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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 16 November 2018

'Paper Bag Boy' of Abu Dhabi in line for major international accolade

Abdul Muqeet, 17, has been campaigning against plastic-bag use since 2010

 Abdul Muqeet with his parents, Abdul Sr and Andaleeb. Victor Besa / The National
 Abdul Muqeet with his parents, Abdul Sr and Andaleeb. Victor Besa / The National

Abu Dhabi’s own teenage environmentalist is eagerly awaiting to find out if he has been named as the winner of the International Children’s Peace Prize.

Abdul Muqeet, 17, earned international fame for his ongoing campaign against plastic-bag use. He is so synonymous with his cause that he is affectionately known as “Paper Bag Boy”.

Abdul has been shortlisted along with 108 others from around the world. If he wins the £100,000 (Dh481,782) first prize, it will be the latest in a long line of accolades for him.

These include the Abu Dhabi Award, the Princess Diana Award and the Kids Are Heroes Humanitarian Award. Despite his young age, Abdul has spoken at events all over the word including in the US, Indonesia and India. His campaigns are even being studied at schools in Australia, New Zealand and Finland as part of their curriculum.

“If I win the first prize, I will use the money to help create water systems for the poor regions of India and South Africa,” said the Abu Dhabi Indian School pupil.

The winner of the International Children’s Peace Prize is due to be announced in Cape Town, South Africa on November 20, to coincide with the International Day of Children’s Rights.

“I have been campaigning against the use of plastic bags since 2010,” he said.

“I go to schools and offices and I spread awareness about the harm that plastic bags are doing to the environment. My message is to spread the word that paper and cloth bags, which can be reused, are much better for the environment than plastic bags.”

Abdul Muqeet with his certificate showing his nomination for an international prize for his work trying to encourage people to use fewer plastic bags. Victor Besa / The National 
Abdul Muqeet with his certificate showing his nomination for an international prize for his work trying to encourage people to use fewer plastic bags. Victor Besa / The National

He said the public needs to know that plastic bag use has to be “stopped immediately” because of the threat that it poses to the environment.

But he said there has been an improvement in the level of public awareness since he began the campaign eight years ago.

“People definitely have an increased awareness and are starting to recycle more,” he said.

“I can see when I visit schools that people are starting to get the message and using recyclable bags more often than ever.

“I feel that people are finally accepting that plastic-bag use has to stop and they need to start using sustainable alternatives.”

He said that, despite an increase in public awareness, there is still a need to remind people of the dangers that the use of plastic bags presents to the public.

“The most common question I get asked is what are the alternatives that can be used instead of plastic bags,” said Abdul, who was born in India and lives in the UAE with his parents and brother and sister.

The inspiration for his crusade against plastic bag use came in 2010, when the UAE Government decided to focus on that issue for that year’s National Environment Day.

“I spoke to my mum and she gave me some information like that plastic bag use was causing animals to die,” he said.

“I did some of my own research and was horrified to see that it was true and how much pollution it caused as well. Why should animals have to die because we want to use plastic bags just for convenience?

“I then decided that I had to do something.”

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It comes as little surprise to learn that he plans to make environmentalism his life’s work.

“I am going to study nuclear physics at university. Petrol is going to run out in the next 30 to 40 years, so we need to look at alternatives,” he said.

“That said, my mission will never stop until people stop using plastic bags. Even when I’m studying at university, I will be campaigning.”

It is not just schoolchildren and students to whom Abdul campaigns.

“The teenagers are the future of the planet, so they are the people who it is most important to educate about plastic-bag use,” he said.

“But I have spoken at events where people as old as 30 or 40 are in attendance, and it is vital that I get the message across to them, too.”