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How are the Middle East and North Africa tackling plastic pollution?

22 April 2024

Rooman Bukhari, ICE Qatar Committee member, highlights the importance of culturally relevant sustainability initiatives.

How are the Middle East and North Africa tackling plastic pollution?
The MENA region is witnessing an alarming increase in plastic pollution. Image credit: Shutterstock

According to National Geographic, over eight million tonnes of plastic find their way into the oceans every year, putting marine life and ecosystems around the world in danger.

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, with its diverse cultures, traditions, and environmental landscapes, faces unique environmental challenges, particularly in managing plastic pollution.

Countries in the region can draw inspiration from successful initiatives like Qatar's approach to water security, which highlights the importance of culturally relevant sustainability measures.

By weaving together local practices, educational efforts, and professional development, we can illuminate a path toward a more sustainable and plastic-free region.

Planet vs plastics

Plastic pollution poses a threat to all life on the planet.

That is why the theme for Earth Day 2024 (22 April) is ‘planet vs plastics’.

Find out more

Understanding the MENA region's challenges

The MENA region is witnessing an alarming increase in plastic pollution, affecting ecosystems across land and water.

According to the World Bank, “the average resident contributes more than 6 kg of plastic waste into the region’s seas each year, the highest level globally”.

Factors contributing to this surge include:

  • rapid urbanisation, with more people choosing to live in tows and cities;
  • increasing consumerism, with people purchasing more goods and services; and
  • a lack of adequate waste management and recycling facilities.

The region's unique climate, featuring vast deserts and extensive coastlines, makes the problem worse.

Sunlight, wind and waves break down plastic waste into microplastics and distribute these across the ecosystem, affecting biodiversity and human health.

Culturally relevant sustainability initiatives

To address these challenges, the MENA region can leverage its rich cultural heritage and innovative spirit to develop effective and sustainable solutions.

Here are several noteworthy initiatives:

Eco-friendly packaging alternatives

In Morocco, artisans are reviving traditional methods to produce biodegradable packaging solutions from palm leaves and recycled materials, offering a sustainable alternative to plastic bags and containers.

Community-based recycling programmes

The UAE has launched several initiatives encouraging community participation in recycling efforts.

One such programme involves installing reverse vending machines that reward individuals for recycling plastic bottles and cans.

Educational campaigns for sustainable living

Egypt has been at the forefront of integrating environmental education in schools.

It has focused on reducing plastic use and promoting recycling through interactive workshops and storytelling, tailored to resonate with the local culture and values.

Professional development in green technologies

Countries like Jordan are investing in professional development programmes that equip workers with skills in renewable energy technologies, waste management, and sustainable design.

This fosters a workforce adept at tackling environmental challenges.

Education is key to addressing plastic pollution

In an era where sustainability is of the greatest importance, educating future civil engineers about the environmental impacts of plastics is key to catalysing positive change.

Introducing sustainability into engineering education and professional development programmes can lead to a significant boost in eco-friendly practices, with a projected increase of 19-30%.

Eco-aware education

Educational institutions hold the key to fostering a sense of environmental responsibility in future engineers.

They can do this by introducing modules on the environmental consequences of pollution and ways to reduce it, as well as on sustainable construction practices.

Practical case studies and hands-on experiences that showcase these sustainable practices in engineering projects will empower students to apply what they learn in the future.

Professional development initiatives

Lifelong learning

Professional development programmes play an important role in teaching practicing engineers the latest advancements in sustainable engineering.

Continuous education ensures that engineers stay ahead of the curve in implementing eco-friendly technologies.

Certification for sustainability

By integrating sustainability criteria into engineering certifications and accreditations, professionals are encouraged to prioritise the environment in their projects, promoting a culture of sustainability within the industry.

The role of civil engineers

Civil engineers in the MENA region play an important part in addressing their profession's impact on the environment.

Educating the next generation of engineers in this region should involve a deep understanding of the region's unique cultures and environmental challenges.

By doing this, civil engineers in the MENA region can actively contribute to mitigating climate change and shaping a more sustainable future for the region and beyond.

  • Rooman Bukhari, senior project engineer at Metito