Dubai Can: schools install water fountains as part of plans to phase out plastic

Pupils getting involved in their own environmental campaigns

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Some private schools in Dubai have started installing water fountains in a bid to ensure young people stop using single-use plastic.

Pupils are being encouraged to pack lunch in reusable boxes as part of continuing environmental education at schools in the emirate.

Asha Alexander, executive leader for climate change at Gems Education and principal of Gems Legacy School in Dubai, said the building already has 16 water stations in place while a further 12 would be installed this year.

The school's first water fountains were introduced in 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic and it has now installed contactless water dispensers.

There is a dire need for the community to understand the effect of plastic on the world
Shiny Davison, Gulf Model School

“All children have refillable water bottles because that's a part of our drive to remove plastic. We don't have plastic bottles on the campus at all,” said Ms Alexander.

“The agenda is to phase single-use plastic out as much as we can. No single-use bottles are being procured by the school.”

This month, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai, launched an ambitious new recycling drive in the emirate.

Known as 'Dubai Can', the campaign encourages people to carry refillable water bottles, use free public water fountains across the city and cut down on plastic waste.

It comes after Dubai's move to place a levy on single-use plastic bags. Authorities said they wanted to create a "cultural shift" in the mindset of residents.

Schools have used the announcement to kick-start environment initiatives.

“When these announcements came out, I spoke to the vice president of procurement [at Gems] and she has written to our 1,500 suppliers saying we will not accept any single-use plastic packaging or bags," said Ms Alexander.

“I've also written to all heads of schools requesting them to support this drive for banning plastic and single-use plastics.”

Pupils at the school collect discarded plastic bottles from their homes and neighbourhoods for an initiative called 'Simply Bottles', which are recycled to create yarn that is used to make T shirts and other clothes.

Children are also going to restaurants near the school asking them not to supply food in plastic bags.

Gulf Model School has started its own initiative called 'Dubai Can and We Can Too'.

The school had only one water station until last week, before it installed two more this week – and is planning to put more in place with the help of sponsors.

Shiny Davison, director of learning at Gulf Model School, said: “As of now, we have three stations at our school but we are looking at getting more.

“We have incorporated 'Dubai Can and We Can Too' in our curriculum so that it becomes a mandatory part of every social studies classroom.”

The initiative is aimed at educating pupils from kindergarten up to eighth grade.

“It’s not just about putting actions into place but about educating children on why they need to focus on this," Ms Davison said.

Dubai kitchen favours sustainable food packaging to maintain zero-plastic policy

Food being packaged in a clay pot for delivery from Art of DumÕs cloud kitchen Al Barsha, Dubai. Khushnum Bhandari / The National

"There is a dire need for the community to understand the effect of plastic on the world.

“This is a project which Dubai has taken up and we are doing an initiative in the school and parent community so that it affects 2,600 children and their families.”

The school's canteen has stopped selling water bottles and pupils now carry their own on a daily basis.

About 40 per cent of all plastic in the UAE is single-use and the Dubai Can initiative aims to cut down on that, particularly by encouraging people to go that extra mile for the environment.

Rob Commons, principal of Uptown International School, said the school used to sell bottles of water at the canteen before it invested in fountains last year.

“What we've done now is we've removed all of these and replaced them with the mains linked to water filters. So we've invested in 14 or 15 of those across the site, so that our pupils can use them at any time to refill their bottles," he said.

Pupils, who usually bring refillable metal bottles, have been told not to bring plastic bottles and the school plans to invest in more water fountains.

Anything food and drink containers or wrappers within Uptown International are either completely recyclable or made from recycled plastic paper. Pupils bring packed lunches in reusable boxes.

Mr Commons said he wanted pupils to lead environmental campaigns.

For their primary years programme exhibition, pupils researched renewable, wind, solar, geothermal and wave energy.

Updated: June 07, 2023, 12:40 PM