UAE schools do away with single-use plastics before 2024 ban

Some have turned to jute bags, hydroponics, and water filters to eliminate plastic from campuses

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Eco-friendly UAE schools are stepping up efforts to ditch single-use plastics, ahead of nationwide bans being brought into force.

The government announced this month that plastic bags of any material or composition will be outlawed from January 1 next year.

From January 1, 2026, it will be prohibited to import plastic cutlery, drinks cups, styrofoam and boxes.

From making and distributing jute bags for shopping, to bringing aluminium lunchboxes or even selling organic home-grown produce, pupils are making a head start in saying no to plastic.

This week, The Royal Grammar School Guildford Dubai made a pledge to eliminate all single-use plastic by the end of the year.

Gems Legacy School banned single-use plastic in 2021 while one school launched a no-plastic zone a decade ago.

Schools go green

Pupils from Gems Legacy School collecting plastic waste during a beach clean-up. Photo; Gems Legacy School

Schools have introduced hydroponic activities, which allow children to grow herbs that can used at their canteens.

Pupils at Gems Legacy School are busy constructing a giant whale made of plastic bottle caps, which will be showcased on a beach in Dubai in February to educate the public about the effects of plastic on marine life.

The Royal Grammar School Guildford Dubai has partnered with Avani, a sustainable packaging company that will help the school to replace plastic products with alternative bio-based solutions.

Each class has an eco ambassador and at the end of last year the school launched its hydroponics activity to give Year 7 pupils the chance to grow their own salad and herbs, with the produce now being used in school lunches, the canteen and parent cafe.

Pupils eager to save the planet

The Royal Grammar School Guildford Dubai has made a pledge to eliminate all single-use plastic in the school by the end of 2023. Photo: The Royal Grammar School Guildford Dubai

“Our pledge to eliminate all single-use plastics by the end of 2023 is a drive that has come from the pupils themselves through the school’s Eco Ambassador team," said Clare Turnbull, principal at The Royal Grammar School Guildford Dubai.

“Introducing hydroponics was a fantastic way to give our pupils the chance to discover how their food is grown and to understand the future of tech farming first-hand.

"Our school’s hydroponics system lets the pupils observe the entire lifecycle of a plant right before their eyes and understand the diversity of the produce they eat."

An environmental legacy

Gems Legacy School in Dubai has embedded climate literacy in their curriculum.

Asha Alexander, executive leader for climate change at Gems Education and principal of Gems Legacy School in Dubai, said she was hoping 41 Gems Education schools would eliminate single-use plastic within 2023.

“We've already begun this in various stages and we do audits to find out where they are at but the messaging and the promotions and the awareness campaigns and educating teachers has already started and is continuing," said Ms Alexander.

“Our pupils carried out a campaign on Twitter requesting Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai to ban single-use plastic way ahead of this announcement.

“We don't have plastic at our schools and we don't encourage the use of plastic bottles, and we ensure that there's no plastic being used in the canteens."

So far, 2,000 teachers at Gems Education schools have become UN Climate Change-certified, but Ms Alexander is working to get all 17,000 teachers in the group attested.

Pupils at the school designed jute bags which parents could use while going shopping.

“There are things which the government has to mandate but people cannot sit down waiting for government mandates to come through. We all have are responsible for our own behaviour and that's what we're teaching children," said Ms Alexander.

Taking steps to save the planet could be as simple as saying no to cutlery or plastic straws when ordering food.

Pupils at the school decided to move away from plastic lunchboxes and began bringing meals in boxes made out of aluminium.

A plastic-free zone

Delhi Private School Dubai implemented a ‘no plastic zone’, using jute bags for the distribution of books and uniforms. Photo: Delhi Private School Dubai

Rashmi Nandkeolyar, principal of Delhi Private School Dubai, in Jebel Ali, said their school was the first in the region to have a ‘no-plastic zone’ by introducing jute bags for the distribution of books and uniforms.

Jute bags have replaced plastic at the school since 2013.

“We took the initiative a step forward in 2018 by launching the ‘We Project’, which aimed to upcycle old uniforms and bedsheets into eco-friendly bags. Within 6 months, 15,000 bags were stitched as part of the collaborative endeavor by students, parents, teachers and ancillary staff," said Ms Nandkeolyar.

“Being a member of the Global Schools Programme, we have integrated the Sustainable Development Goals into our curriculum, to promote climate action through an array of campaigns ranging from ‘Simply Bottles’, a desert clean-up drive, to ‘Green Call’, an e-waste collection project."

Pupils at the school have set up a vertical garden, which uses plastic bottles as pots and beds for growing plants.

The school has a "Trash to Treasure" activity, where pupils create crafts out of recycled waste material, and a "Nature’s Bounty" programme where children get hands-on experience in entrepreneurship and financial management by selling organic produce created by them.

Updated: January 21, 2023, 3:00 AM