How are you doing?
I have now officially not left the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for 2 years. In April 2019, I had booked a trip out of the UAE to Egypt partially out of frustration, after I found out that EXPO 2020 had adopted “Hayyakum” as their welcoming slogan instead of the suggestion I had made for “ahlanwasahlan”.
Last week, unexpectedly, somebody “liked” a post made on our Instagram from when I was in Egypt 2 years ago. It was an experiment Nithin, one of our members who is now in India, and I had made before I left for Egypt. We had cut up paper cups that had just been used during an external event and soaked them in water in an attempt to make recycled paper. It did not work out because, as we demonstrated, the plastic lining from inside the paper cups interfered with the process: https://www.instagram.com/p/BxO_I8HlPX9/ I had met the person who just liked the post a couple of days prior and the topic of single use plastic free hydration had come up.
Before “ahlanwasahlan” came into being as an official entity, I had been unnerved by the fact that single use plastic free hydration had still not been widely practiced despite campaigning by a self proclaimed “social enterprise” which has been operating in the UAE for at least 7 years prior. What was also frustrating was the fact that entitles like Emirates Environmental Group were liberally making available pre-packaged single use plastic water cups for their staff and booth visitors at events.
Yesterday, I came across a video which had been posted by one of our local newspapers, The National, on April 1st (April Fool’s Day) https://twitter.com/TheNationalNews/status/1377648196982349826. It documented the work of DGRADE, through the words of its Managing Director. Ever since we had started our official campaigning against single use plastic hydration, DGRADE with their boxes and bags presented themselves to the organizers of events we had targeted as the solution to potential public relations woes. During the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) Earth Hour celebration of 2019, DGRADE bags were stationed throughout the venue which was teeming with single use plastic. Ironically, DEWA tap water is potable, and we did not need separate bags to get the bottles recycled; video footage from the event showed how mixed waste from the event made it into the bags which were labeled with “simply bottles” https://www.instagram.com/p/BvrEnPynWmm/?igshid=1ajvhxksiqkiw
We had repeatedly expressed our concerns about companies which claim to provide sustainable solutions but rely on, and appease the prevalence of, unsustainable practices for their existence. We are not reducing our reliance on unnecessary single use materials if we are promoting their use and collection for recycling at offices and schools; I say “materials” not plastic because any unnecessary use of single use materials is not sustainable. Single use glass is heavier to transport, resulting in more emissions during the process, and along with cans, can present a hazard to marine and terrestrial life (including ourselves) when improperly disposed. We have repeatedly come across broken glass and cans in our cleanups.
The DGRADE video posted by The National on its social media accounts got around 365,000 likes and around 9,100 comments on Facebook. An outsider can only speculate as to the number of actual views or impressions, which based on our experience, would amount to a whole lot more since not everyone who watches a video “engages” with it. In comparison, over the past 3 years, we have managed to reach 688,698 accounts through Facebook and 429,834 accounts on Instagram with our content and our total Ad Account spend to date is almost at AED 10,000. Last month, I put together an article after I had expended my US Federal stimulus check on Facebook ads: https://safiroshdy.medium.com/the-cost-of-speaking-out-7a1d55e52341 A couple of days later, I received an e-mail from Dubai Post, a Dubai Media Incorporated platform, saying that they would like to feature our work, and this is the video they subsequently posted: https://www.instagram.com/p/CM9ilUmJqs_/
In my last e-mail I had mentioned that we were a quarter-way through making our license renewal fees; we are now a third-way through making our license renewal fees because of 2 private activities we held last month. Despite our repeated requests last year we were not able to get a good enough discount on our license renewal fees, due again in July this year. For an initiative that is looking primarily to engage the public in environmental awareness, this is a financial burden we could do without.
Our activities for the month of April have now been updated: ahlanwasahlan.org/activities. I will be fasting during Ramadan but since working is a form of worship in Islam, our activities will not be on hold. To make our work easier, since we do not currently have an automated system which will allow us to effectively inform and get in touch with everyone, please save this number on your phone: +971501510375 in order to receive our Whatsapp broadcast messages and add these e-mails to your address book: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com Also, please do answer our messages whenever they are personally addressed to you as it helps confirm our shared humanity.
In reference to my e-mail last month, here are two videos to check out:
Vandana Shiva in an interview about her book “One Earth, One Humanity, Vs. The 1%”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MNM833K22LM
Lionel Astruc in an interview about his book “The Art of False Generosity”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dqzt6yAmdDE
Regarding the safety of reusables when compared to single-use disposables during these times, you can find here a link to a statement we had shared last year, which maintains that single-use products present similar issues as reusables regarding the risk of transmission via surface contact: https://www.foodpackagingforum.org/news/over-115-health-experts-sign-statement-on-safety-of-reuse
To conclude, this is a reminder that just because something is being “recycled,” it does not mean that people in developing countries are not exposing themselves to harmful pollutants during the process so that we can feel good. Also, a local shredder is just that, and turtle nesting season is coming up (partial TMNT reference). And, if you have not seen the film “Terra” please do, rather than immerse yourself in artifice: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hdK7Ip7-mIY
Our letters to members will now be accessible to everyone here: https://www.ahlanwasahlan.org/forum/letter-to-members/ Wishing you a wonderful day ahead!