The UAE residents joined hands and marked the World Environment Day under the theme ‘Beat Air Pollution’ on Wednesday. They took up the global ‘Mask Challenge’ which encouraged people to wear masks and post images and creative artwork on social media, spreading awareness on rising air pollution levels.
Saeed Mohammed Al Tayer, managing director and CEO of the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (Dewa), said with the launch of the ‘Mask Challenge’ this year, the UAE has taken early steps to conserve natural resources, increase the contribution of clean energy, and implement green development plans.
He pointed out that World Environment Day provides an opportunity to urge governments, industries, communities, and individuals to work together to explore renewable energy and green technologies.
A 14-year-old’s missionary zeal to save the planet
Neola Castelino is only 14 but has already earned titles like Young Environmentalist, Alpha-Econian, Eco Campaigner, Top Recycler and Green Action Hero. Her passion to save the planet and preserve its environment is unflinching. Her classmates endearingly call her ‘Mother Earth’ for her continuous contribution towards maintaining the ecological balance.
Neola’s love for preserving the environment started five years ago, when she was just 9. Since then, Neola – who is now a Grade 10 student of Our Own English High School – takes various steps throughout the year to help reduce the carbon footprint in the world. Her weekends, holidays, birthdays and special days (such as World Environment Day, Earth Day etc) are spent collecting old papers, cans or plastic waste from neighbours and restaurants which she takes for recycling at reverse vending machines (RVMs).
“Collecting papers for recycling isn’t a very easy task. Whenever my neighbours or friends call me for collecting their papers, I go with my jute bags and pick them and store them at my apartment. Every month, we load papers to the car and drop them off at the Emirates Environment Group (EEG) office, Bee’ah and my school, where it’s recycled. This work is tiring for sure, but worth all the time I spend on it,” she said.
“I also collect plastic bottles from the gym in my building, and have asked the building cleaners to either give me the plastic bottles they collect or recycle them in the RVMs,” she added.
On this World Environment Day, that came in during her Eid break, Neola – along with her family – took a slighty long trip all the way to Fujairah to check on 15 saplings she had planted in 2015 on the same day. She also created an artwork made out of used plastic bottle caps on the spot.
Being part of the EEG, the girl has planted 50 saplings of different varieties under her name at Fujairah, Umm Al Quwain, Dibba Al Hisn, Al Quoz and Al Huwaylat (South RAK).
The youngster, who is also fond of art, makes creative art pieces out of plastic bottle caps.
“Even when the importance of tree plantation is so evident, there are only a handful of people who actually take it as their responsibility to indulge in this activity. The rest are so engrossed in their lives that they do not understand that without enough trees around we wouldn’t be able to live long. It is time we must recognise the necessity to grow trees and contribute our bit towards it.”
On a green path
Talking about her five-year-old green journey, Neola said: “Initially, I used to get only a few papers, a handful of cans and 1-2 plastic bottles from a few next door neighbours.
Then my mother gave me an idea to distribute pamphlets and visit more families in the neighbourhood and local area. I started going around and taking a small survey (nearly visited 200 families) on what they do with the daily newspapers, old books etc. Shockingly, most of them used to throw the papers or leave them near the garbage. After my visit, things changed as many of them decided to give whatever recyclables (old newspapers, magazines, books, plastic bottles, aluminum cans) to me on a weekly basis.”
In five years, Neola has collected more than 15,000kg of newspapers, 4,000kg of aluminum cans, and 6,100 plastic bottles – mainly from nearby restaurants, cafes, public parks and from her neighbouring buildings.
Giving out her message on World Environment Day, Neola said: “I believe that allocating just one day for ‘encouraging awareness’ isn’t fair. The speed at which we are depleting our resources and reducing the size of ‘green zones’, we are doing more harm than good to ourselves. Small steps are crucial to bring about a change. These could be using the public transport, conserve energy by switching lights off when not in use, minimising plastic use and planting saplings.”