EnvirOman

There are a number of reasons that, on the surface, a move to Oman for a feminist environmentalist seemed like more of a challenge than other choices available and attracted various reactions of surprise and concern from family and friends. In fact, as my pre-move research revealed, Oman is quite a laid-back country with a harmonious live-and-let-live attitude. I certainly fare no worse here based on my gender than in other far-flung parts of the world. Some of my clothing choices have altered somewhat, but little more so than in subtly Confucian-influenced east Asia. Environmental lifestyle choices, however, are extremely limited. Today, I’m sharing my discoveries so far.

Yes, I’m sure some of you are thinking it already so I’ll come straight out and acknowledge the big, avian elephant in the room: it’s kinda hypocritical of someone who jumps on a plane every few months to worry about the environment. This is true. And as a lifelong desire to see as much of the world as possible fuels my life and career choices, I have to do my best to offset it in my other choices, such as last year’s Korean staycation in which I travelled 600km for a seaside holiday under the power of my own two legs.

Of course, the main goal is trying to conserve energy and limit waste in my day to day life. This is proving tough in my new environment. While Korea recycled everything from used kitchen oil and food waste to every kind of plastic and tetra-pac imaginable, Oman displays little awareness of the kind of green messages that are now a part of everyday life in other, similarly developed societies. I decided it was time to scratch under the surface and find what I could to help me keep my green creds growing.

1. Transport.

This is far and away the biggest issue for anyone living in Oman. From a dusty dot on the map 40 years ago, Oman has bloomed into a full-paced, oil-powered economy. Cities have sprung up along superhighways used by air-conditioned SUVs running on ridiculously cheap petrol. Distances to anywhere you want to go are vast, and routes are often transected by main roads built with little leeway for any pedestrians, let alone cyclists.

Public transport exists in the form of red Mwasalat buses, launched in late 2015. Yes, last year Muscat got its first public buses! The good news is the routes are expanding, the service is reliable, affordable, and the bus stock is really nice. The bad news is there are far fewer buses than meet public demand and for some reason they will only accommodate seated passengers, so once all the seats are full – usually from the bus station during peak hours – no one else can board. If you do want to try them, the bus stops are large, clean and good shelter from the sun and the services run every 15 minutes. There are hopeful signs that the fleet is to be enlarged, the routes expanded and the service time improved to 10 minutes in the near future.

Before that, and actually still much more frequent and useful, are the colectivo-style ‘baisa buses’ – baisas being the unit of currency that make up the Omani rial (1 rial = 1000 baisas; deal with that maths on top of currency conversion!). These are cheap and cheerful come-as-you-are affairs costing around 200 baisa (50 cents) for a central journey and a maximum of 400 baisa (a dollar) if you travel end to end, or from the airport to the nominal ‘centre’ of the city around Al Khuwair / MSQ. The limitation is that they only run the main roads, and there are no dedicated stops with shelters. To jump on board, join the groups of people huddled in the shade of trees at major junctions and keep your eyes peeled for the next white minivan: the buses have an orange circle on their sides and a taxi sign on the roof.

Cycling does happen and there are a number of sport and social cycling groups. Cycle commuting is also evident, but not by Omanis or what I’ll broadly term ‘European’ expats. Instead, I’m joining the ranks of the south Asian cyclists who cautiously line the roads and pavements. I have yet to see any other regular cycle commuters helmeted-up (or indeed with any safety gear) and fully reclaiming the roadways. I’m hoping to lead by prominent example. Despite naysayers, there are enough service roads and residential routes that it’s possible to travel safely, avoiding the speeding SUVs on the huge highways, and as long as you can limit the distance between 10am and 3pm, even the heat hasn’t proven too prohibitive.

Madame's Place

Madame has a bike port of her own

2. Recycling

Recycling is now so ingrained in me that I can’t imagine throwing everything in the same waste bin. This is fine if it is also ingrained in your municipality, but here it seems to be a total oddity. Clearly, there is some awareness of environmental issues. With a wealth of natural resources and wildlife, Oman has an established Environment Society which hosts talks and events. They also encourage saying no to plastic bags at the supermarket which, from the goggle-eyed stares I get when I roll up with my backpack and reusable bags, hasn’t really taken off. Other hands-on daily life options are equally limited.

I recently discovered a fantastic paper recycling campaign being run by the Muscat Daily. Targeting schools and young people to herald a more environmentally conscious future generation in the Sultanate, they offer to pick up paper, books, magazines and cardboard from both large institutes and private homes. As I’ve just moved in, I had cardboard boxes from all sorts of household items and a stack of paper packaging just waiting to go. A couple of false starts due to 1) an impromptu public holiday and 2) Muscat’s mysterious address system have meant it’s taken a while, but my paper and boxes were picked up by the bright orange Muscat Daily van yesterday.

Home recycling

Home recycling

As for plastics, glass and cans, I have a separate bin for them in the kitchen currently reaching breaking point but I’m struggling to find a recycling centre where I can drop stuff once I’ve collected enough to be worth a journey. Some of the cleaning team at work collect cans and plastic bottles and sell them to recycling firms, so it’s possible to take them there. Major malls have recently installed rubbish bins which separate general waste from paper and plastic bottles courtesy of Plasbin, an expanding recycling company, but who wants to unload a backpack of crushed bottles in front of the shopping masses? ……actually, I will if I have to.

Plastic, aluminium and styrofoam can apparently be recycled here while, at the moment at least, glass isn’t handled by any recycling company. Watch this space for updates on how to recycle these items yourself.

3. Food and green waste

Here’s the experiment I’m most personally invested in at the moment. For the first time since moving abroad I have a yard with trees. It’s hard work keeping things alive in the summer in this corner of the world, so I’ve decided to start home composting. I don’t have a huge yard, it’s really a strip of soil with some trees to shade the facade of the house. At one end of that strip there now sits a plastic bin, full of kitchen scraps and yard sweepings. There’s a smaller, matching bin in my kitchen for daily food waste.

A healthy layer of browns

A healthy top layer of browns

I know nothing about effective composting, so this is all ‘action research.’ I’ve discovered the reason why oil, bones, and cooked foods can’t go in the pile (they smell and attract insects and rodents) and that a healthy pile will need a balanced mix of ‘greens’ and ‘browns’ to keep the pH balance right and also the smell and the aforementioned insects and rodents away (Getcomposting.com). As there are no real compost bins available, I think I’ve actually created a hot, sealed anaerobic compost system akin to the Bokashi system, so this weekend I’m researching what compounds I need to add to help it to break down so I can dig it in to my strip of earth. I’m also looking further into sheet composting following advice from a discussion thread on the challenges of composting in this neck of the woods.

Again, all of this is work in progress, so watch this space to learn more about composting in a hot, hot climate.

Mmmmmmm, compost

Mmmmmmm, compost

The links

Transport in Muscat and Oman

http://mwasalat.om/en-us/  The public bus company runs a limited but growing number of services within Muscat, and inter-city buses to all major cities in the country.

Environment Society of Oman

http://www.eso.org.om/ Events, challenges, ideas and resources for environmental conservation in Oman.

Muscat Daily paper recycling campaign

Email recycle@apexmedia.co.om for information or call (+968) 8007 6000 and arrange collection. It’s all very simple and the operators are very helpful!

http://plasbin.com/about-us.html Corporate solutions may be around the corner from Plasbin.

Home composting information

http://www.getcomposting.com/composting_guide.html#making Lots of useful information on composting ingredients and methods.

http://www.aussieslivingsimply.com.au/forum/discussion/2582/compost-bin-in-a-hot-hot-place-ideas Forum discussion on how best to compost in Muscat and the Middle East, from Australians – who know about these things.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Angie
    May 31, 2016 @ 07:04:28

    It’s interesting that recycling isn’t top of the list. It seems like every where you go it would be. It sounds almost as far behind as where I live when it comes to recycling. Where we live we can only take packaging. If the plastic part you buy breaks, you can’t recycle it here, only the package it came in. I love composting. I even have compost worms because winter is so long. This way they eat my food waste all year long and during the summer I also compost outside.

    Like

    Reply

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