Experts across the UAE have highlighted the critical role that the UAE is playing in protecting the environment, especially its oceans, through various initiatives that focus on recycling plastics and diverting non-biodegradable materials.
“Every day around eight million pieces of plastic make their way into our oceans,” said Natalie Banks, founder of Azraq, a volunteer-run not-for-profit marine conservation organisation. “In terms of how much waste is recyclable, globally this sits at nine per cent - meaning a whopping 91 per cent of our waste is not recyclable.”
Some of the most common litter items found in the oceans, she revealed, are abandoned fishing nets, single-use plastic items like water bottles and plastic bags, and microplastics - which are the result of larger plastic items breaking down or are from clothing made from synthetic fibers like polyester being washed and returned to the oceans.
Azraq, which was founded in September 2017, has been on the front lines of ocean conservation in the UAE. The platform was actively involved in beach and ocean clean ups and mangrove tree planting over the past year, and hopes to continue the fight for cleaner oceans. Besides such campaigns, Azraq educates residents on protecting the specific organisms of the country. The organisation regularly disseminates information regarding the country’s reef diversity and various species of marine life to help acknowledge and understand the nuanced lives present in the ecosystem.
Banks hailed efforts to protect the environment, that have been accelerating across the country, and also highlighted the critical role that volunteers play. “It is great to see the changes taking place to tackle this issue of marine conservation within the UAE. In order to conserve and protect the oceans for future generations, there needs to be a global response whereby we all reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, increase enforcement in terms of illegal fishing, reduce our reliance on the agricultural industry, and change habits away from a disposable use to reuse and refill!”
“The great thing about marine conservation is that anyone can play a significant role,” she added. “I often tell people that if they changed their habits to simply use a refillable coffee mug instead of a disposable one for a takeaway coffee, for example, they have the ability to stop over 360 coffee cups from going to a landfill or ending up in waterways every year or over 720 cups if they had two take away coffees a day. Now, think of what the impact is over 10 years, or if they got their friend to do the same - the power of change is completely in our hands.”
One of the most common items that end up on beaches as trash include cigarette butts. A common misconception that many smokers have is that cigarette filters are made of cotton or paper, not plastic. In reality, cigarette filters are made of cellulose acetate, a bioplastic made from wood cellulose.
In a new international study commissioned by Philip Morris International (PMI) and conducted by Kantar, a global research data and insights company, 25 per cent of adult smokers reported that they throw cigarette butts on the ground because they think that it is a normal way to dispose of a cigarette. The survey also found that 59 per cent were more concerned about protecting the natural environment in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Furthermore, about 65 per cent feel a greater sense of responsibility for the impact their behaviour and actions have on the natural environment.
Philip Morris International recently launched the ‘Our World Is Not an Ashtray’ sustainability campaign in support of its target to achieve a 50 per cent reduction of the plastic litter from its products by 2025, which extends to the UAE and the Middle East.
“Accomplishing our goal will require fundamental development of public education and awareness. Most essentially, smokers need to understand that it is unacceptable to dispose of cigarette butts improperly,” said Jennifer Motles, chief sustainability officer at PMI.
“The role of marine conservation is so important not only because it protects marine animals, but ultimately it protects humanity,” said Natalie Banks. “Every second breath that we take is attributable to the oceans, yet the oceans are dying. Stop for a second and think about this; the oceans provide people with their livelihoods. Not just through oxygen, but for food and water too. In addition to this, they are a fantastic place to recreate. We much protect our oceans if we are to protect our future generations.”
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