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


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RAK Properties Joins Forces With RAK EPDA, AZRAQ and Multiple Volunteers for Successful Cleanup at Khor Muzahmi in Mina Al Arab

RAK Properties, one of the UAE’s leading property development and tourism infrastructure companies, was delighted to support the initiative by Fox Networks Group Middle East. More than 30 volunteers from a variety of organizations and eco preservation initiatives gathered on the foreshore at Mina Al Arab preserved area; Khor Muzahmi to search for and remove plastic waste from the mangrove forests where such waste endangers the wellbeing of indigenous wildlife. Many species including fish and birds, even flamingoes, are reliant on the wetlands and plastic debris is a serious threat to their existence.

RAK EPDA (Environment Protection and Development Authority), the government body responsible for protecting the Emirate’s natural heritage, sent a number of officials to oversee the work. Joined by a number of workers and volunteers from other organizations including AZRAQ, and Fox Networks Group Middle East.

Thanks to the efforts of all involved, some 75 Kilograms of plastic rubbish was recovered and removed from the mangroves, and it was taken for safe disposal by RAK Waste Management to ensure that it was not swept back into the protected environment by the return of high tide. RAK Properties will work closely with RAK EPDA to monitor and maintain the mangrove forests as part of their ongoing CSR activities and to ensure the cleanliness and natural wellbeing of this precious environment.

RAK Properies CEO Samuel Dean Sidiqi commented “We were delighted to support this important initiative to clean and protect this vital natural location as part of our ongoing role as custodians of the environment in which we are fortunate enough to work. The mangroves are a vital and attractive part of that environment and we will do all that we can to protect and enhance them.”

We can not "magic" ourselves out of the plastic pollution crises

Commentary: Natalie Banks, Managing Director, Azraq

All too often, I am sent an update on the so-called latest solution to plastic pollution. From various bio-plastics, to turning plastic bottles into t-shirts or blankets and of course, the excitement around the Ocean Cleanup Project.

While each of these initiatives have some merit, the reality is that they are often far from offering a true solution. Most bioplastics require industrial composting at temperatures and for lengths of time that most countries can not provide or offer. Recycling plants also need to ensure that some bioplastics are not mixed with the plastics that can be recycled as they can ruin the whole batch, and therefore they are forced to install sorting solutions, or reduce their already low recycling rates. Globally, after 70 years of plastic consumption, and various awareness campaigns, we are at 9% recycling rates. Although bioplastic is made without the toxins associated with fossil fuels; without the proper disposal solutions in play, they generally end up in the same location as standard plastic; in land fill or in our oceans.

Turning plastic bottles into t-shirts or other merchandise, sounds like a great idea. Azraq has of course been promoting repurposing plastic, however, and this is a big one folks, anything that needs regular washing that is made up of plastic (even polyester, nylon, elastic, spandex etc) shreds mirco plastic fibres which goes from our washing machines, into the grey water and then into the oceans. Proponents of these initiatives like to point out that all materials shred micro fibres and they are of course correct. But natural fibres will rot in the oceans and do not cause the havoc on marine environments or marine animals (and therefore ourselves) like micro-plastics do.

And despite any type of clean up activity, be it via technology or manually, the end issue is that the waste still needs to be rid of somewhere. I want to reiterate it, in case you missed it; globally we are at 9% recycling rates. Most products being produced and ending up in our oceans like plastic straws, coffee cups, micro fibres, cigarette butts and plastic bags can not be recycled and end up yet again in landfill, giving off toxic gases like methane.

There is no magic pill to this issue folks. Even bans and taxes on plastic can be fraught with danger. The first problem with an outright ban, of course, is enforcement. When the current media attention dies down, will the authorities have the necessary resources or will to monitor the production of plastics globally? Furthermore, as with other bans and taxes, there are distributional effects as it is generally the poor producers and consumers who get the short end of the stick as richer users usually find both illegal and legal ways to beat the ban. In this case, this behaviour is already evident since big multinational companies such as Amazon and H&M are lobbying for exemptions and will probably get them, leaving the small trader to bear the brunt of significant repackaging costs and potential loss of produce.

Although many countries have announced bans on single-use plastic items, the follow through on this has often not been considered properly. In Australia, the two largest grocery shopping chains Coles and Woolworths have had to backflip on their promise to ban the plastic bag by 1 July this year as there were concerns when people forgot their reusable bags. Now this one could be easily addressed by implementing both a boomerang bags initiative within the stores (which would also be beneficial for those from low socio-economic backgrounds), and by having cardboard boxes available for those that forget their bags. How and why this wasn’t thought of prior to introducing the bans are beyond me.

Banning plastic straws completely has left many in the extremely disabled community and their carers up in arms about how they will manage to have a drink on a night out at their favourite restaurant or bar. Of note, and great interest however, is that San Fransisco has included bioplastic straws as part of their straw ban due to studies revealing that bioplastic does not break down in marine environments and poses just as great a risk to marine wildlife as petroleum-based plastics.

Banning disposable cups means that the outlets that usually provide these measures need to consider how they deal with the variety of issues this brings. That is to say, filtered water and cups need to be made accessible and reusable cups made available for both in-house and take away clientele. Is there enough personnel and space in the cafe to cater for these measures and do they meet the government’s health and safety requirements? The list goes on.

So what needs to be done?

Solving the plastic pollution crises requires a three-pronged approach, individual changes, industrial changes and policy changes. Individual changes are the easiest of the three. An individual does not need to consider all of the issues that industries and governments need to, nor do they need to spend anywhere near the amounts of money to introduce the change. That is why Azraq has been running awareness campaigns on what individuals can do to refuse, reduce, resuse, recycle and repurpose plastic, particularly single-use plastic. One of the easiest transitions away from plastic for each of the three prongs is the plastic straw. Most people do not even need straws and this is again why Azraq joined the #stopsucking initiative in the United Arab Emirates in conjunction with Freedom Pizza in February this year. In terms of those with disabilities that require a straw, we ask that outlets only provide straws on request and encourage everyone to consider having their own reusable straw if they need one.

Industries need to consider how they will truly close the loop regarding plastic production. I am beyond concerned to note that very few organisations that generate plastic pollution, including manufacturers of bioplastic and those turning plastics into merchandise, are involved in the improvement of recycling or composting facilities and technologies, despite contributing to the problem. This is of even greater importance as more countries follow the footsteps of China and refuse to accept plastic waste from other countries and when a crash in the global market for recyclables is forcing communities to make hard choices about whether they can afford to keep recycling or should simply send all those bottles, cans and plastic containers to landfill. Even worse, and potentially due to the crash, is the news of the plastic recycling industry in Britain being accused of leaking pollutions into the oceans and exaggerating waste figures.

Why is it the industry is still generating plastic waste on an unimaginable scale globally when we don’t have the ability or facilities to deal with it? Shouldn’t we be focussing our time and resources on the end solution instead of the mass production of plastic waste?

This is an extremely serious issue and one that requires extremely serious solutions, not a half-measured one, nor the amount of greenwashing that is currently prevalent while plastic pollution remains a popular topic.

I look forward to being involved in some genuine roundtable discussions in the future to truly solve the issue of the plastic pollution crises and the starting point must be about improving the industry dealing with waste, otherwise it is just a networking session and unfortunately we are running out of time.

New Volunteer Laws in Dubai

Did you know Dubai has a new law to regulate volunteering activities? ‘Law No. (5) of 2018 Regulating Volunteer Work in the Emirate of Dubai’ (CDA).

This law was created “to promote social responsibility among community members” and it is being enforced by the Community Development Authority (CDA) of which Azraq is a registered entity. It was issued on 11 April this year by HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and, after a period of soft implementation, it is now fully enforceable.

So, what do you need to know?

Any company willing to organise a Corporate Social Responsibility activity in Dubai needs to fully comply with the relevant legal frameworks:

o If the initiative involves fundraising money or in-kind items, or making a charitable donation, a permit needs to be submitted to the IACAD.

o If the initiative involves people participating in the activity (i.e. volunteering), then the company organising has to register with Dubai Volunteer and obtain approval from the CDA.

After receiving the CDA’s permit, volunteers also need to register with the Dubai Volunteer portal (on the website or via the App) to sign up for the activity.

The company organising the activity is expected to do at least three things: train the volunteers, print and bring a QR code to the event, and provide insurance coverage for the activity.

‘No Volunteering Organisation or volunteers may carry out any volunteer activity or allow any volunteer activity to be carried out without obtaining a permit from the CDA’ (Article 6).

It might look complicated, but the good news is we’ve got it all sorted.

At Azraq, we are registered with the Dubai Volunteer portal (CDA), and we help UAE businesses organise CSR activities and obtain the legal permits.

As always, we are available to answer questions on how to legally go about volunteering in Dubai and undertake corporate social responsibility programs at

NOTE: This article is a slightly edited version of an article first written by Marc Ruiviejo Cirera from Companies for Good

GEMS Modern Academy joins Azraq to reduce plastic straw use in region

One hundred and seven students in Year 9 and Year 10 from GEMS Modern Academy have joined hands with local not-for-profit marine conservation organisation, Azraz (Arabic for “Blue”) to reduce the number of plastic straws used in the region.

The move comes after the announcement of the #stopsucking campaign launched by Freedom Pizza in mid-February in conjunction with Azraq, to challenge outlets to follow in their footsteps and remove the plastic straw from their orders. Since then, over 25 outlets including Jumeriah Restaurant Group and Gates Hospitality have take action to reduce or remove plastic straws and in most cases additional single use plastic items like cutlery from their restaurants, cafes and hotels.

The 107 students from GEMS Modern Academy have already started taking action, hitting outlets within Dubai Mall and Karama resulting in seven outlets signing on to their #reduceplasticstraw campaign, which includes Chillis Dubai Mall, Joe’s Crab Shack Dubai Mall, Barbeque Nation Karama, Daily Restaurant Karama, Peshwa Restaurant, Sthan  and Jaffer Bhai’s Karama. The action took place after Azraq was invited to the school to discuss the success achieved to date and how best to get managers and owners of outlets to reconsider the use of plastic straws.

Natalie Banks, Managing Director of Azraq stated that The World Economic Forum has warned if action is not taken, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050. She then congratulated the students for partaking in the activity and generating change.

“Plastic straws end up in the ocean primarily through human error and an estimated 71% of seabirds and 30% of turtles have been found with plastics in their stomachs,” Ms Banks said.

“It is fantastic to see young adults taking action in an attempt to reverse some of the damages already created by single use plastic on our marine and urban environment.”

Student Sumedha Mohanty from 10F at GEMS Modern Academy who participated in the activity stated that we wont have a society if we don’t preserve the environment and that by being involved in this campaign she not only understood the importance of preserving the marine life, but also acquired skills to convince people to make a change for a worthy cause.

Educational Supervisor at GEMS Modern, Trafford Anthony Gregory is extremely proud of the role the students are playing and hopes that the actions of the students will inspire others to do the same.

“Let us together make a difference,” Mr Gregory states.

Since launching the mission to reduce single use plastic straws, Azraq has sold over 3,000 stainless steel straws and has just recently added bamboo and paper straws to their offerings.

Further information regarding the initiative can be found at:

Azraq joins X-Dubai for World Clean Up Day 2018

Azraq joined with X-Dubai and partners Breitling and Dulsco to partake in a beach clean up at Sunset Beach, Dubai on World Clean Up Day.

The day saw over 100 people partake in the clean up, and approximately 10kg of rubbish collected. The clean up is part of Azraq’s Marine Debris campaign, focussed on the reduction of single-use plastic.

Azraq would like to thank Liquid of Life for supplying filtered water for the volunteers on the day in addition to dnata4good for the gloves used and Boon Coffee for the burlap bags provided on the day.

It was a great day all round. News articles relating to the day can be found here and here

For further information about hosting a clean up day with your school or organisation, please head to the Get Involved section of our website.

#thinkpiece: The UAE woke up during Plastic Free July. Now what?

The woman picked up her whipped-cream-topped iced drink at an Abu Dhabi Starbucks, catching my attention with what she told the barista: “I don’t want the straw.”

It was early July and in the days that followed I realized no one was batting an eye at Carrefour when I asked for all my fruit and vegetables to be put in one bag. At a petrol-station Costa, a reusable ceramic cup suddenly caused zero confusion among the store help. Elsewhere, clerks seemed to readily accept that I didn’t want a bag with my purchase. And brightly striped paper straws popped up at eateries, from Tania’s Tea House on Jumeirah Beach Road to the new Food Shed in Abu Dhabi’s Bloom Gardens.

It’s a far cry from when I moved here 10 years ago and was gently mocked by my colleagues for trying to recycle, or when I faced shopping mall staff who couldn’t understand why I had a reusable bag. And it’s a massive shift from the years I spent struggling to find local resources to share with readers of the eco-column I wrote for The National newspaper.

With global corporations at the level of Starbucks finally choosing to stop providing plastic straws, this year’s Plastic-Free July most definitely resonated globally.

Here in the UAE, it seemed like a seismic shift.

More than 30 restaurants and hotels have pledged to phase out single-use plastic straws, with new food outlets  joining every day. Freedom Pizza’s owner, Ian Ohan, led the way last winter as part of the #stopsucking campaign, when in addition to plastic straws he also decided to stop handing out plastic cutlery – offering biodegradable versions at a slight cost. Deliveroo is among the food delivery companies now making customers opt-in for plastic cutlery, after partnering with the Emirates Wildlife Society. Most restaurants participating in its test phase had their plastic-cutlery usage reduced by half.

Tatiana Antonelli Abella is founder and managing director of Goumbook, the main reference on sustainability and green living in the UAE. Two years ago, Goumbook launched the Drop It UAE initiative to raise awareness on plastic pollution, and as she told Gulf News in June, there is now a “huge” interest among companies in going plastic-free. “It’s picking up very, very fast.”

It was only the first week of July when Tom Dillon, managing director at the Yas Marina social media agency, went to a talk given by an environmentally connected friend and decided to launch Plastic Free UAE. Within three days, his Facebook group gathered a surprising 1,500 members, and has now reached 2,000. Over the ensuing weeks, members have taken to the page to share many of their queries and eco-battles.

“Thank you for my birthday present,” wrote one user. Alongside a picture of a local grocery store’s delivery, the user wrote: “But do you really need to wrap it up in a plastic wrapper when it’s already in a plastic tray sealed with clingfilm?”

People have been posting about everything from buying refillable containers to their success in convincing a local restaurant to stop using straws.

From Dillon’s perspective, too, “there’s been a massive amount of movement on this.”

But now that the country seems to have woken up to the problem, what’s next? Dillon, for one, plans to ramp up Plastic Free UAE this autumn with beach cleanups and environmental talks. He also wants to spotlight small businesses that are making big changes and focus on educating others on how to be more environmentally conscious. With Abu Dhabi hosting the World Ocean Summit next March, Dillon believes the momentum created this summer is bound to grow.

There’s a lot of education to be done and awareness to be raised, but sustainability has finally become “fashionable” in the UAE, he says, in a way that it has been in other parts of the world for years now.

“The whole philosophy behind the group is small steps,” he explains. “We’re not expecting people to drop everything. I think that’s the totally wrong approach to take. We’re not going to go around pulling straws out of people’s mouths. We just want to educate people that this water bottle is going to take at least 450 years to biodegrade, so this water bottle is going to outlive your great-great-great grandchildren and it’s probably going to end up at the bottom of the ocean and a hermit crab is probably going to live in it.”

Maysoun Al Owais, vice-president of Azraq, a non-profit marine conservation organization that launched in the UAE earlier this year, said Plastic Free July was only the beginning.

“We are hoping that people stick with their new habits they adopted, and it looks promising because of the amount of awareness that was raised,” she said.

Azraq held several screenings over the summer of the documentary Straws. It tells the story of a turtle found in Costa Rica in 2015 with a straw in its bloodied nose. It has been a turning point in raising people’s awareness of the plastic issue. The documentary has been viewed more than 32 million times on YouTube.

After Straws’ Dubai screening, Freedom Pizza’s Ohan spoke about his decision to reduce plastic waste, which he made when he realized the volume of waste his company was producing – 500,000 straws and cutlery sets  in 2017 alone.

“It just makes more sense,” he said. “In my mind, if customers didn’t like it they could go somewhere else. But I would say 99 percent of the response was favorable.”

It was exciting to see so many companies follow after Freedom challenged them, he said, but there was more work to do.

“We are working on reducing and removing more single-use plastics and employing more environmentally friendly packaging.”

Alex Schneider, vice-president of Nikki Beach Hotels and Resorts, says the facility was going through 750,000 straws a year at its Pearl Jumeirah location before banning them earlier this summer.

Schneider has made it his mission to cut down on some of the more senseless waste – much of it plastic – at the hotel. There are no plastic-wrapped fruit baskets, or notepads and pens beside the bed; the mini-bar has larger bottles and the loo roll no longer has a frustrating and pointless sticker on it. However, Schneider believes the larger hotel chains are responding to this wasteful approach far too slowly.

“Basically you take a standard American hotel group and you turn it upside down and probably a thousand little pieces of pens, paper, plastic bags start to fall out,” he said. “And when you watch your housekeeping staff do a job, you see the bags of useless stuff just being thrown away because they get touched or they were used once, because you can’t give it to the next guest.”

And while one turtle helped prompt a sea change in the way people view plastic straws, animals and marine life are still dying from eating plastic bags. According to the UAE Ministry of Climate Change and the Environment, the UAE still goes through them at a rate of 13 billion per year – or 1,500 per person. And then there are single-use water bottles, of which the average UAE resident uses about 450 per year.

Movement on both is picking up. At the start of July, Waitrose reported a 74 percent reduction in the use of plastic bags just one month into a three-month trial of charging 25 fils for each bag. Grocery and convenience chains are taking steps to reduce their use of plastic bags. Zoom has plans to eliminate plastic bags; Lulu, at its Al Barsha branch, has distributed 6,000 eco-carriers. Meanwhile, Hilton Abu Dhabi on the Corniche has announced that it will stop using plastic and paper cups, replacing them with ceramic mugs and stainless-steel water dispensers. And when the Jumeirah at Saadiyat Island Resort opens in November, its goal is to be completely plastic-free.

Emma Banks, managing director of the Jumeirah Restaurant Group, said the group decided to ban plastic straws at its facilities around the same time Freedom did. But the victory was short-lived, as she soon realized how daunting the task was. Madinat Jumeirah alone goes through 3,000 water bottles a day on the beach.

“It’s just once you start, it’s massive,” she says. “But start we have.”