blogging, Dubai, Sustainability

Sustainable living in a non-sustainable world

So, now I have a lot of time on my hands, its time to start trying to live with the planet in mind, in a country where the Government are starting to come around to the idea, but the denizens are not.

So it’s come to my attention that Dubai might not be the most eco-friendly of cities. This is not new news to me. My first thoughts when moving out here (besides ‘what do we do with the dog’) were ‘they don’t recycle! I’ve just got myself into a pretty good recycling regime and now I’m moving somewhere where recycling doesn’t happen! But trust me, it is changing.

Dubai as a city is clean (for the most part) and read recently that they have employed trash sharks to keep the creek litter free. They are also building a huge solar farm on the edge of the city and a nuclear power plant that will open in 2018-2020. They also are aiming to reduce landfill and recycle up to 75% of waste. Ambitious, but awesome. They have big plans. I just wish it would cool the place down a bit.

I hope they follow in the footsteps of Al Ain and set fines of 1 trillion dirhams for littering. (I exaggerate, but there was a lot of zeros on that number in the news article I read.

As they are hosting the Expo 2020, I get the impression that they want to pull their socks up, be seen as a leading country around the globe, so are employing all sorts of modern wizardry to make this smart city even greener. And smarter. HOWEVER, it’s come to my attention that whilst the Government might be doing this, the people who live here, might not be quite as on board as I would hope.

I think that comes down to communication. Unless you actively go on the Khaleej Times websites or Gulf News, you aren’t going to learn squat. I very much doubt many expats watch the local news channels either. Facebook (unfortunately) is the font of all knowledge, and following publications such as What’s On Dubai and Shortlist Dubai keep you in the happening of what recent laws/taxes are introduced, what roads are changing speed (AGAIN) and which celebrities have just graced Dubai with their presence. (Yawn).

So here is a breakdown of what it’s like out here from my eco perspective, what changes I have made, what changes I intend to make and what other people SHOULD be doing.

Drinking Water.

There is not much in the way of ‘natural’ water out here. They utilise sea water (desalination) cloud seeding (urban myth/real – you decide.) and rely on water from the Hajar Mountains and Hatta Dam. That’s fine… but 99.9% of people drink bottled water. There’s nothing wrong with the tap water in Dubai. Yes, it’s different, as the UAE relies heavily on desalination and yes, some people have ended up with bad skin/hair fall out because of it, but my skin is fine, and so is my hair. My dogs drink it straight from the tap (chilled in the fridge first – obviously!) and we use a Brita water filter. The problem is the tanks that the water is stored in for buildings. As a villa dweller, we can get our tank inspected and cleaned, but apartment dwellers have little control unfortunately. Yet other villa dwellers have water coolers and huge bottles delivered to them. They buy litres upon litres of the stuff in various sized bottles at the supermarkets. So, that was the starting point. How could we live in Dubai, without relying on bottled water? This one was EASY.

  • Reusable bottles. We have Simple Modern stainless steel ones that keep cold for around 24-hours. You can get them EVERYWHERE. Everyone makes them. We have two for out and about, Mark has one at work and a giant one for the dogs. Some of the reviews are hilarious (I suggest heading to Amazon for a read if your feeling low) “I put it in the fridge and the water was not as cool as the water in a normal plastic bottle”… You’re ignoring the laws of thermodynamics and insulation there my friend, please, don’t breed.
  • We have two more reusable Nalgene BPA free plastic non-spill bottles which we can fill and chuck in a cool bag, therefore extra water when travelling. There are no refill points in Dubai. (UK 1: Dubai 0) You have to buy a bottle if you run out. (I wouldn’t risk filling it up anywhere either unless it was specifically for that purpose.)
  • Brita filter. You can buy fancy filters to attach to your taps, but we took the easy option. Fill the Brita jug, fill a BPA free bottle and whack in the fridge. We have another BPA free bottle for the dogs, which we just tap fill and chill.

I’ll admit, we do have emergency bottled water, which is left over from when we moved in and were still trying to find our feet. That was 3 months ago, so clearly we don’t need it.

‘Other’ Water.

This is harder. Something I’m still struggling with, especially after reading the article about Cape Town being the first city to be left without water come April.

The garden needs watering. There’s no two ways about it. And it has to come from the mains water supply. They don’t even sell rain butts out here. One night’s rain would fill it, but you would use it in a day, and you can’t even guarantee that one night’s rain will ever actually happen.

I already shower every other day and wash my hair every 2-3 days, but that will change come summer, especially when it’s over 40 degrees. We’ll most likely go up to twice a day. For both of us. Just so we can feel cool. And human.

  • Garden. At the moment I water the garden every 3-4 days. We don’t have any grass (yet) and the plants are fairly hardy. (Probably not through their own choice!) I’m loathed to get any more, or any more pot plants inside either. I’ve seen people with hundreds of pots outside the front of their houses, and I know they look lovely, but this just isn’t the climate for it.
  • SWIMMING POOLS. I’d love one. I would. Most hotels/tower blocks have one. Most ‘suburban’ areas have one in their compound. YOU DON’T NEED ONE. (I do) They not only waste water as it’s continually topped up and cleaned, but they waste energy keeping them cool in summer and warm in winter. Be content with a public one people! (I’m not, I want a pool. I’ll never get one though because we can’t afford a place with one, so I can be smug yet secretly sad.)
  • Public places. They also water all public grass and plants with a sprinkler system (which is usually broke and leaking) twice a day. At the moment it DOESN’T NEED IT and the grass is dying and going yellow. Don’t even get me started on what they’ll do… that’s a whole other blog post.
  • Artificial lakes. They water the desert. Let me repeat that. They WATER THE DESERT. They also have several man-made lakes out there. They’re great and all, and the wildlife/birds are incredible, but IT’S A DESERT. You see more pipes transporting water around than you do wildlife sometimes. Can’t say it’s the nicest water that comes out of the sprinklers that’s for sure, it smells funny and I definitely don’t let the dogs drink it! I’m not sure I can come up with a solution to this one unfortunately. If anyone has any ideas, I’m all ears!

Coffee Cups.


We bought Keep Cups before we left the UK. Hugh’s war on waste was a big influencer in this. When we forget the cups, we either forgo coffee or drink in. That’s if the establishment has any ceramic cups on the go. In the big Starbucks in MoE (natch – Mall of the Emirates) by the Ski Slopes, they only use takeaway cups. But there are seats! And someone cleaning up! ARGH! SMDH!

Unfortunately, even the baristas look at you like a nutter when you ask for a ceramic mug or offer your Keep Cup to them. It’s completely alien out here. STARBUCKS EVEN SELL THEM but still think you’re mental when you use one.

It hurts my head.


You can even choose the colours!!


Carrier Bags.

Fortunately, this was ingrained into me in the UK. We’ve got pretty good at remembering to take reusable bags shopping, with some kept in the house, some in the car, and a couple of fold up ones in my rucksack. We are guilty of forgetting every now and again, but we’re fortunate in Springs that they take the bags with the recycling. We use the big grey plastic bags that you (have to) get when purchasing alcohol as bin liners. Yet again, the assistants who pack bags think you’re mad when you hand them bags to fill. Yes, they are getting used to it, and I have seen a couple of other people using reusable bags, but not enough. UPDATE: Spinneys sell reusable bags! They are at the end of every checkout! HUZZAH! If this makes a difference I’ll eat a tote bag.



In Springs, they collect recycling once a week. To be honest, they should either give me a bigger bin, or swap their twice-weekly black bin collection to once and recycling to twice. We recycle as much as we possibly can. We separate all food containers and if they’re not too dirty from takeaways, in the recycling they go. They take the same items as in the UK. I’ve heard tell that even though when you live in an apartment you have to separate your recycling out – but then it all goes down the same chute… My friends have been told that it is sorted before going to landfill. Which, in this country doesn’t actually surprise me. They employ people to wipe the dog bins clean and wash lampposts, so anything is possible.

Paper items

  • Kitchen Roll: Is super useful. But not recyclable once wet. I think we can live without it. We’ve hundreds of microfibre cloths and teatowels.
  • Hankies/Napkins: I need to purchase some hankies and some more linen napkins. I think we can do this one. Maybe some tissues will need to be kept for colds… but I think this is a fairly easy one to accomplish.
  • Toilet Roll: Despite there being a shattaf (bum gun) by the side of every toilet, I cannot bring myself to use it. The ones in our villa look particularly grim, and despite watching an Instructables video on how to use a bidet correctly, it ain’t happening. Plus you need to wipe down after with paper anyways. So…

Household items

  • Clingfilm/Plastic Sandwich bags etc: I haven’t bought any yet! I did stock up on Tupperware at IKEA and I have some reusable stretchy lid covers, but, touch wood – we shouldn’t need any!
  • Straws: Again, easy. Don’t need them. However, I am not yet in the habit of saying ‘no straw’ at restaurants. Everything comes with a damn straw. Or two. By the time it’s in your drink it’s too late. This is one I’m going to struggle with when out and about. Especially at the cinema or McDonalds. Maybe I should invest in some stainless steel ones.
  • Cleaning Products: I’m trying to make an effort to buy products from more ethically aware companies, but whilst they are quite a bit more expensive in the UK, they are substantially more expensive out here because they are imported and aren’t ‘in demand’.

Perishable Food.

There is no food waste recycling, and you don’t really want to home compost either, not in a country with temperatures reaching almost 50 degrees centigrade…

We struggled at first, as fruit does not last as long and everything must be refrigerated, (advent calendars had to live in the fridge for Christmas) but we’re getting there.

We miscalculated our first Kibsons delivery so we now have food coming out of our ears, but I was careful to order stuff that can supplement the dogs’ diet, so nothing (fingers crossed) should go to waste.

Food Containers/Packaging.

  • Supermarket items: It’s hard to get around purchasing things in containers out here. You have to get your fruit and veg weighed at the supermarkets, and if you don’t put it in a bag, the weigh server will. (Yeah, someone has to do it for you out here, they don’t trust you like they do in the UK.) Luckily I’ve found a fruit and veg delivery company who are super cheap, use paper bags and cardboard boxes to deliver everything. HURRAH!
  • Takeaways: We love it. And so does everyone else in Dubai. Some are pretty considerate with their packaging, some are not. We have a plethora of unused plastic cutlery. I don’t know what to do with it, it makes me feel funny. We wash everything we can and whack it in the recycling box. Anyway, there’s no way I’m going to stop eating takeaway though. Especially not when it’s 40 degrees outside and there’s no food in the house. Then the guilt cycle starts. You don’t want someone else to have to go out in the heat to deliver it to you. But then you worry that if you don’t support them they’ll be out of a job. And on… and on… and on…
  • Deliveries: The ease of the internet and the horror of Dubai malls means that I will still be getting items delivered that I buy online. At least cardboard is recyclable. I have, however, started making lists and taking photos of them, so that if I do find myself in a mall I can purchase other items should I see them. This has not proven to work in theory, YET…


  • Clothes: I haven’t found anywhere that recycles clothes yet. I might have to start upcycling them to other things. Somewhere must exist though, especially men’s clothes for the chaps living in labour camps. I’m also hoping to shop better/more ethical brands going forward too.
  • Shampoo/Bodywash: I’m hoping to switch us to bars of soap rather than squirty hand soap/body wash/shampoo. Yes, it does come in some form of packaging, but it’s usually cardboard and recyclable, and if I can figure out where a Lush is then I might be onto a winner, and we can purchase fewer plastics. Soap can also be taken on holiday in a little reusable container too, so that’s an added bonus.
  • Toothbrushes: We’ve got plastic disposable ones at the moment. I want to switch to either electric (which still have disposable heads) or bamboo ones. I haven’t decided.
  • Facewipes: I’m using my last pack, and then I want to invest in some Cheeky Wipes, or another similar reusable wipe. I have a whole pack of cotton pads that I don’t want to open and use. But I have them now, before I discovered the existence of reusable pads. Ahhhh the internal struggle! Perhaps I’ll just invest in a lovely nice facecloth and actually use it.
  • Tampons/Pads: This is one I need to address. My period lasts forever, (the last one was 17 days) and whilst not heavy, it’s a lot of tampons/pads required. (Plus buying tampons out here is weird, you can only get them in pharmacies, all supermarkets sell pads only.) So I’d like to switch to a Mooncup. I just need to figure out how to get one out here.


If anyone can think of anything else I haven’t thought of, that I can change to make a minuscule impact within this country, let me know. I’m hoping that the more people I meet, the more I might be able to subtly push them to do the same thing. I doubt it though. This country does breed the throwaway lifestyle after all, just not in the same way it’s perceived by western countries.

Most people live a lot more modestly as the cost of living here has risen substantially in the last few years. Whilst there is no tax, (VAT was introduced in Jan 2018) you PAY FOR EVERYTHING and there are hidden charges (taxes) everywhere. However, whilst saving money using the myriad of discount apps is possible, people still employ cleaners, someone to clean their car, gardeners, maids, cooks, laundry services etc. Something which we have avoided thankfully so far. It’s so so SO easy to be incredibly lazy in this country, and just live the work/gym/bar lifestyle which we’re trying so hard to avoid.   

A lot of this is written with the idea of living in a campervan/travelling in mind. A way of reducing what we have down to the essentials, without compromising on quality/longevity. Interestingly, I’m reading Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Persig who has a lot to say on the subject of quality and how we perceive it. I think that’s a whole other blog post though.

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