December in the UAE is the perfect time for hikes, picnics, beach days and other fun outdoor activities — unfortunately, it’s also when increasing amounts of garbage litter the country’s landscape.
“It’s so disturbing to visit some of our beautiful natural habitats and see them strewn with trash,” says Habiba Al Mar’ashi, Chairperson and Co-Founder of The Emirates Environmental Group (EEG).
“We all know that leaving plastic or any waste on the ground can negatively impact birds or animals. For example, we recently visited a desert area in Ras Al Khaimah and noticed that some picnickers had left behind their plastic plates, cutlery and mats. It was like they had kept them there to come back to the next day. We saw camels roaming nearby and it’s so worrying to think what would happen if they ingested some of it.”
To try and combat these problems, the EEG’s Clean UAE campaign is sweeping across the country for the next two weeks, hosting an event in each emirate starting this week through to December 15.
Organizers are starting in Ajman then moving to Fujairah, Sharjah, Dubai, Ras Al Khaimah Umm Al Quwain and finally Abu Dhabi on December 15.
The EEG, which was founded in 1991, first launched the Clean Up UAE campaign back in 2002 and just this year as rebranded to Clean UAE.
“The EEG is dedicated to advancing sustainability within the region, and raising awareness about why it is important to safeguard our planet and protect its natural resources,” explains Al Mar’ashi.
“Clean UAE highlights that there is still a lot to be done in terms of environmental awareness and education. Some people still don’t follow the rules when it comes to recycling and disposing of garbage properly.”
Over 1.5 tons of trash
Over the last 20 years, Clean UAE has collected more than 1.5 tons of waste, cleaned over 994 square kilometres of land and worked with 845,996 volunteers.
Al Mar’ashi says that more 35,000kg of trash was collected from the country’s beaches, deserts and wild areas during the 2021 program alone.
“We segregate all the waste we collect for recycling, and plastic bottles are almost always the biggest category,” she said. “Last year we gathered a shocking 873kg of plastic, and 80kg of that was solely from Dubai.”
“It’s a way of showing people first-hand the effects of throwing waste out the car window or not taking it home with you. Just as importantly it lets the community get involved and do their bit to protect the environment. We believe that clean ups help instill a sense of responsibility in all of us.”
Building a sustainable community
Attracting volunteers from government bodies, schools, universities and businesses, as well as families and individuals, 60,000 people are expected to participate, topping last year’s figures of 58,180.
“Every year we receive overwhelming positive responses from those who take part. Lots of people leave wanting to do more to help,” says Al Mar’ashi.
“Over the years we have created our own community of very aware and very engaged residents. Many thousands of people sign up on a yearly basis and the huge number of companies that re-enroll shows that people must get a lot out of it.”
All ages are welcome, but children under 10 must be with a responsible parent or teacher. Each session starts at 8.30am and finishes at around 11.30am.
“We make sure that everyone picks up their t-shirts and caps, and has the meeting point location sent to them prior to the day. We also provide water, juice and light refreshments, and we keep registrations open up until a few days before each event.”
Join a clean up
The team are still in the final stages of scouting some of the locations, but the Dubai event on Saturday, December 10 will be helde in the Seih Al Salam desert, near Al Qudra lake. Home to many different species of wildlife, including the Arabian oryx, desert foxes and many types of rare bird, it’s a crucial area.
Supported by the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, Clean UAE forms part of the EEG’s yearly schedule of activities, workshops and programs.
Registrations start from Dh60 for individual EEG members, and Dh75 for non-EEG members.
Harriet Shephard is an Abu Dhabi-based copywriter and freelance journalist with a particular focus on fitness, travel and lifestyle, which, along with good food, also happen to be her main passions when she's not typing away at her laptop.