Y Magazine

Garbage Warriors

Oman’s serene beauty is under threat from litterbugs. While the authorities are cracking down on offenders, it’s a constant battle to keep both our urban and rural areas clean and safe. Alvin Thomas meets two dedicated volunteers who, quite literally, are bidding good riddance to bad rubbish.

The time is 6am: the temperature is just a touch above 25 degrees, the sun is slowly rising over the beautiful sandy beaches of Al Ghubra, and the twilight rays are beginning to define the night sky and form a sharp outline of the clouds. It’s a very beautiful moment that not many get to witness, more so, because it is a Saturday – the last day of the weekend and a day to relax before heading back to work or school on Sunday.

But for two men living in the area around Al Ghubra beach, this is no ordinary day and these are no ordinary men, either.

Nadir al Maskary, for instance, is a former employee of Petroleum Development Oman (PDO) and Christopher Clarke is an environmental manager at AlSafa Environmental & Technical Services.

Both are respected men in their own fields and above all, residents of Oman who share the same passion: keeping their country clean.

Armed with green and black bags, a set of gloves each and garbage picks, the two set off on a mission to clean up their surroundings.

One of their target locations is Al Ghubra beach garden – a beautiful expanse of greenery on the edge of the beach, a lush spot that has given the area its identity.

Over the years, the garden has garnered a lot of attention from the public, and has since become a hotspot for leisure activities, including parties and barbecues, or for people taking a casual stroll. But the increase in traffic has also given birth to a new problem: littering.

The two men don’t have much time for chit-chat though, as they know they have their work cut out for them.

And before you know it, the cleaning has started. Both Nadir and Christopher begin picking up the large piles of trash – which includes cans, bottles, plastic cups, bags, food waste, diapers and balloons – and stash them in plastic bags for the Muscat Municipality truck to collect.

“We do this every week,” says Nadir.

“Initially, when this park became known around the area, people – both families and groups of friends – began coming here. Of course, we are happy to have more people visit the area. We want people to enjoy it and have a nice time. But then these people eat, drink and have fun, and leave behind their trash and walk away.

“That is what makes me angry. They expect the Municipality to come and clean up their mess after they are done.

“Even I go for picnics with my family to many places but we double-check that we have completely taken care of whatever we have used and make sure we tie it up in a bag and throw it in a dustbin.

“By leaving garbage in the surroundings you are causing an environmental impact too. There are many birds that come to the garden, and they will slowly eat it and die,” he says.

Nadir also points out that all the litter they are picking up on this particular day is from the previous evening. Things don’t end there either, as he points out that the litter has started extending towards the beach.

“The garbage that people throw here will reach the beaches and will eventually affect the marine life. People have become very selfish nowadays and don’t care about anything or anybody but themselves,” he says angrily.

Christopher sheds some light on this: “Studies have shown that the garbage really does affect the environment, and particularly the marine environment. One of the worst examples comes in abandoned plastics and fishing nets that are dumped around the beaches.

“I have seen cases where creatures and birds have been caught up in waste items or they have swallowed them. This will eventually result in their deaths if we are not careful,” he adds.

A study published by “Litter. It Costs You.” shows a staggering 1.9 billion tonnes of litter end up in the world’s oceans every year, further endangering wildlife and causing their displacement, which will also upset the eco-system.

“There is a saying: ‘Leave nothing but your footprint,’” Christopher says. “That is a common saying and those are words people should go by. But I say that you should go one step further and leave a place in a better state than you found it.”

Christopher does not live in Al Ghubra, and is only in the garden to offer support and assistance to Nadir. The litter spans a large area and the rising temperatures are making the clean-up much more arduous and a challenge for just two individuals. 

“I have only just started with Nadir, to be honest,” says Christopher.

“We started with around six to eight people from the neighbourhood,” Nadir says. “Some were children but they have now stopped coming because it is too early for them. So today, it is just us two. But we can appreciate all the helping hands we can get.”

In a surprising turn of events, a young man who is in the vicinity for an early morning dip in the sea decides to put off his swim and helps the two clean up.

And in a couple of hours, the three men are done cleaning up the entire garden and a portion of the beach. They collect more than 20 large bags full of trash.

But as Nadir rubs sweat off his forehead, he points at the now pristine area, and says: “People will come today and continue to dump their trash and not clean up afterwards.”

But that doesn’t hamper Nadir’s and Christopher’s faith in humanity. As a matter of fact, both say that they believe that their efforts will see the “light of day”, and that one day the residents will acknowledge their requests to “clean up their mess”.

When Y reported the efforts of the two men to the Muscat Municipality, an official who wished to remain unnamed, said: “We really appreciate the efforts of the people who dedicate their time, money and energy into beautifying the country.

“Allah will bless them abundantly.” He also points out that there are many others who “dedicate their days towards making the country a safer and cleaner place to live in”.

He also goes on to add that the Muscat Municipality is adopting stricter steps to prosecute litterbugs around the country.

“From this month onwards [April 15], we will be introducing new fines across Oman,” he says.

“We will be doubling the fines for repeat offenders. Moreover, we are warning everyone to adhere to the new law, because you will be fined RO1,000 of you are caught littering in public.” The new fines have been raised from RO200 for the first two violations and then RO500 for repeat offenders. Meanwhile, anyone who is caught throwing rubbish in a non-designated area may face imprisonment for up to 10 days or a fine of up to RO300.

“We have received information that people – especially youngsters – go to the wadis for camping and then dump their waste there. These are the sort of people we will be fining.

“Of course, we cannot keep CCTV cameras everywhere but what can be done is that people can report any incident to the Muscat Municipality if they see anyone littering in these areas.

“In many public spots we already have posters, which warn the citizens not to litter. We have also worked very hard to provide adequate dustbins in public areas. We urge everyone to use these trash cans and be responsible human beings. 

“Youngsters who go to the outskirts of Oman usually end up staying the night. And most people have barbecue nights and cook their own food. They then leave their leftovers there.”

Christopher recollects a recent incident during a trip to a wadi in Oman. He says: “My mother came to Oman a few weeks ago and even though she was wearing sandals, which were protecting her feet, a barbecue stick went right between her toes. It actually hurt her quite badly.

“I have noticed – and I do go to many areas for my clean-ups – that people try to burn the trash. It does more harm than damage. First of all, it produces harmful fumes and the people who are affected are the ones sitting around.

“And when you burn plastic, it becomes molten and resolidifies. This then becomes much harder to clear out, as it sticks to rocks. So my humble advice to you would be if you cannot clear it up, please don’t burn the trash. Also please don’t smash glass. It becomes very hard to clear as well and somebody will get hurt eventually.”

Suleiman al Batashi, a businessman who helps clean the Rose Garden in Qurum, says: “Everybody knows the effects of littering yet they continue to do it. There are public service announcements on TV, billboards with messages, and there are many fines that are devised to stop you from littering. But if you are still tempted to do so, think of it as a crime. By doing so, you’re killing birds, destroying plants, possibly even harming humans. Think: what would you do if you got to know that a plastic bag you threw in a park choked a child? Could you live knowing that?

“I have been doing this clean-up service for over a year now. But I have seen the same people repeating the same offence time and time again. At the end of the day, all I can think of is the fact that I have taken one harmful piece of trash away from the public. I will continue to do that until the day I cannot move.”

Similarly, Nadir continues to believe that his efforts will not be in vain. He has also reached out to our readers and asked for assistance.

“Anyone who wants to join us can do so. Thankfully, the Muscat Municipality has provided us with litter bags, garbage sticks, gloves and even a first aid kit. So, we are covered in every possible way. So the only thing we would require is your time and energy,” he says.

“The only cure for litter is you.”

Teens Respond

Viktoria Praczko

Oman is an economically developing country with many natural sights that represent the local culture. As a resident of the country for several years now, I feel I’m responsible for keeping it clean and not littering in public areas. I think the Muscat Municipality made a good decision by creating rules against littering and I’m hoping pollution will be reduced.

Jack Overton

Oman is one of the most beautiful countries in the world and day by day, it is being destroyed by litter. Next time you throw something onto the ground and don’t pick it up… just think. Think how bad that is for the country, the environment and us. We are lucky to live here. Don’t take it for granted.

Crea Butlin

I am glad that these laws have been announced because Oman is beautiful, but you are always surrounded by rubbish and litter, which detracts from its beauty. Littering is also terrible for the environment, especially on beaches around the country. It’s good that the Government has finally forced this law upon us to make sure that Oman is kept clean and maintains a good environment.

Tips to keep your community litter-free

1. Set an example by refraining from littering. Carry a litter bag in your car or put litter in your pocket until you find a container.

2. Start by picking up one piece of litter every day.

3. Teach your kids the proper way to dispose of trash. Show them the difference between a clean area and an area spoiled by litter, and stress why it’s important to put trash in proper containers.

4. Ask your neighbours to join you in cleaning up a public area.

5. Tie papers in a bundle before placing them in a curbside recycling bin. Loose papers and other recyclables can be blown around by the wind.

6. If you or a member of your family is involved in a civic group, scouting, or recreational sports programme, encourage the group to become involved in a clean-up. In some communities, groups can earn cash by separating recyclable products from litter and redeeming them. Have the group “adopt” an area and maintain it on a regular basis.

7. Find out how you can plant and maintain flowers along a curb or pavement. People litter less in areas that have been beautified.

8. Ask business owners to check their skips every day to make sure their tops and side doors are closed.

9. If you own a construction or hauling business, make sure your lorries are covered when transporting material to and from sites. Use fencing around construction or demolition sites to prevent debris from being blown into other areas.

Source: keepmassbeautiful.org