Inspired by Oman Caves: Take Green Prophet’s Plastic Bag Challenge!

plastic bag blowing wind
Are you up for a bit of quiet activism? Take our plastic bag challenge

This is a call to arms, and to hands: my challenge to you when you shop this week, this month or this year. Tell the clerk you’ll pass on that bag, instead tuck your purchases into your pockets or purse.  Bring your own sack and use it.  You bolder folks, ask the managers if they’d switch to biodegradable or sell reusable bags. Will you join Green Prophet in this micro-cause?

Plastic trash is everywhere.  It’s hard to take a photo where a bag isn’t perched in a tree, nesting in a wall or flying in a breeze. I’ve heard them called “the national bird of Jordan”.  Swimming in Aqaba, I had to slap away submerged plastic, but a story coming out of Oman makes me want to slap something else. And hard.

About a 3-hour drive out of Muscat on Oman’s Selma Plateau, a modest crack in the earth draws spelunkers, and trash, and most recently, trash-collecting spelunkers. Majlis Al Jinn is one of the world’s largest underground caves. This single-chamber cavern measures 200 meters by 300 meters by 120 meters high: large enough to fit the Great Pyramid or host a Super Bowl.

Cavern access is through a 2 meter-wide crack that’s not too discerning about what it lets in. Plastic bags carpet the cave floor, blown in across miles of remote flatland.  Is nowhere safe?

Omani officials invited recreational cavers from Dubai to clean the place. Middle East Caving Expeditionary Team is attuned to UAE geology. The mostly-ex-pat club of specialist cavers had already explored Majlis, but their garbage removal mission required special planning.  In one day,  seventeen adventurers combined public service with sport and hauled 80 kilos of mostly plastic garbage out of the cave.

“There was a bit of a novelty with this mission because it had a purpose,” said 35 year old Will Hardie. “It was challenging. We had to figure out how to haul the bags past the rocky bits so they wouldn’t rip open and fall back down.”

Suspended by ropes, the team dropped 20 meters before reaching the open chamber. It took another 20-minutes to reach bottom. Light beams shine through surface openings, illuminating the void, and the litter.  Gavin Cassidy, 31, from Northern Ireland, said he was struck by, “the sheer height and the vast space of it.”  On his first Majlis visit he focused on his safe descent. This time he took a different view, “I wanted to open my mind and take it in. See how huge this was, and how small people were.”

An apt metaphor for the enormity of our pollution problem.

There were old bones from goats who grazed too near the edge. More sinister were the building materials. Corrugated metals too hefty to be airborne indicate Majlis is actively used as a dump. The team picked up plastic bottles, bags, and broken glass.  They lowered in large tarpaulins, loaded on the rubbish and hoisted the dirty payload up to the surface.

The organization has another clean-up planned for March they tell Green Prophet. estimates the world uses 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags every year.

Years in Ireland skewed my plastic sensibility. There, free-issue bags are banned. Shopkeepers hand out paper (cruel joke in a rainsoaked nation) or sell you plastic.  People adapt, use recyclable sacks.  It’s easy.  Some plastic littered my village shoreline, but without government controls and strong public support it’d be far uglier.

People everywhere are working to ban plastic throwaways.  My daughter’s Amman school requires the children to collect garbage on every class trip to trashy beauties like Ajloun Castle, the Citadel and Jerash.  Kids compete to see who bags the heaviest haul, even wiseguy 8th graders take the action seriously.  It comes down to individual commitment. I do a mini-collection every time I run.  I try to reuse the bags, at least get them to the single recycling drop in town.

You-tube is loaded with fabulous individual examples, which are exponentially powerful as their messages are so easily shared.  Check out this musical appeal:


So what do you say?   For one week – go bagless.  Please try.  Start today to change our world. Then come back and tell Green Prophet how it went. Then try for one month, one year…

Image via katerha

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6 thoughts on “Inspired by Oman Caves: Take Green Prophet’s Plastic Bag Challenge!”

  1. Laurie Balbo says:

    Evie – Same story as Ireland. Do you know how long Denmark’s ban has been in effect? and would you view it as a success?

    Hopefully Middle Eastern nations will look to Denmarkas one of several excellent role models. Thanks for your comment – Laurie

  2. Evie says:

    I live in Denmark, and at the grocery store and supermarket you have to buy the plastic bags, if you want one. It doesn’t cost much, but nearly everyone brings their own bags to the store.

  3. Laurie Balbo says:


    How best to coordinate with all the pockets of activity working on this specific initiative? California’s been spearheading ocean polution prevention for ages: as a Jersey shore kid I know there’s similar work happening along the Atlantic.

    Are you aware of a common forum where activists from every country can share successes and strategies? Thanks for the excellent information about what’s happening in the Middle East. Laurie

  4. Laurie Balbo says:

    celia – thanks for the comment and the reminder about Algalita – here’s the link to that fantastic foundation – Especially appreciate their excellent school programs, converting the litterers of tomorrow into better world citizens today.

  5. Thank you for this inspirational challenge.
    My organization, Plastic Pollution Coalition, is dedicated to eliminating plastic pollution around the globe. You will want to know that plastic bags choke the environment, but also affects camels and many other animals in the desert. Since 2009 a group called Cameron’s Camel Campaign in Abu Dhabi has been raising awareness about this problem, and asking people to stop using plastic bags. Another group in Dubai, called Plastic Not So Fantastic is visiting schools and universities to talk about the issue. I just returned from a visit to the UAE, where I spoke with many groups working on this issue. Plastic bags, and indeed all disposable plastic objects, offer brief convenience but remain forever and will affects the generations to come. Please REFUSE disposable plastic and for more information visit our web site

  6. celia says:

    Been there, done that for quite a few years now. Support Algalita Marine Research Foundation doing the work of Charlie Moore! Create plastic free zones! Teach children that recycling isn’t working!

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