Updated: Nov 23, 2019
On Thursday 14 November, at least 25 members from the Pepsico team participated in a Youth Circle on Plastic Waste Management held at the Youth Hub in Emirates Towers. I don't know the number of youth present among their team, but I do know that Simon Lowden is not under 35, and that he spoke for 30+ minutes in a session which lasted for an hour, before the UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment provided a closing statement.
One of the agenda items sent to us by e-mail before the session was "how to develop and run effective awareness campaigns to educate people on the need for recycling," so I had an idea of what I was getting myself into before I made it there, and I wasn't too excited. People, I believe do not need to be "educated" but rather made aware, and if there is an urgent need today in which the people have a role to play, it is in reducing the volume of waste generated, rather than in continuing to be in denial. "Recycling" of plastic, I'm sorry to burst your bubble, is not efficient and the infrastructure to make it work properly is lacking worldwide. Also, when you place an item in the recycling bin, you are not technically recycling, but segregating waste at the source.
The session was originally scheduled for Sunday 10 November, and on that day I had made it 15 minutes prior to the beginning time as instructed. The setup, a branded orange Youth Circle logo on the ground and an identical orange backdrop, was already in place. I sat next to a friendly face and started a conversation. A few minutes in, somebody from the organizing team came in to request us to forgive them for postponing the the session. It was raining that day and they said the Ministers and guests from Pepsico could not make it. Among those of us who happened to make it, was a young woman who drove to Dubai from Khorfakkan despite the rain, and somebody I recognized from NYUAD, who came from Abu Dhabi. Tough luck. To think of the carbon footprint expended. But I digress?
Later that day, having recovered from the trip and sat myself in the nearest shelter where I could capitalize on my time, I made a social media post about how odd it was that hot and soft drinks could be on tap in the UAE while water had to be bottled. The previous Monday, 4 November, I had e-mailed the Minister of Youth about how upset I was that single use plastic water bottles were still available at the Youth Hub in the meeting rooms.
It has been 2 years since the Youth Hub at Emirates Towers Dubai first opened its doors, and 330ml single use plastic bottles used to be available on every table. Used plastic bottles were cleared from the table promptly by the attentive staff and duly replaced with new plastic water bottles. Over time I came to know that those single use plastic water bottles were what the Youth Hub staff relied on for hydration. It was upsetting. One can only imagine how much plastic was being expended every day in order to provide for a vital human need during working hours. I brought my own reusable water bottle, refrained from taking advantage of the free bottled water, unlike many, and raised a concern repeatedly with the management providing them with suggestions on alternatives that are not difficult to implement. The plastic bottles were eventually removed from the tables in the common area, and for some time they were not available in the meeting rooms, but soon they did make a comeback in the meeting rooms and to me that felt like a let down.
I stopped going to the Youth Hub. I would check in from time to time but working from there depressed me, because even though the environment was designed to feel welcoming, and even though the publicized intention from having a place like that available was to empower youth, I felt disenfranchised. A lot of events and workshops regularly took place in the meeting rooms and it was painful to watch what to me felt like an onslaught on single use plastic that could easily be averted. One time, during a popular open mike event, all I could do was sit for the duration of the 3 hour long event next to the plastic water bottles with my reusable bottle while trying to get some work done. I like to think I made everyone who reached for a disposable water bottle while I was there feel a little more conscious about it. I like to think that my time and effort made a little bit of difference. Presence is so underrated nowadays, but I will get back to exploring this in a future article.
So coming back to last Thursday, was the Circle worth my time? One thing I can safely say is that, well, meeting other people is always worth my time. But was my time and that of those who were not from Pepsico and who did not have an "HE" title to their name valued? The e-mail asked us to be there by 2:30pm or 15 minutes earlier but the Circle did not begin until after 3:15pm. The Minister of Climate Change and Environment, who has a very kind and amicable personality, however did apologize for being late. Did the circle facilitate a healthy discussion? 14 minutes into the session, Mr Lowden from Pepsico decided to get up and stand against the orange backdrop, which now looked like a pulpit. The question which led to this was not addressed to him; I had addressed it to everyone in the Circle, but it was provoked by the four plastic Aquafina water bottles at Mr Lowden's feet.
"Is it OK for us to be still using single use plastic water bottles?"
Four months ago, I organized a series of plastic waste awareness workshops at the Youth Hub. Before the workshops began I made sure to remove the single use plastic water bottles from the room, and during the break, I took the participants to a nearby water dispenser and equipped them with reusable cups. At the Youth Circle on plastic waste management, instead of the usual army square formation of the Mai Dubai plastic water bottles, a regiment of 500ml Aquafina single use plastic water bottles infiltrated the room. If I make light of the situation, I could not believe the instigators could pull off this tasteless intervention with a straight face. In a world that is warming, how could they be so cold?
I checked in again yesterday, and the single use plastic water bottles are still in the Youth Hub meeting rooms.