Move to bottle-free UAE gathers pace as awareness of alternatives grows

The UAE is believed to have one of the highest rates of bottled water consumption in the world, with each resident drinking an average of 250 litres of the stuff a year.

DUBAI // It’s safe to say that the UAE has a dependence on bottled water.

With each resident drinking an average of 250 litres a year, the country is believed to have one of the highest rates of bottled water consumption in the world. A by-product of such thirst is the growing mountain of plastic bottles it creates.

EcoMena Waste Management, a Qatar-based company that tracks waste management issues in the Middle East and North Africa, goes as far as to claim that the UAE has the fourth-highest level of bottled water consumption in the world. Couple that with the lack of recycling facilities in the country – there are plants in Abu Dhabi and Sharjah – this means that only a small amount of the plastic used is recycled.

Briton Rukhsana Kausar, who has lived in the UAE for nine years, is passionate about trying to change the country’s reliance on bottled water. The environmentalist founded Liquid of Life Dubai, a provider of water filtration products for commercial and domestic use. Among its clients are Etihad Airways and Sharjah English School.

At Etihad Airways, across the carrier’s headquarters, training academy and offices in Dubai and Al Ain, between 2015 and last year employees consumed 461,502 litres of filtered water. This was the equivalent of 23,667 five-gallon (22.7 litre) plastic bottles. By using filtration systems its carbon footprint was reduced by 47.3 tonnes.

“We live in the desert so we need to stay hydrated, but we’re dependent on bottled water,” said Ms Kausar. “When you talk about the environment you can tell people to switch off lights, use recycled paper, there are a lot of things you can do. But when it comes to drinking water, you can’t tell people to stop drinking. So it’s about trying to find an alternative that’s better for the environment and our health.”

Elena Kinane founded the Dubai-based Greenheart Organic Farms, a business that harvests produce fresh each morning and only the amount needed.

As a long-time advocate of bottle-free living, she put filters in her home nine years ago, and in her business too.

She said there was a growing awareness in the UAE of the environmental benefits of changing habits, from going bottle-free to buying organic produce.

“Unquestionably, people are gradually becoming more aware,” Ms Kinane said.

“Many of our customers ask us about how they can improve the quality of their drinking water and we have shared our experience of Liquid of Life with them.

“But there is still a long way to go to spread the word in the UAE.”

Lucy Bruce is the co-founder of Home Grown Eco Nursery, which has been bottle-free since opening six years ago. “For every business decision we make we consider the effect we are having on the local and global environment,” Ms Bruce said.

“Drinking water is one of the major causes of increased carbon emissions in the UAE.”

The effect on health was also an issue.

“There are many health benefits for our children associated with using filtered water,” Ms Bruce said.

“The most significant for us is that it removes most traces of chlorine, lead and other harmful elements that can be found in tap water, not least BPA (bisphenol A).”

The nursery’s decision to be bottle-free was taken from an environmental and health standpoint, but it has also had financial benefits. Collectively, children and staff at the nursery consume about 80 litres a day, which means the financial savings are not to be ignored.

“We have calculated that we save almost Dh20,000 a year by using filtered water instead of bottled-water dispensers,” said Ms Bruce.

Bisphenol A is a chemical found in some of the plastic used to make water bottles, as well as in the lining of tinned foods.

The United States Food and Drug Administration recently banned its use in baby bottles, while Japan and Canada forbid its use completely.