UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: Going Green (or trying to) in Abu Dhabi

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: Going Green (or trying to) in Abu Dhabi

Recycling in Abu Dhabi

I turned fifty last month.

See how calmly I said that? Just rolled right off my keyboard with nary a omigodhowdidigetsoold freakout.

Turning fifty in Abu Dhabi, where we’ve lived for the past three years, meant that my family couldn’t be with me to celebrate this milestone (millstone?).  On the other hand, celebrating here in a place that still feels quite “new,” reminds me that I’ve avoided one of the big pitfalls of late middle age: falling into a rut. As a wise friend here pointed out to me, when you’ve just upped stakes and settled in a new country, culture, city, you’ve pretty much blown the “rut” wide open.

I’ve gotten used to many new things over our years here–buying Pop-tarts in the “pork room,” Sunday as the start of the work-week, no door-to-door postal service–but there are other things that feel more difficult to resolve, particularly when I think about what my kids are (or aren’t) learning as a result of living here. As with all things, of course, we start to figure out what really matters to us, as parents and as people, when we’re confronted with the absence of that thing.

Here’s a thing that’s absent in Abu Dhabi: recycling. Think about that for a minute, especially those of you who live in the US: think about the fact that it’s become almost second nature to separate your garbage, to flatten the cardboard, take the empty bottles back to the store, to look for products in environmentally-conscious packaging (unless that triples the price in which case…hmm…).

Not here. Oh sure, there are some “recycle” bins in public places, and in the housing development where we live, we have two garbage bins: one for “wet” garbage and one for “dry,” but we’ve watched as both bins get dumped, day after day, into the maw of the same truck. Plastic water bottles are ubiquitous but there isn’t anywhere to recycle them (which will explain why there are about 75 of them under my sink right now–and I think they’re breeding); gas-guzzling SUVs are the norm; and while there is talk about developing solar power here (in the land of eternal sunshine and heat you’d think that would be a no-brainer), nothing as yet has happened.

I use many of these problems as “teaching moments,” trying to explain to my kids about the importance of being environmentally conscious, but it’s been difficult to put anything into action, unlike when we lived in New York, where we took our compost to the farmer’s market to be turned into worm food, separated our trash, and so on.

And then for my birthday, my husband surprised me with two boxes. One was very small and contained things that sparkled. That box was just for me. The other box, much bigger and bulkier, contained a big plastic tub. Much less romantic, perhaps, but a gift for the whole family to–if not enjoy, then at least participate in: Bokashi.

Bokashi is a Japanese word that means fermentation, and bokashi is a method of composting food waste by sprinkling the scraps with “bokashi bran,” which encourages the fermentation process.

All our food scraps (meat, cheese, bread, coffee grounds) go into the bokashi bucket and when the bucket is full, we bury the contents of the bucket in our backyard (although there are other options; see the website for details).

bokashi tub

Now my kids have an additional chore: they are the food scrap patrol. Uneaten contents of lunchboxes don’t get dumped at school; they go into the bokashi.  Dinner scraps, lunch bits, residue in cooking pots: bokashi, bokashi, bokashi.  Not only does composting in this fashion show my boys how much food we throw away and (I hope) make them more mindful about food waste, the process going on inside the bucket is like an ongoing science lesson: molds and other micro-organisms, all right there in the kitchen bucket.

Will this at-home recycling help Abu Dhabi resolve its recycling crisis? Of course not, but at least we are teaching our children (I hope) that everyone can do a small something — and that if enough people do a small something, a Big Something might result.  And that’s not a bad lesson –for kids or for fifty year olds.

Is recycling the norm in your country?  What do you do to go “green” in your country? 

This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Deborah Quinn in the United Arab Emirates of “Mannahattamamma.” 

Mannahattamamma (UAE)

After twenty-plus years in Manhattan, Deborah Quinn and her family moved to Abu Dhabi (in the United Arab Emirates), where she spends a great deal of time driving her sons back and forth to soccer practice. She writes about travel, politics, feminism, education, and the absurdities of living in a place where temperatures regularly go above 110F.
Deborah can also be found on her blog, Mannahattamamma.

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