In recent years, the push for people to become more environmentally conscious or friendly has amplified with more countries, businesses and people making sustainable decisions and taking action to ensure the environment of the planet does not deteriorate to a point where future generations face water shortages, extreme weather events, excess temperature and other catastrophes. However, in today’s eco-conscious world, there’s much to be done whether as individuals, governments or countries.

Founded in May 2017, Doha Environmental Actions Project (DEAP) is a volunteer organisation focused on beach cleanups, leading the fight against plastic pollution in Qatar. To date, DEAP has completed 156 organised events with more than 9,000 volunteers, collecting over 102 tons of trash from the beaches and sand dunes of Qatar. ‘We are an online community in Qatar and we want to keep Qatar clean. That’s plain and simple what we’re all about. We want to educate the public about the environment and plastic pollution in particular. We want to show and empower them to take action,’ said the Director of DEAP, Jose Saucedo.

DEAP is run by Mexican-American industrial engineer turned full-time volunteer and environmental activist Jose Saucedo, a resident of Qatar, who inherited DEAP when he first arrived to the country in 2017 from original founder, Jeanne Brown, who no longer resides in Qatar.

‘It all started with a small group of friends getting together, going to the beach. Like many expatriates and people that come to Qatar, we did not like what we saw. There’s a lot of pollution on the beaches, a lot of plastic. It’s not unique to Qatar. Plastic pollution is a global problem, right? Everybody is trying to figure it out. But the nice thing is people here said, ‘Well, what are we going to do about it?’ So we started to do a clean-up on a weekly basis. Fast forward to two and a half years later, now the group has grown significantly being more than just a group of friends hanging out in the beach, cleaning up to a truly leading volunteering organisation in the country, trying to some good,’ he explained.

In addition to a network of 9,000 volunteers, Saucedo runs DEAP with an ad hoc core team of 15-20 people. Volunteers are recruited via DEAP’s Facebook and Instagram accounts where the cleanups and other DEAP activities are announced. ‘It’s all social media. We have no money, office, business cars, staff. All the admin work is done by me. I do this on a daily basis. I’m always meeting with people,’ he said. ‘There’s no agenda here. I’m just doing what I love. And if these resonate with you, you will come and say, “Hey! What can I do to help?”‘ he added.

Every Friday, DEAP organises a public cleanup with a maximum of 400 volunteers at different locations, which are mostly beaches such as Sealine, Fuwairit, Al Ghariya, Al Khor, Dukhan, Umm Bab and more. At times, DEAP has organised cleanups at sand dunes, parks and even the Doha Corniche. DEAP’s beach cleanups have attracted many notable local figures including HE Sheikh Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani and the Minister of Municipality and Environment, HE Abdulla bin Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Subaie.

A completely non-profit organisation with no funds, DEAP is provided with the necessary cleanup supplies, including plastic trash bags, by the Ministry of Municipality and Environment (MME). Once the trash is collected, the volunteers place them near the nearest waste bins and notify MME, also known as Baladiya, of the location of the collected trash for a team from Baladiya to pick up. ‘It’s one of the things where I’m happy to live in the era I’m living in, in terms of technology, because it’s so simple. I take a photo, I send it via WhatsApp to the MME and I send the location and the next day, if not the same day, they send a crew and they take it out. So it works fantastically.’

Saucedo said he is frequently asked, ‘So you’re fighting plastic pollution but you’re using plastic bags?’ He said, ‘There are many things we can do to mitigate problems. The contributing factor is the lack of alternatives. That’s what I get from MME.’ Without funds, DEAP is unable to provide biodegradable or reusable bags for the cleanups. Volunteers are welcome to bring their own biodegradable or reusable bags to the cleanups.

Debunking many misconceptions about waste management in Qatar, Saucedo said, ‘A lot of people ask me, ‘What happens to the trash in Qatar? I heard it gets dumped back into the ocean or open landfills. It just gets thrown away.’ As far as I know, none of that is true. There’s a solid waste processing plant in the south and that’s where everything that is collected goes to. It’s properly disposed of. There is some recycling going on.’

Talking about the trash DEAP has collected from beaches and sand dunes over two and a half years, Saucedo said, ‘We’ve collected 102 tons of trash, which is nothing compared to the amount of trash that’s out there. It’s very sad. I mean we’ve collected a lot but when you look at the big picture, it’s nothing. I want to have as much of an impact as possible because it is a big problem and everyone talks about it but I don’t think people really get it. That’s what I like about the cleanups. Once you’re out there, after you pick up 200 to 300 plastic bottles, you’re like, “Oh wow! We have a problem!”‘ 

In addition to plastic bottles, volunteers collect plastic and paper bags, steel and tin cans, and fishing nets. ‘You will not believe the amount of fishing nets that we collect,’ said Saucedo. While cleaning up beaches, volunteers occasionally find turtles stuck in the midst of the debris. After untangling the turtles, they are releases back into the water. There are cases where volunteers have found dead turtles or fish in the midst of the debris. In the sand dunes of the Sealine beach in Mesaieed, DEAP collects approximately 1,000 to 2,000 kilos of trash in a single dune.

During the week, Saucedo invests his time in meetings with the MME and other governmental entities. In addition, during the week, he takes students on beach cleanups as part of a school field trip. He has organised more than 20 school beach cleanups since September 2019, aiming to reach 40 by the end of 2020. ‘If I’m not somewhere meeting with people to plan a cleanup or doing a school presentation, educating schoolchildren about plastic pollution and this and that, I’m actually on the beach doing a cleanup with schoolchildren. During the week, it’s schoolchildren and some corporations but mostly schoolchildren. I organise a lot of field trips and on Friday, that’s the day that is dedicated to our core cleanup that’s open to the public,’ he explained.

Working with schools, Saucedo has seen the impact DEAP has made. ‘There have been changes in the curriculum and the schools themselves are minimising plastic waste or plastic solution. It feels good to see that!’ said Saucedo.

‘Convincing 9,000 people to go pick up someone else’s trash, that in itself, is an accomplishment. That tells me we’re doing the right thing. That’s not saying we’re great. This is mostly to say that’s how much people care – and that’s how big the problem is. By the way, we’ve done that with QAR0. It’s just volunteering, leadership and people deciding to be involved. So that tells me we’re going on the right direction,’ he added.

‘Our message is not about what so–and–so is doing or not. It’s what are you doing as an individual? We want to give people the opportunity as an individual to come, contribute and live the experience of the cleanup because it’s only about contributing. It’s also about learning and experiencing first-hand the problem of plastic pollution,’ said Saucedo.

The trash DEAP collects from beaches come from either campers leaving their trash behind or from the waters where people on the sea throw their waste into the water.

‘A lot of people will go to the beach have a picnic, I’ve seen it thousands of times, they finish, they just get up and leave everything there. In a semi-circle, you see everything there. A lot of people do that. So it doesn’t take long for the wind or tide, the tide comes in and takes everything into the ocean and eventually everything ends up in the ocean. With the tidal movement, it’s being dumped back into the beach, maybe the next beach, maybe the next country’s beach,’ said Saucedo.

‘We always tend to excuse ourselves like “Oh no, it’s trash that came from the ocean”. Well, yes, how did it get into the ocean to begin with? It’s still us. It’s us. We are the problem. And we are the solution,’ he added.

On 8 June 2020, to mark World’s Oceans Day, Saucedo share a message with DEAP’s community:

Missing the beach and my friends, our incredible team of volunteers. #worldoceansday #keepqatarclean #volunteer #deapqatar

Posted by Doha Environmental Actions Project on Monday, 8 June 2020

For more information or to volunteer, find DEAP on Facebook or Instagram at @deapqatar.

Author: Ola Diab

Images courtesy of Jose Saucedo.

This article is from Marhaba Information Guide’s Issue No 77 Spring/Summer 2020.

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