Small steps to make the world a greener place.

Friday - - Editor’s Letter -

Habiba Al Marashi is quite wor­ried about the stats as they stand now. ‘Did you know that for ev­ery kilo­me­tre you drive your car, you add more than 0.86kg of car­bon diox­ide or other green­house gases to the en­vi­ron­ment?’ asks the co-founder and chair­per­son of Emi­rates En­vi­ron­men­tal Group (EEG).

The cel­e­brated en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist’s con­cern is fu­elled by fig­ures pro­vided by Dubai’s Roads and Trans­port Au­thor­ity (RTA) in 2015 – Dubai’s ve­hi­cle den­sity of 540 per 1,000 peo­ple is the high­est in the re­gion and one of the high­est in the world. The num­ber of ve­hi­cles in Dubai dou­bled from 740,000 in 2006 to 1.4 mil­lion in 2014, an av­er­age an­nual in­crease of 8.2 per cent – again, one of the high­est in the world.

Habiba knows there’s no wish­ing global warm­ing away. ‘The only so­lu­tion to re­duce emis­sions from cars is by us­ing pub­lic trans­port or bi­cy­cles,’ she says.

For Earth Day next week, when events will be held across the world to demon­strate sup­port for en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion, Habiba is hop­ing peo­ple and the govern­ment come to­gether to bring about life­style changes that are not only eco-friendly, but healthy as well. ‘Th­ese are not just great al­ter­na­tives to driv­ing; they help save you money spent on fuel and to park your car in paid-park­ing zones.’

If you have to use your ve­hi­cle, car­pool­ing is one way to re­duce car­bon diox­ide emis­sions. Habiba es­ti­mates that if you join one other per­son on a 80km round trip, the monthly emis­sions drop by al­most 10 per cent. There’s other ben­e­fits too. ‘Get­ting stuck in traf­fic dur­ing morn­ings can be stress­ful, but if you have some com­pany to en­joy a morn­ing chat while driv­ing, it helps,’ she says. ‘Most cars can com­fort­ably trans­port four peo­ple. So, shar­ing your car with a co-worker – af­ter tak­ing the re­quired per­mis­sions from the RTA – will help you and the en­vi­ron­ment.’

Ac­cord­ing to Habiba, the most en­er­gy­ef­fi­cient mode of travel is the train. ‘For ev­ery per­son who swaps a 32km round-trip com­mute by car with pub­lic trans­porta­tion, the an­nual re­duc­tion in car­bon diox­ide emis­sions is a mas­sive 2,177kg – equiv­a­lent of 10 per cent of green­house gas emis­sions pro­duced by the av­er­age two-car house­hold,’ she says.

Plus, it’s cool. Ac­cord­ing to the RTA, the av­er­age daily rid­er­ship of all pub­lic trans­port modes com­bined jumped to 1.5 mil­lion in 2015 com­pared to 1.4 mil­lion the pre­vi­ous year. RTA is plan­ning to fur­ther in­crease rid­er­ship by 2020 by de­vel­op­ing mega projects for pub­lic trans­porta­tion.

Grow­ing green­house emis­sions are not the only thing that wor­ries Habiba. It’s also the amount of food be­ing wasted, she says.

The Gulf Co­op­er­a­tion Coun­cil coun­tries rank among the top na­tions in the world for food wastage. ‘In fact, the amount of global food waste pro­duced each year is more than enough to feed the nearly 1 bil­lion hun­gry peo­ple in the world,’ says Habiba.

In­stead of fill­ing empty stom­achs, the wasted food usu­ally ends up in land­fills and even­tu­ally turns into a de­struc­tive green­house gas called meth­ane. ‘What’s more, wast­ing food means wast­ing re­sources [such as wa­ter and en­ergy] that went into the pro­duc­tion of that food,’ says Habiba. ‘For ex­am­ple, ev­ery time you buy an ap­ple and do not eat it, you are wast­ing 4.5 buck­ets of wa­ter that went into the grow­ing of the fruit.’

The en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist of­fers some easy ways to be more care­ful about our con­sump­tion and re­duce the amount of food waste we pro­duce on a daily ba­sis. She sug­gests mak­ing a list be­fore go­ing gro­cery shop­ping. ‘This can pre­vent load­ing up carts with im­pul­sive buys and items we might not use,’ Habiba says. ‘In prac­tice, the idea is to plan the week’s meals in ad­vance, de­ter­mine what in­gre­di­ents are re­quired for each, and make a check­list. As long as you ac­tu­ally stick to the meal plan, there should not be much food left over!’

Like­wise, un­der­stand ex­piry dates on food pack­ages. ‘Ex­pi­ra­tion dates ac­tu­ally of­ten re­fer to the prod­uct’s qual­ity, not safety,’ she says. ‘And there is a dif­fer­ence be­tween the ‘sell-by’ la­bel [the dead­line for re­tail­ers to sell the prod­uct] and ‘use-by’ [the date when the prod­uct starts to lose its qual­ity and flavour.]

‘Con­sider tech­niques you can use to ex­tend the shelf life of every­thing in your kitchen, such as main­tain­ing the tem­per­a­ture of the fridge and freezer at the op­ti­mum level and un­pack­ing and stor­ing gro­ceries as soon as you get home from the store.’

Habiba also sug­gests eat­ing lo­cal to help ‘not just your bod­ies but also the en­vi­ron­ment’.

Eat­ing lo­cal typ­i­cally means con­sum­ing foods that were pro­duced closer to home and be­com­ing more cog­nisant of where our food comes from. There are sev­eral ben­e­fits of eat­ing lo­cally grown food. One of the main ones, ac­cord­ing to Habiba, is the fact that the amount of en­ergy it takes to trans­port food is much less when com­pared to foods that come from the other side of the world. ‘Also, be­cause the time taken from farm to ta­ble is much less, the lo­cal food is fresher and uses less pack­ag­ing. Eat­ing lo­cally also means sup­port­ing farm­ers who care about and pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment and wildlife. Plus, there’s ev­i­dence that eat­ing foods pro­duced lo­cally may be more nu­tri­tious.’

She also sug­gests tak­ing the ex­tra step and learn­ing to grow our own

Ex­piry dates ac­tu­ally of­ten re­fer to QUAL­ITY, not SAFETY. And the ‘SELL-by’ la­bel is only a dead­line for re­tail­ers to sell the prod­uct. ‘USE-by’ is the date when the prod­uct starts to LOSE its qual­ity and FLAVOUR

food. Plant­ing and main­tain­ing an or­ganic veg­etable gar­den in your yard or bal­cony pro­vides many ben­e­fits, she says. ‘Grow­ing a kitchen gar­den th­ese days is much eas­ier than it seems. And no store-bought fruit or veggie can match the taste of what comes from your own back­yard. You’ll be sus­tain­ing your­self with food that didn’t re­quire fos­sil fu­els for trans­porta­tion or ex­pen­sive tech­nol­ogy to grow. You’ll also have the peace of mind of know­ing that pes­ti­cides weren’t used on your veg­eta­bles. Plus you’ll get some ex­er­cise!’

While on the sub­ject of food, she stresses that meat pro­duc­tion is an­other rea­son for the in­crease in green­house gas emis­sions.

‘Live­stock in­dus­tries gen­er­ate 18 per cent of green­house gas emis­sions,’ says Habiba. ‘In ad­di­tion, vast swathes of for­est land have been claimed for pas­tures and land for crops to feed an­i­mals.’

Go­ing veg­e­tar­ian can also be healthy, she sug­gests. ‘Re­search has found that veg­e­tar­i­ans are less likely to be obese, have lower choles­terol lev­els, and are less likely to have heart dis­ease caused by blocked ar­ter­ies. If you’re con­sid­er­ing the veg­e­tar­ian route, or just want to cut back on meat, be sure to get enough pro­tein through other sources like peanut but­ter, beans, soy foods, and eggs,’ she adds.

A point to keep in mind when shop­ping is the pack­ag­ing. ‘When shop­ping, make it a habit to bring your own eco-bags; say no to plas­tic bags, which can end up in land­fills or into the sea,’ says Habiba.

The junk that ends up in land­fills is a mat­ter of grave con­cern.

‘Did you know that the av­er­age of­fice worker uses about 500 dis­pos­able cups per year?’ she asks. And all of th­ese plas­tic or sty­ro­foam cups end up in land­fills where it may take decades to break down and when they do, they also re­lease gases.

‘We can eas­ily re­duce the amount of waste we pro­duce just by tot­ing our own travel cup,’ she says.

An­other easy way to be more eco-friendly is when or­der­ing take­out at home: ask the restau­rant not to in­clude nap­kins, plas­tic cut­lery or condi­ments with your or­der as th­ese dis­pos­ables add to the waste we gen­er­ate. Habiba is also against us­ing bot­tled wa­ter. ‘Each year, 17 mil­lion bar­rels of oil are used in the pro­duc­tion of dis­pos­able wa­ter bot­tles. Us­ing re­us­able wa­ter bot­tles can eas­ily help save this nat­u­ral re­source,’ says Habiba.

Be­ing eco-friendly can ex­tend to pur­chas­ing the right elec­tronic ap­pli­ances. ‘Look for the En­ergy cer­ti­fied prod­ucts by Emi­rates Au­thor­ity For Stan­dard­iza­tion and Metrol­ogy,’ ad­vises Habiba. ‘Also, avoid buy­ing ap­pli­ances that are big­ger than you need – like over­sized air con­di­tion­ers and re­frig­er­a­tors.’

Wher­ever pos­si­ble, re­cy­cle prod­ucts. Re­cy­cling saves en­ergy, re­duces raw ma­te­rial ex­trac­tion and com­bats cli­mate change.

There are sev­eral other mea­sures that can be taken at home to stay green. ‘Turn­ing off the faucet while brush­ing or shav­ing, or the shower when lath­er­ing can save up to about 284 litres of wa­ter per week,’ says Habiba.

Wash your dishes ef­fi­ciently. ‘If you wash dishes by hand, try the two-sink method: scrape ev­ery bit of food you can off the dish, then wash in a basin full of hot, soapy wa­ter, fol­lowed by a good rinse in a basin of cold, clean wa­ter,’ says Habiba.

‘If us­ing a dish­washer en­sure it is cer­ti­fied by Emi­rates Au­thor­ity for Stan­dard­iza­tion and Metrol­ogy, which uses less than half as much en­ergy as wash­ing dishes by hand and saves nearly 19,000 litres of wa­ter a year.’

She also ad­vises re­plac­ing older toi­lets with Wa­ter-Sense-la­belled high-ef­fi­ciency mod­els that use only a few litres per flush, or con­sider in­stalling a dual flush model that can use even less.

Sav­ing elec­tric­ity too is as im­por­tant. Set­ting your fridge tem­per­a­ture to be­tween 35–38°F [1-3°C]; turn­ing off lights when you leave a room; us­ing cur­tains or blinds dur­ing sum­mer to keep harsh sun­light out can all con­trib­ute to re­duc­ing power con­sump­tion.

‘Fol­low­ing th­ese sim­ple tips can help keep you – and the earth – healthy.’

‘The av­er­age of­fice worker uses about 500 dis­pos­able CUPS a year. And all th­ese plas­tic or sty­ro­foam cups end up in LAND­FILLS where it may take DECADES to break down and when they do, they re­lease gases’

Shop and eat lo­cal: con­sum­ing foods pro­duced closer to home saves on en­ergy to trans­port foods – plus you eat fresher pro­duce

Hop on to the Metro on your jour­neys – a re­mark­ably en­ergy-ef­fi­cient mode of trans­port that also keeps you ac­tive

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