread the vital message far and wide.

A recent UN report found that jut nine per cent of the world's nine billion tonnes of plastic are recycled, with most of it ending up in landfills and oceans.

As plastics do not biograde - instead slowly breaking down into microplastics - they leave a lasting legacy of damage to the environment.

Ms Benhida has decided to educate members of the community on the significance of cutting out single-use plastic.

Through free-for-all sessions, she has been working to increase awareness of eliminating plastic and adopting a green life.

"On January 1, 2018, I decided I didn’t want to use plastic anymore," she said.

"I started taking reusable bags for shopping, but it was difficult for me to remember to take my bulk bags for shopping.

“I was using reusable bags but plastic was still creeping into my house. I love cheese and it was wrapped in plastic.The meat for my husband and son still came wrapped in plastic. All my spices came in plastic packaging.

"I started buying bulk bags and I started shopping in bulk. Even in the holidays I challenged myself to be zero waste."

She soon realised the daunting task ahead of her, with plastic used so widely, but it only made her more determined.

“It becomes a mindset. As I read and researched, I realised that the plastic isn’t just in the kitchen, it’s in your bathroom, your shampoo, beauty products, sanitary napkins and, household items.

“Working as a consultant, I am always on a deadline and I started using reusable bottles and a reusable mug for coffee."

Ms Benhida's life was once very different, when she carried plastic bags and packed food for people in single-use containers as a matter of course.

“I wasn’t aware of the problem until I saw my family, who were visiting, do a lot of shopping, and the plastic accumulated everywhere."

Ms Benhida moved to Dubai only a couple of years ago and quickly found there needs to be a concerted effort to reduce plastic use.

“I was nine months pregnant when I moved here. I was using plastic and in the UAE, there aren’t alternatives.

“Here, they wrap everything in plastic. I don’t understand why stores pack fruits in plastic.

"Even when I had my own straws, people still get me plastic straws.

"The plastic dependency here affects me.

"If the dependency wasn’t so much, we would see more people using reusable bags.

"There should be a huge push from the government. Dubai is known for its culture of making things happen.

"We need that support from the government."

Her own attempt to help the planet started by comparing prices of buying in bulk versus purchasing packaged goods.

“I realised it’s a small difference and I am happy to pay it.

“In Ramadan, I crossed a milestone when I wanted to give people food and bought reusable containers."

A mother who was getting back to work, she focused on taking her own baby steps towards change.

For diapers, she has switched to compostable diapers and reusable nappies.

Last year, she started to host sessions on the benefits of zero-waste to help people in Dubai to get involved.

"In September, I started having zero-waste sessions for members of the community and have done five or six so far.

"I talk about my journey to show people that as a working mother I can manage to have a zero-waste life. My key message is that it’s not that difficult or expensive. There is a cost involved, but it’s a one-time cost.

“There is no zero-waste guide as every person has their own priority."

Ms Benhida has tips for people wanting to live a more eco-friendly life.

Watch documentaries and know about the problem, use reusable bags, water bottles and coffee mugs and be proactive, she said.

"I started my sessions for the general public and around Christmas, I talked about how people can have a zero-waste Christmas."

Supporting local entrepreneurs is very important for the campaigner, who has started an online community to raise the profile of these businesses.

The online community is a place for UAE-based entrepreneurs to sell their creations.

"Everything is zero waste from production to delivery. There will be shampoo bars, soaps, cloth bags, toothbrushes, bamboo speakers etc.

She is calling for visible campaigns to introduced people to the problems posed by plastic pollution.

"Instead of seeing an advertisement on Sheikh Zayed Road, if we could see environmental messages then it will have an impact.

"The country is going in a good direction. Individuals and corporations are taking more and more part of this by being conscious and organising beach cleanups. But the support from the government is necessary.

"A nationwide plastic ban wise should be implemented and ensure markets provide alternatives for all single-use plastics."

She believes local schools need to do more to raise awareness of the issue.

"I read a quote that said that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.

"How can I look my grandchildren in the eye and say I knew about this but did nothing?

"Nothing is impossible. It might be difficult to be zero-waste, but you can do something. What may seem like a drop in the ocean to you, if eight billion people do it, it becomes the ocean and it will save our oceans."

Updated: February 7, 2019 03:42 PM

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