Sleepwalking into an environmental catastrophe

MUSCAT: On Tuesday evening the Environment Society of Oman organised a virtual lecture entitled, “Plastic is Not Fantastic”. It was presented by Fahim Firfiray, a Leadership Trainer at PDO who is passionate about this issue and part of a team in PDO raising awareness. He spoke about how the world is sleepwalking into an environmental catastrophe because of the abundance of plastics used, and advised people of the small changes they can make to help the situation.

Mr. Firfiray opened the talk with a startling demonstration, throwing dozens of plastic bottles into the air. He said these are bottles that are indestructible and will be with us for centuries. 8.3 billion tons of plastic has been made since the 1950s, creating 6.3bn tons of waste throughout the world. A mere 5% of that is recycled, 12% is burnt creating toxic, harmful chemicals, whilst a massive 79% is dumped into grotesque landfills or ends up in the natural environment, in our wadis, deserts and oceans.

The lecture focused cleverly on one important acronym: SUP: Single Use Plastics. These include items which are used for seconds and then discarded forever. Plastic water bottles are one example – one million manufactured globally every minute, which equates to 20,000 per second and an obscene 480 billion annually. Where do they all end up?

All the world’s oceans have Gyres. They are massive whirlpools which circulate ocean water around the planet. But they have created plastic islands. The one in the North Pacific is the size of Western Europe and contains packaging and brands recognisable even here in Oman.

Cotton buds, for example, used daily in many households, break down into tiny plastic pellets which enter the food chain and eventually kill marine life. Similarly, microbeads used in many toiletries: facial scrubs, body scrubs and shower gels, shaving products and moisturisers, are flushed away and end up in the oceans. Microbeads are now banned in Europe and the U.S. but are still used by big brand names around the world.

Fahim shared ‘Four Rs’ to help protect the environment from the evil of plastic pollution, small changes that could help the situation: Recycling is something we can do, but it is very limited (5-9%) and the recycling points throughout Oman have been closed during Corona crisis. Plastic can be Re-used in creative ways, but it is much better to Reduce consumption of these SUPs and change individual behaviour.

The best option is to Refuse unrequired items. Be assertive. Advise and educate shopkeepers, take-away delivery staff and cashiers that you don’t want plastic cutlery, plates, cups, straws and coffee cups. Use crockery and cutlery and learn good habits again – wash up! Bring your own coffee mug or flask to the Barista. Use paper or telescopic steel straws – or better still, give them up. Many countries banned SUP bags years ago, or charge for them.

Fortunately Oman will finally follow in 2021. But why not start now using colourful bags in supermarkets and making use of the fast Green aisle. Once you’ve unpacked all your shopping put the bags straight back in the car so you don’t forget them next time. Carry your own reusable bottle and refill it from water filters – incidentally provided free at all mosques and public buildings in Oman. Use watercoolers, and when enjoying the great outdoors think ahead and bring refilled bottles from home.

Oman must move into the 21st century on this issue; speak up, be assertive and REFUSE single-use plastics, as in the end it is up to us as individuals to save the planet.