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Canvas bags raise environmental awareness in Syria
11 February 2009
by Sarah Birke

Damascus, Syria: One of the biggest environmental problems facing Syria is the number of plastic bags. From the old city souqs to the shops of Mezzeh, plastic bags are given out freely and in large numbers. Once used, the bags are usually quickly discarded – often onto the streets causing litter to accumulate in the roads, gardens and parks around the country.

But the damage to the environment goes further than causing unsightly mess – plastic bags pose a huge danger to animals. Birds and small mammals who get trapped in the bags often die. Plastic bags pollute the sea too, killing marine creatures which often mistake the bags for food.

Even if the bags are burned and disposed of, the gases released contribute to climate change. It costs more to recycle a plastic bag than to produce a new one!

The solution to the problem of plastic bags is simple – swap plastic for canvas. This year’s International Volunteer Day (IVD) took this simple message to the streets of Syria with a campaign to educate people on reducing their use of plastic bags.

In the Cham City Center shopping mall in Damascus, volunteers from the United Nations and Syrian Arab Red Crescent grabbed shoppers leaving the Grand Mart and explained to them the environmental damage caused by plastic. Shoppers were given a canvas bag to replace the plastic one, with the slogan: “Enough of the plastic bags – use canvas bags.”

Hudba, a mother of two, explained the problem in Syria. “I just hadn’t thought about the effect of using plastic bags,” she said. “Now I have a canvas bag I will try to remember to bring it to the shops with me.”

As well as trying to change habits, the day also aimed to educate the next generation on the advantages of canvas bags. At the children’s activity centres at Al-Fayha and Yarmouk girls and boys designed their own designs for canvas bags. Many drew pictures of clean fields full of trees and flowers; others wrote starker messages such as 'stop pollution' in red paint.

IVD also took place in Lattakia with the same sort of activities.