Plastic pollution is a global problem. It affects communities and people everywhere, from Honolulu to Dubai to Kuala Lumpur. It harms animals in the ocean and animals in the desert, filling the seas and littering the ground. This is why Plastic Pollution Coalition engages people and organizations around the globe and connects them to each other.

In February 2012, our Executive Director Daniella Dimitrova Russo visited Abu Dhabi and Dubai for a series of meetings with coalition members  working on plastic pollution. Notable Supporter H.H. Abdul Aziz Bin Ali Bin Rashind Al Nuami, aka “The Green Sheikh”, honored us with an invitation and a productive meeting about how to expand awareness in the region. We also met with Emirates Marine Environmental Group,  Emirates Diving Association, Goumbook, Cameron Oliver, the founder of the campaign to protect the camels from plastic bags, and our friends and long-time supporters, Plastic Not So Fantastic  plastic awareness world expedition.

In every meeting, one message came up repeatedly: Plastic pollution urgently needs to be addressed. While the UAE has passed a ban on plastic bags by 2013, there is no answer for the mounting piles of plastic bottles and discarded single-use plastics such as straws. The public needs to know more about the adverse health effects of plastic containers, which is especially important in a country like the UAE with a hot climate. The ban on plastic bags has opened a huge new market for biodegradable products, but they are not safe and their health effects are well known also.

In the UAE, as in the rest of the world, the key message is to refuse disposable plastic and reduce the overall plastic footprint.

It was clear on this trip how much people in the UAE are committed to this issue. Clean drinking water is precious, and in the UAE, filtered desalinated water is readily available. If more people had stainless steel and glass bottles to refill with filtered water, fewer disposable plastic bottles would be used and discarded. We were pleased to see some Kleen Kanteen bottles and look forward to supporting campaigns focused on alternatives to straws, cups and other disposable plastic items.

We invited The Green Sheikh to champion the UAE Plastic Free Campuses project and are very excited about his enthusiastic support. The Green Sheikh is committed to fostering youth leadership in sustainability, and we look forward to a great collaboration as we add Emirate schools to the program. Our joint work has already begun, and we will be sharing more news very soon.

We were delighted to meet with our young hero, Cameron Oliver, who is working to protect camels from plastic pollution with his anti-littering campaign. Cameron was inspired by the 2009 report, “Fatal Pollution,” which documented the tragic death of camels that ingested plastic bags during their daily desert walks. We support Cameron in his important work and welcome him to the Plastic Free Campuses initiative. We are delighted that he will be our champion in Abu Dhabi.

A word about our hosts, the Plastic Not So Fantastic (PNSF) plastic pollution awareness tour. Starting in May 2012, PNSF will travel over 160,000 kilometers, visiting schools and universities in over 50 countries to share images of plastic pollution collected along the way. Their goal is simple — to connect the global community of concerned students, and to elevate the issue of plastic pollution.

Our work in the UAE has just begun, but we are excited about the progress and the opportunity for real change. We look forward to sharing the knowledge about the real dangers of bioplastics and conventional plastics, and to working together to find real sustainable alternatives.

Please contact us at contact@plasticpollutioncoalition.org if you would like to be involved in this project.