Microplastic pollution ‘number one threat’ to humankind

Microplastic pollution may be having a profound impact on people’s hormones, affecting blood pressure, fertility, immune systems and causing multiple diseases including cancer.

The public has become more aware of the damage caused when plastic is dumped in the world’s oceans, especially when it breaks down into microplastic particles, and a new report called ‘The Global Plastic Calamity’, commissioned by sustainable water company Bluewater, highlights how these microplastics release thousands of hormone-disrupting chemicals.

There are more than 85,000 manufactured chemicals, of which thousands are Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) and phthalates found in plastics and other consumer products which end up in the sea.

Dr. Ivone Mirpuri, a leading hormone specialist, says that through her research and observations, chemicals in plastic have triggered rising levels of abnormal development and illnesses over the past five decades, ranging from stunted fertility and male/female sex malformations to obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart attacks and cognitive, behavioural and other brain-related problems such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity (ADH).

‘There is now solid scientific evidence that so-called endocrine disrupting chemicals, or EDC’s, now commonplace in the natural environment as a result of plastic pollution, are blocking the natural function of hormones,’ she said.

Dr. Mirpuri described EDC’s as the ‘No1 threat’ to humankind and she believes that humankind could be wiped out within 200 years unless urgent action is taken to reduce plastic pollution.

Earlier this month it was revealed that microplastics have been found in the guts of every marine mammal washed up on Britain’s shores.

Researchers from the University of Exeter and Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML) examined 50 animals from 10 species of dolphins, seals and whales, and found microplastics (less than 5mm) in them all.

Most of the particles (84%) were synthetic, with a report by the Instutition of Mechanical Engineers published last year revealing that 35% of microplastics released into the world’s oceans come from synthetic textiles.

COMMUNITY HELPS TO PREVENT OVER 15,000 BALLOONS FROM BEING RELEASED

When it comes to protecting the marine environment, it truly takes a community to generate change. That’s why it was so  gratifying  to see that over 15,000 balloons were  prevented from being released in Ras Al Khaimah due to community members rallying together and informing the authorities and the organisers of the impacts of balloons on the environment.

 Since the first twelve months of its inception, community members have alerted the marine conservation organisation, Azraq, of all types of marine conservation concerns, and wherever possible Azraq has endeavoured to alert the relevant authorities of the issues which threaten the marine environment. .

 Natalie Banks, Managing Director of Azraq,  oversees various initiatives regarding marine conservation including a #balloonsblow campaign, thanked both the community and the authorities for their cooperation and timeliness in protecting the marine environment.

 “Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration asserts that ‘environmental issues are best handled with the participation of all concerned citizens,’ Ms Banks said.

 “It is encouraging to see the amount of concerned citizens and the positive response from the authorities in this particular incident, as well as a previous incident whereby the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi were contacted regarding an injured turtle.”

 In order to save marine life, it takes strength in numbers to make positive changes.

 “While protecting the environment can sometimes feel overwhelming regarding the amount of global issues the planet is facing, the concerned authorities in the United Arab Emirates genuinely care and are taking positive steps to protect the environment for future generations,” Ms Banks said.

 The step taken by the Ras Al Khaimah authorities and the organisers of the balloon release, highlights the important  role that the community has in bringing forth their concerns about the environment.

 “We are the custodians of the future and we need to understand that it is these small steps that make a difference. One doesn’t have to wait for something monumental to happen in order to act. We have the power and ability to make a difference by highlighting our concerns for what we see around us daily, and making individual changes to our own habits” Ms Banks said.

 Government organisations are also instrumental in stopping marine life and the environment from degenerating. Azraq, who has a permit from the Community Development Authority in Dubai to operate, contacted both the Ras Al Khaimah Environmental Protection Development Authority (EPDA) and the Ras Al Khaimah Waste Management Agency team with their concerns about the balloon release. The Tourism Development Authority was also informed of the matter by the Waste Management Agency.  The government agencies handled the community’s concern with extreme urgency. In fact, it was only about an hour after raising their concerns, that Azraq heard that the balloon release had been cancelled by Dr. Saif al Ghais, Executive Director of EPDA.

 This collaborative effort of the community and the government organisations is a case-in-point in what can be achieved to save the environment if all the stakeholders work together.

 To find out further information regarding the impacts of balloon releases visit: https://azraqme.org/balloonsblow

Over 55 outlets “STOP SUCKING” in the Middle East

Twelve months on from the launch of the #stopsucking initiative with Freedom Pizza and marine conservation organization Azraq, 56 entities have now signed on to reduce single use plastic straws in the Middle East (that’s more than one entity a week!)

Branching out from Dubai into Abu Dhabi and Bahrain, the #stopsucking hashtag has started popping up in the Middle East, following on from a similar campaign started in the United States.

Thirty outlets have decided not to provide plastic straws at all, instead ditching them all together or providing an alternative like stainless steel straws, paper, bamboo or pasta straws, while the other outlets have stated that they would only provide straws on request.

Marine Conservationist, Natalie Banks stated that there had become a movement that has been generated by individuals pushing back on single use plastic that is seeing outlets embrace the #stopsucking campaign.

“Single use plastic is getting a bad reputation due to the impacts these products have on the environment and we are starting to see some really innovative products come into the market as a result,” Ms Banks said.

“Alternatives such as those made from seaweed, corn starch and even wheat straws are making a trend, but a word of caution is that we must ensure that we have the adequate facilities to deal with these alternatives once they are used, otherwise we are just creating another issue.”

Cornstarch straws have been criticized for not being fully compostable without industrial composting at 60 degree heat for 90 days; a length of time most industrial composting facilities can not manage. In fact, cornstarch straws were banned from San Francisco despite their superior composting programs due to these concerns.

“As concerns with single use plastic grows, it is exciting to see some of the new initiatives, but a greater focus would be on ensuing that there are adequate waste facilities to handle the product,” Ms Banks said.

“As individuals, we can all ask ourselves if we in fact need a straw to begin with, as most of the time we don’t; it is just habit, while outlets can save money by only providing straws on request.”

To find out more about the #stopsucking campaign in the Middle East, visit https://azraqme.org/marine-debris/#stop-sucking


WHY INDUSTRY NEEDS TO LOOK AT WASTE REDUCTION

By Natalie Banks

Marine Conservationist

The rise of the zero-waste movements globally, started by individuals and industries, continues to intensify as the focus on plastic pollution also increases.

As consumers are focussing on refusing, reducing, reusing, recycling, repurposing, and refilling, industry needs to look at reinventing.

There is no doubt that sustainability is in the spotlight. More people are questioning brands on their eco-ethical practises, but progress has been slow. This is due to there not actually being a quick-fix in most situations. The beauty of plastic is a double-edged sword, being malleable, lightweight and cheap to make and transport. But the ugly side of plastic is that it lasts an extraordinary long time – most times, longer than the consumer needs it for.

Therefore a focus on the formats and the packaging of products would be the likely starting point as industry looks to embrace zero-waste, but raising awareness and offering simple solutions to deal with waste will also go a long way.

Take Rove Hotels in Dubai for example. The hotel offers bottled water to guests, but they also have a program whereby you can bring water 20 plastic bottles to their Daily Restaurants and get 50% off a meal. They haven’t yet installed a viable solution to solve water bottle waste, (though they have removed plastic straws, reduced plastic containers and offer carafes of water in their restaurants) but they are providing the opportunity to recycle these bottles through Bee’ah and to turn these bottles into mats and tubs. The hotel chain has received kudos within local media along with environmentalists and conservationists as a result.

Consumers are expecting brands to take responsibility for their waste and are attracted to manufacturers, companies and brands that not only so do, but also facilitate waste reduction processes for consumers.

With waste and single-use plastic on the top of the news agenda, consumers are concerned about the impacts on the environment, being able to take their own steps to reducing waste, saving money, inspiring others (usually through social media) and being healthy.

By reinventing, and innovating, industry can be part of the movement. Creating zero-packaged, and waste-free products will appeal to consumers with a sense of sustainability, as will assisting consumers post-purchase on packaging disposal and upcycling schemes. A focus on circularity, which allows products and/or materials to be recovered, regenerated and reused, rather than disposed of, will ensure that your products and brand avoid backlash from consumers.

While there is some exciting initiatives being bandied about to refill, reuse or repurpose products, industry must also ensure that these initiatives wont end up being more toxic for the environment in the long term. Every part of the supply chain needs to be considered from an ethical and environmental standpoint. For example, while straws made from cornstarch known as polylactic acid are generally made from less toxic resources than fossil fuels, currently most countries are unable to compost products made from PLA. In fact, one of the most advanced composting city in the world, San Francisco banned PLA straws in addition to plastic straws as they could not deal with the industrial composting requirements of 90 days and 60 degree Celsius heat in order for it to biodegrade.

Despite the zero-waste concept being at odds with the traditional luxurious image, especially for prestigious brands, the excitement of moving toward this idea is redefining what luxury means. Lush Fresh Handmade Cosmetics is one brand that comes to mind that has embraced this concept and brought some beautiful products into the beauty industry, with their “naked” merchanidse.

There is however a gap in the market to upcycle products. While we are starting to see an uptake of brands offering refills to their customers, there are greater opportunities for post-sale communication and awareness programs, which provide information on how new innovations, are reducing waste. Implementing a returns scheme, allowing customers to return packaging they do not wish to refill, and providing ways to refurbish products in returned packaging could ensure sustainability goals are met.

While there has been a focus on what the individual can do in terms of waste reduction, consumers are now starting to ask questions on what the industry is doing also and demanding that they be responsible for the waste that they are producing, While it may be a hard ask to suggest that industry aim for zero waste, moving towards waste reduction needs to be on the agenda, in order to meet the expectations of those purchasing your products.

But it’s a volunteering activity… why should I pay?

By Marc Ruiviejo Cirera
Founder of Companies for Good
marc@companiesforgood.ae

This is a question we get asked a lot by businesses. And it’s fair enough. You want to do good, which is a great thing, and you’re already giving away your time – why should you have to give your money away too?

We run volunteering activities with some of the world’s greatest brands. Here are 3 things we’ve learned.

1. Someone has to organise the activity. And while you’re volunteering, they’re not. 
When you want to do good – say, empowering children with special needs or helping clear the ocean of plastic trash – you’re volunteering your time, but the people organising it for you aren’t. Someone needs to arrange the activity, get the required permits, explain what you need to do and how to do it. These people aren’t volunteering, they’re working, so it’s only fair they’re paid for their time.

2. Charities can’t run effective, meaningful volunteering activities without money.
Charities who run volunteering activities have limited resources. They rely on donations to keep doing their amazing work. Paying to volunteer with charities means they can carry on helping people, and continue to run volunteering activities in the future. And sure, you could do your own volunteering activity – just go to the beach with a bag and pick up the trash – but real, positive impacts only happen when the work is continuous. If it’s just a one-off, you’ll get some great selfies for LinkedIn, but you won’t make a meaningful impact or be able to tell a credible story.

We only properly protect the ocean when we clear it every day. We only support vulnerable communities effectively when we help them regularly. You can’t volunteer every day – you have other jobs. But you can make a difference if your volunteering activity is part of structured, ongoing work run by charities and social organisations. And they need financial resources to keep up your good work all year round.

3. You’re getting a lot of bang for your buck – volunteering has huge business benefits
A team volunteering activity is much more than just ‘a philanthropic act’. It has major benefits for your business too – motivating your people, improving their communication skills, making them more creative, building empathy and boosting team spirit. Companies happily pay for a team lunch, or to take people to ‘Go Karting’ or ‘Escape Rooms’. So why wouldn’t you pay for a CSR activity that has the same positive impact while also helping the planet?

On top of that, it will help you recruit, too. It’s a well-known fact that people want to work for companies that take CSR seriously and consumers prefer buying from responsible brands. Being committed to doing good and increased brand reputation are positively correlated. Basically, the benefits of doing CSR and having a motivated, engaged workforce massively outweigh the cost of doing the activities.

2018 - An Overview

This year has been a tough and challenging one for Azraq. We started the year having our operations suspended until March due to various legalities regarding our set up. This put a lot of strain on our core team and resulted in four board members resigning as well as unexpected costs in restructuring the organisation and having requirements such as volunteer insurance made legal as well as having to move our head office. We have also found it difficult to get the necessary permits to host some of our activities and to find venues such as cinemas to rent that are available and cost effective, which has also impacted our offerings and the opportunities to raise the funds needed to pay for ongoing overheads.

Despite these setbacks, we have been determined to raise awareness and partake in activities for the oceans. Seven of our team made up The Sea Warriors in January as we fought for the Sustainable Development Goal 14 - Life Below Water - in the Global Goals World Cup played at Sustainable City. We were further motivated by our first school partnerships with Emirates International School and Clarion School in February focussing on marine debris and shark conservation, and the launch of the #stopsucking campaign with Freedom Pizza, which focussed on food outlets reducing the use of plastic straws, one of the top five items found in coastal clean ups.

We were extremely thrilled to officially launch our website on 31 March designed by our Director - Marketing, Georgina Rawlings and to also have Lush Middle East joins hands with us in order to promote our marine debris initiatives. We also held our first movie screening on the impacts of plastic straws at The Junction, which was a sell out, and was followed by a great panel discussion with Emma Banks, Managing Director of Jumeriah Restaurant Group and Ian Ohan, CEO of Freedom Pizza hosted by radio personality, Emma Brain.

The screening of STRAWS saw us form a partnership with GEMS Modern and attend presentations at Star International Schools, as well as form further partnerships including Myocum and two CAS student which made fish out of repurposed wood in order to raise funds for Azraq.

Azraq finally got its house in order by finalising the appointment of four new board members in September, including two local females, which followed the launch of our #buttsstink initiative focussing on the impacts of cigarette butts on the marine environment which was kindly supported by Analog through a video highlighting the issue. Our first beach clean of the year was with with X-Dubai on World Clean Up Day. We have since assisted with clean ups with IMG Events, Fox Networks Group and National Geographic, Abu Dhabi and have one additional beach clean up scheduled for the year.

We have released our shark conservation program for schools, joined with Rove Hotels to raise awareness of recycling water bottles, were a key sponsor for the 1st Ocean Film Festival with Surfhouse Dubai and Single Fin Cafe and had three trophies created for the winners with thanks to JWP Technical Services, had a stall at Yogafest 2018 and announced our third initiative for the year #balloonsblow focussing on the impacts of balloon releases on marine life.

The year ahead looks to be a smoother one as we hopefully move forward with finally getting our bank account sorted, securing another corporate beach clean up in January, forming additional school partners, hosting at least three movie nights (venue and permits pending) and joining with additional outlets like Ignite Surface and Companies4Good to allow for people to connect or reconnect with our oceans.

Given the year we have had, we are looking forward to celebrating the successes this Friday on board the Lotus Megayacht. We invite our supporters, partners and stakeholders to join us and thank Dutch Oriental for hosting this event.

We would particularly like to thank our partners for their ongoing support including Alkira Consulting, Boon Coffee, Divers Down, Dnata4good, Liquid of Life, Lush Middle East, Myocum as well as individuals such as Amanda Rushforth, Marita Peters and Mariska Nell and last but by no means least, our 65 volunteers who have helped incredibly with our successes and continued with us despite the challenges.

Wishing everyone a safe and joyous festive season.



AZRAQ URGES ORGANISATIONS TO RECONSIDER BALLOON RELEASES

AZRAQ URGES ORGANISATIONS TO RECONSIDER BALLOON RELEASES

 Local marine conservation organisation Azraq is urging organisations to reconsider balloon releases as we enter the season of celebrations and events.

 As part of their #balloonsblow mission, the entity has already reached out to one local developer who released balloons as part of the UAE National Day celebrations, in order to raise awareness of the impacts of balloon releases on bird and sealife, particularly turtles who mistake burst balloons as jellyfish and ultimately die as a result of suffocation.

 Managing Director for Azraq, Natalie Banks stated that many people fail to associate the beauty of a balloon release with the tragedy after these balloons land back down on land and in the oceans.

 “Dolphins, whales, turtles, and many other marine species, as well as terrestrial animals such as cows, dogs, sheep, tortoises, birds and other animals have all been hurt or killed by balloons. The animal is usually killed from the balloon blocking its digestive tract, leaving them unable to take in any more nutrients. It slowly starves to death. The animals can also become entangled in the balloon and its ribbon making the animal unable to move or eat,” Ms Banks said.

 “Sea turtles are particularly at risk because they naturally prey on jellyfish, which balloons can easily be mistaken for.”

 The #balloonsblow initiative in the United Arab Emirates following on from a similar campaign in the United States. Azraq believes that with just a little awareness and knowledge, organisations are willing to consider alternatives to celebrate special occurrences such as blowing giant bubbles, flying kites or planting trees.

 “Ultimately we need to move on from creating litter as a result of balloon releases and causing havoc for wildlife,” Ms Banks said.

 “If there is an alternative that doesn’t result in the death or harms to animals which is also cheaper and life sustaining, then it makes much more sense to consider this alternative.”

Photo Credit: Mylar balloons and a long beaked common dolphin Photo Shane Keena - Dana Point California

AZRAQ PROVIDES A FREE MEAL AFTER COLLECTING PLASTIC BOTTLES

AZRAQ PROVIDES A FREE MEAL AFTER COLLECTING PLASTIC BOTTLES

Local marine conservation organisation Azraq has given away a free meal to local resident Eliane Nader to the value of 250 AED by collecting plastic bottles within the urban area around Satwa in conjunction with Rove Hotels.

The initiative allows members of the public to collect bottles in exchange for a meal at TheDaily restaurant in Rove Hotels every Sunday.

Natalie Banks, Managing Director of Azraq and the person responsible for collecting the bottles, stated that she wanted to grow awareness of the initiative and the fact that plastic had value.

“All too often people see plastic on the ground as waste or litter. We need to stop this throw away culture and mentality, and start seeing plastic as a resource.”

“If a person saw a dirham on the ground they would likely pick it up, thanks to Rove Hotels, now if you see a plastic bottle on the ground, it can be translated to a dirham off your meal,” Ms Banks said.

Ms Banks started collecting the bottles when the Rove Hotels initiative was announced on 21 October while walking her dog for approximately 20 mins a day. She was able to collect on average one bottle a minute just from bottles lying around the urban area, despite the daily presence of street cleaners.”

“I think it’s great that Rove Hotels is giving back value to plastic bottles which are often seen as waste items. Plastic bottles are generally made from precious resources including water and they should be valued more than they usually are.”

“If by giving away a free meal, Azraq has raised awareness of the value plastic can have, even in just one individual, then we have accomplished our goal.”

For further information about the “Check in with plastic, check out with dinner” initiative and how you can get involved, head to https://www.rovehotels.com/offer/plastic-bottle-promotion/

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