The Desert Sweepers

Employees of Hilti Emirates are fighting the garbage battle in the desert landscape of Al Aweer

The off-road vehicle smoothly rolls over the desert sands. Syed Mateen surveys the orange-red dunes which extend to the horizon. Otherwise there’s nothing to see far and wide except a few small bushes, and here and there a gazelle. A slight breeze is blowing. It’s still a relatively cool 18° C at 6:00 a.m. Syed, Strategic Marketing Manager at Hilti, has reached his goal. Some 60 additional people have followed him in off-road vehicles.

No one lives in the Al Aweer desert with the exception of a few herdsman from camel farms. It is located only 25 kilometers from the middle of Dubai. Large parts of the dune landscape are uninhabitable and undisturbed by human activity. The only things that can survive in this place are those that have adapted to it, something not many tourists have managed.

At the foot of a sand dune the crowd discovers the remains of a campfire, including charcoal, wood and plastic. This is why they’ve come, to clean up the garbage that has been left behind. They wear gloves and carry shovels and garbage bags, collecting the refuse left behind by tourists and visitors from around the world.  

Experts estimate that approximately 100 camels die each year as a result of the garbage that is left behind. “The employees of Hilti Emirates wanted to do something to help,” says Mateen. Together with the municipality of Dubai and the Emarat 4x4 off-road vehicle club, a total of about 3.5 tons of garbage was collected, equivalent to the garbage generated by a five-person household in Europe. Vehicle tires, plastic and glass bottles, cigarette butts, blankets, shopping bags, boxes and chairs. Several locations look as though campers had just gone without bothering to pick up anything that they brought with them.  

The volunteers got to work. “At Hilti we’re convinced that entrepreneurial thought and action is closely linked to social responsibility. We support activities which contribute to the common good of society the world over,” says Mutaz Almaani, Head of the Gulf Subregion at Hilti. This is why the Hilti team is active even in the desert. The garbage problem could be solved by a change in people’s behavior. Mateen continues: “We want to lead by example.” The volunteers also encourage other organizations in the United Arab Emirates to participate in similar initiatives.

One team member throws the final garbage bag into his off-road vehicle. The temperature at 11:00 a.m. is now at 32° C. The air-conditioning in several vehicles has stopped. Syed stands at the crest of a sand dune and looks into the void with satisfaction. A few tire tracks trace down the dunes. No plastic bags, no old vehicle tires. The desert landscape is once again clean as far as he can see, just as it should be.