My pet peeve: spoiling the places we claim to love

The municipalities and those they employ to collect rubbish do their best, but we should help to carry the weight too, writes Fatima Al Shamsi

Garbage mars the desert in Sharjah. Photo: Christopher Pike / The National
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Over the extended National Day weekend I had the opportunity to do some sightseeing around the UAE, from a day out in the desert to an afternoon out on the beach.

It felt great to be able to take advantage of the beautiful weather and explore some of the stunning and varying landscapes on offer but my stroll on the beach and my star gazing sessions were spoiled by seeing piles of cups, bottles, food containers and cigarette butts strewn all around – often right next to a rubbish bin. Nothing ruins the beauty and serenity of being out in nature quiet like an abandoned styrofoam container.

Ever since moving back to this country, the people I’ve run into seem to fall into two general categories: those who throw away rubbish without any apparent concern about what will happen to it and those who have pretty strong views against littering. I fall in the latter category and it is most definitely one of my biggest pet peeves.

When I was growing up, I was taught the importance of cleaning up after myself. Despite always having help in the house, my parents never allowed my siblings and I to use that as an excuse to keep our rooms messy, not pick up after ourselves, or not dispose of rubbish appropriately.

At food courts I get funny stares for picking up my trays and throwing my rubbish away. I understand that there are people employed to clean up, but with such little effort required, I think it is a good habit to have.

For those times when there is nowhere designated to dispose of rubbish, you should just make sure to clean up after yourself. This country goes to great lengths to provide us with beautiful public places such as parks and beaches and I find it disrespectful to leave it dirty, especially for others who want to enjoy the space after you.

Respect for the environment is a big component of Emirati culture and heritage. Our ancestors lived off of the land and its natural resources and showed respect for the land by maintaining its cleanliness. Even from a religious perspective, the Prophet Mohammed highlighted the importance not only of personal hygiene but also of cleanliness in the home, mosque and the community as a whole. There are hadiths that even suggest that cleanliness is half of the faith. It is part of our tradition to do what we can to maintain the beauty of our city by looking after it in every way that we can.

After witnessing examples of carelessness during the long weekend, it made me happy that this week coincided with an Emirates-wide initiative: “Clean Up UAE.” This is an annual week-long clean-up effort held by the Emirates Environmental group and is going strong in its 13th year.

Earlier this week, thousands of volunteers all over the country came together to clean up over 60 sites. In just two days, volunteers in Abu Dhabi and Dubai collected 21 tonnes of rubbish.

A lot of progress has been made by initiatives by the Environmental Agency and the recently-launched Clean up the World Campaign launched by Dubai Municipality. The latter is a partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme that aims to achieve zero waste by promoting the reuse, recycling and reducing of waste. These clean-up efforts are vital in preserving the environment of the UAE for future generations.

Volunteering for such an event is not only a great way to give back to the communities that we belong to, but is also a way for us to take ownership and responsibility. But even more important, I think these efforts help to instil good habits that avoid generating large amounts of waste in the first place.

These are habits that should be taught everywhere, from schools to households. Even if we have yet to get to a point where recycling is a natural habit, at the very least we can ensure that each of us does our part to keep our environments clean. The municipalities and those they employ to collect rubbish do their best, but we should help to carry the weight too.

Fatima Al Shamsi is a globetrotting Emirati, foodie, film buff and football fanatic