Use the hot, slow summer months to take stock of your family’s impact on the environment and make some major changes, ones that will more than likely save you money, too.
LAST YEAR DUBAI MUNICIPALITY ESTIMATED THAT 39 PER CENT OF WHAT THE AVERAGE HOUSEHOLD IN THE UAE THROWS OUT IS FOOD
#01 Cut down on your food waste at the source: the grocery store
Buying less is the first way to start cutting down. Begin by being realistic about how much your family eats. You can always go back to the store, but the energy and resources used to produce those now-rotting vegetables is gone forever – not to mention the emissions they produce in the local landfills. Everyone living in the UAE needs to do much better in this area, as was indicated when the country landed last on a list of 34 countries in a ranking of food waste produced on the 2017 Food Sustainability Index. Last year Dubai Municipality estimated that 39 per cent of what the average household in the UAE throws out is food, which rises to 55 per cent during Ramadan. Perhaps organise a twice-weekly delivery, experimenting with the amounts of food that you need on the side of less, rather than more. And if you sense that you are not going to be able to eat something before it goes bad, consider freezing it, and then using it in a stir-fry, soup or smoothie later on.
#02 Eliminate your food waste altogether: process your scraps
Another route, with several options, is to invest in a system that will reduce those inevitable food scraps and produce something much more valuable: compost. There are several options available in the UAE. The most expensive, but efficient, is the SmartCara SET, a Dh2,800 countertop device that can process wasted scraps, including meat, bones and spoiled food, using heat to sterilise the resulting “soil amendment”. This dirt-like substance can be used to fertilise plants – or to feed local stray cats. A slightly cheaper system, the Compostio C40, sells for Dh1,800 and runs on electricity, producing its fertiliser by-product due to a combination of heat and oxygen in about seven to 10 days. The most popular system is also the oldest and requires no energy: Bokashi sells for Dh294 and requires a special bran to produce anaerobic fermentation. The resulting liquid can be used as a fertiliser and to condition drains and septic tanks. Food inside the Bokashi can be buried in soil within two months. All three are available for sale through My Green Chapter UAE.
#03 When you order takeout, make sure to say “no plastic cutlery”
If you didn’t like anchovies or found sundried tomatoes superfluous, you’d be sure to say so. You have a drawer full of perfectly good cutlery that’s much nicer to use anyway, so add this item to your order. And feel free to ask the companies you are ordering from when they are going to have biodegradable alternatives available – the more pressure to get rid of single-use plastics, which take lifetimes to degrade, and often end up in the ocean and are ingested by marine life, the better.
Ian Ohan, founder and chief executive of Dubai-based Freedom Pizza, this year banned the company’s use of plastic cutlery just as he did straws, and now offers biodegradable options for 50 fils. “I just did a calculation of how many straws and cutlery bags we put out in 2017 and it was 500,000, that was ridiculous,” he said. “So that was the a-ha moment.” While he expected customers might object, only one did. He was right – none of them needed it. “I had a customer who said ‘what if I’ve just moved’and I said ‘well call me and I’ll come over and bring you cutlery,’” said Ohan.
#04 Ditch the straw – and encourage eateries to ditch theirs too
Freedom Pizza and Jumeirah Restaurant Group have done it, with their #stopsucking and #TheFinalStrawUAE campaigns, respectively, so why not vow to yourself moving forward that when ordering in restaurants, coffee chains and fast food outlets you’ll say “and no straw please”.
Google “turtle plastic straw nose” and come across the sad tale of a day back in 2015, when a group of marine biologists in Guanacaste, Costa Rica encountered a sea turtle with a plastic straw completely embedded in his nostril, extending down into his throat. If you watch the video on YouTube, as more than 27 million other people have, you won’t have any trouble remembering. If you must drink with a straw, visit the newly launched marine conservation group Azraqme.org and order one of their elegant metal versions. Or help them try to build on the number of outlets that have currently stopped handing out straws – including Noodle House, Gates Hospitality, Pierchic and Lime Tree Kitchen. Visit the website to download a form letter that you can present to the owner or manager of any restaurant outlet you visit, asking them to stop using the single-use plastic items.
#05 Ditch the single-use plastic bags and bottles – for good
It’s time. Those bags are no good stuffed in your car trunk, in your closet, in your kitchen cabinets. What’s the point of having funny sayings on the outside of them or a special way that they fold up real small in your purse, if you forget to use them and that pile of plastic from Spinneys and Waitrose keeps growing? Waitrose, which teamed up with the Emirates Wildlife Society – WWF, will be charging 0.25 fils for each plastic bag used in a pilot project until September. Last year Choithrams pledged to do away with plastic bags and move to paper to support UAE efforts to ban the 13 billion plastic bags used every year in the country. As for single-use plastic water bottles, the UAE has one of the highest bottled water consumptions in the world, with residents using an average of 450 plastic bottles per year. If you are really committed, explore the cost of having a filtration system installed in your home. One such system, Liquid of Life, is based in Dubai, connects to the existing water supply and provides cold filtered water out of your tap for both drinking and cooking.
#06 Find a reusable coffee cup – and use it
Get a chic one with a catchy saying or use a glass jar. Have your coffee in the shop or at home. But whatever you do, vow to call time on being part of the problem.
Think of the trees used to make them. Think of all the energy used in the manufacturing and distribution. Think of how few – less than one per cent – are recycled. And if the piles of cast-aside coffee cups and lids that end up littering the landscape, in the ocean or piling up in landfills aren’t enough of a deterrent, how about considering the toxic impact those cups are having on you every time you drink from them? Drinking heated liquids out of glass or metal is safe because they are inert. Single-use coffee cups, on the other hand, are often lined with polyetheylene, a common plastic that can interact with hot beverages, meaning you ingest it. The United Kingdom, which uses seven million coffee cups per day, most which do not end up being recycled, is one of the places addressing this issue by placing an additional charge on cups.
Visit www.dropit.ae or follow them @DropitUAE on Instagram. The initiative by Goumbouk is devoted to raising awareness on plastic pollution and flags initiatives and events devoted to the cause.