Oman is on the forefront of sustainable development in the GCC with a strong focus on the environment. As we aspire towards a shift for a safer tomorrow for future generations, we dive into the untold efforts of individuals who are collectively shaping this goal.
“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. How dare you?”
These words by 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg at the UN Climate Action Summit in New York, USA, became the driving force of a great debate; one that focuses on climate change and, more importantly, sustainability.
It’s a simple word with significant meaning.
It describes the act of meeting the needs of the present without compromising on the needs of future generations – a task that would ensure safe and equal sustenance for all.
But our actions, as experts say, are far from sustainable. Whether it’s the petrol we fill our cars with or the products we bag up in plastic, our actions have long disproved our vision to make the world a safer place where we and all living beings can co-exist without a tussle for survival.
A simple Google search for ‘plastics in the ocean’ throws open a world of information on plastic islands – most infamous of which is the Great Pacific garbage patch, which is an 80,000 metric tonne floating body of plastics that now permanently takes up 700,000 sqm of surface area (roughly the size of Texas, USA).
Scratching the surface will also reveal heartbreaking pictures of marine life suffocated to death by plastic or by other imperishables.
All of this begs us to ask the question: do we really care about Mother Nature and all living things it harbours?
One young Omani entrepreneur in the Sultanate may just have a solution. Husain Mohammed Baomar sells bags, but they’re not plastic. In fact, his product proudly reads: ‘I’m not plastic.’
It’s hard to imagine what else it would be. His bags – named, Sain Bags – has a texture not far from plastic and just as much capacity. But, as he says, it’s as green as bags get.
The bio-degradable, recyclable, and compostable bags are an alternative that’s made from bamboo – and are 100 per cent eco-friendly.
“We care,” he says, in an interview with Y. “This company came to being because of my love for the environment. I grew up around farms, and it had such an impact on me.
“I just couldn’t watch the world progress in such a manner of not caring about how much plastic we dump into the oceans and seas.”
He’s right. An estimated 14 billion pounds of trash – most of which is plastic – is dumped into the world’s oceans every year as reported by Sea Stewards, a media company specialising in marine and underwater photography.
In 2012 alone, it was estimated that there was approximately 165 million tonnes of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans. One study also estimated that there are more than five trillion plastic pieces – classified into small micro-plastics, large micro-plastics, meso- and macro-plastics – afloat at sea currently.
Moreover, in 2015, it was reported that 322 million metric tonnes of plastic was produced globally. And the figure keeps growing; by 2050, it’s expected to be as much as four times higher.
Perhaps this is why entrepreneurs in Oman are slowly moving towards recyclable alternatives to plastic bags.
Clinton Povo, 26, [pictured right] is another entrepreneur based in the Sultanate who’s trying to make a move towards sustainability with his biodegradable bags, sipping straws, and recycled paper pencils named Respirar.
“There’s a problem – and we need to address it. And if it means taking a strong stance to make a difference, then so be it.”
While both Husain and Clinton make a difference with their products, the impact of their struggles extends beyond the borders of Oman. For instance, Husain’s biodegradable bags have been adopted by all GCC countries and Jordan. Some of his clients include the Petroleum Development of Oman (PDO), L’Oréal Paris, and Dufry, among many others.
It’s also worth noting that hotels such as Al Bustan Palace, a Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Shangri-La Barr al Jissah Resort & Spa, and restaurants such as Wagamama have also ditched plastic straws in favour of either paper or metal ones that can be reused.
All of this further falls in-line with Muscat Municipality and Be’ah (Oman Environmental Services Holding Company)’s initiatives to eradicate the use of single-use plastics.
Meanwhile, Oman’s Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs (MECA) had also issued a statement in 2018 saying: “The ministry is currently working to complete the regulation on the use of plastic bags to biodegradable ones to limit their hazards on the environment and human health, as well as the sustainability of the ecological system and biodiversity in coordination with other competent authorities.”
Sulaiman al Balushi, a diver and environmentalist based in Oman says that plastics have become a ‘permanent pollution’ to the world. He says: “Plastics can take up to 1,000 years to decompose and, even when they do, they emit harmful gases to the atmosphere.
“When compared with other Asian countries, Oman has done a fantastic job in keeping much of the plastics away from the seas. That’s an achievement. But yes, it still happens – and we must take a stand to avoid that.
“Dumping or littering with plastic is a crime and people know that.”
As per Omani law, those found littering can be fined up to RO1,000; but as per Sulaiman, not all forms of littering or polluting come with a fine.
He explains: “While plastic pollution hurts sustainable development, there are other forms that are recognised, and not much is being done on a global level to reduce that.
“One of the greatest forms of air pollution comes from the fumes from engines, and paint when it reacts with sunlight; and there’s water pollution from the micro-beads in face washes, deforestation, and other forms of pollution that hamper our move towards sustainability.”
Sulaiman’s statement is in-line with Greta’s speech at the UN. While plastic stands as one of the cancers of society, aspects such as air and water pollution are just as dangerous to ourselves and our resources.
A report filed by media company Wired in August of this year , shed light on how diseases caused by pollution took as many as 9 million lives around the world in 2015 alone – marking nearly 16 per cent of all deaths worldwide.
It also told us of the $5 trillion USD loss the world incurred from healthcare and productivity losses arising from pollution. This forms a staggering six per cent of the global economic output.
Perhaps, that’s why Oman’s MECA is also taking a strong stand against air pollution. After receiving complaints from residents in Qurum of a strong odour earlier in September, the ministry conducted a thorough study to pinpoint that the cause of the pollution was, in fact, from shipping crude oil to offshore tankers and ‘emissions from some of the region’s oil establishments.’
In a statement to the media, the ministry wrote: “The ministry followed what has been circulated on social media on the issue of air pollution in the Qurum area, and we would like to confirm that the ministry tracked the issue closely to identify the causes of odours.”
It has since confirmed that it had agreed with the relevant authorities to find a treatment plan to ensure safety of the communities.
As it stands today, Wired found that more than 140,000 untested chemicals and pesticides have entered the environment since 1950. Pollution, as epidemiologists put forward today, is any foreign substance in air, water, or soil that can adversely affect human health.
This has led to the creation of Khimji Paints’ eco-friendly Royal Tuff Stain Resistant Emulsion and Deluxe Matt Emulsion. While it only focuses on one band of chemicals that we’re exposed to in our daily lives – paints – this Oman-made product boasts lowVOC (low volatile organic compounds) paint that’s ozone-friendly.
The lack of odour and VOC also means it’s a healthier alternative to regular paints for homes.
Following the lead of ministries and companies, now members of the community have also begun declaring their support for sustainability.
Media personality, Fahad al Abri, famed for his Instagram account, @cavemangram – a page that focuses on healthy living by creating a balance between everything mental and physical – is among those in the Sultanate who has created a lasting impact on sustainability.
The Omani has also gone on to create a volunteering group with their sights set on green initiatives, Move Green. He’s also since created a song for nature, titled ‘Matloob lil Adaala’, which went viral in Oman, before spreading the message to countries such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and even as far as Egypt.
Fahad’s Instagram page shows videos where community members clean up beaches across Oman while singing the song.
In an exclusive interview with Y, he says: “It’s the love for nature and outdoors, and the belief that I’m a part of the environment and that the environment is part of me, that’s led me to create this community.
“It’s volunteering work. People are putting their hearts in to it. The community forces you to create an individual spirit and team spirit to realise that we’re all together in this and that it’s our responsibility [to rid trash and plastic from beaches].
“What I would like to tell people is that in this time that we call the ‘plastic age’, we’re harming the environment with our actions, and we need to understand and discover mechanisms as to how we can avoid plastics.”
Fahad then goes on to explain how society has begun seeing the environment as a secondary mission, and how people think they’re above Mother Nature.
“I tell people to be civilised and to be a conscious part of the environment. And when you do that, you must be a part of the environment by practice and not by words alone. Be the influence and the change.”
Having merged his handstand initiative with his goal to protect nature, Fahad’s community is now over 1,000 people.
His motto is simple: “If earth connects me with a different stone or a planet, it can connect me with different people. Basically, everything around me is earth. And with my handstands, I’m standing on earth; not anything else.
“If we enforce our morals of saving our planet from the evils of pollution, then that’s the greatest gift we can give Mother Earth.”