Abu Dhabi says goodbye to single-use plastic bags

The UAE is bringing in new laws to reduce waste

The UAE's shops are being encouraged to be more sustainable. The National
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In 2018 there were 474 supermarket or hypermarket branches in the UAE, according to Statista, an online data aggregator. Adding on top of that hundreds more service stations, malls and convenience and department stores, it is clear that, from tourism to the domestic market, retail is a key part of the UAE’s diverse economy.

Its importance to the markets also means it plays a part in the country’s wider priorities. Sustainability is a key one. Today, shoppers will start seeing how retailers, in conjunction with the government and consumers, are doing their bit to help the environmental goals of the UAE.

From today, Abu Dhabi will be banning single-use plastic bags. Instead, the purchase of affordable multi-use bags will be encouraged. In a month’s time, Dubai will introduce a mandatory 25 fils ($0.07) charge for single-use bags, too.

There is strong evidence from across the globe that such measures work in protecting the environment and, crucially, that they are a minimal economic burden to shoppers, even poorer ones. Since 2008, Rwanda has had an extremely stringent ban on plastic bags, which even involves luggage being searched to stop them entering from abroad. In Kenya, a 2017 law has helped solve the issue of flooding due to blocked drains and waterways. Globally, more than 90 nations have introduced total or partial bans.

Rather than being economically punitive, re-usable bags encourage consumers to become more conscious of how their actions can help the planet. A 2019 study found that California’s ban reduced plastic bag consumption by more than 70 per cent. Such cuts are needed. The UN estimates that almost 300 million tonnes of plastic pollution is created each year. From the energy required to produce them, to the lingering effects of unsustainable disposal, reducing their use is an important step in addressing the global environmental crisis.

Abu Dhabi’s decision is not about banning plastic altogether. The material has transformed industry and the world for the better. It is important to remember that it has its own positive effect on the environment, too. From preserving food and reducing waste to lightening cars and aeroplanes resulting in better fuel efficiency, plastic has a role to play in the journey to a more sustainable future. And as recycling technologies develop, the burden it sometimes places on the planet could soon become more manageable.

Today’s ban is about guaranteeing plastic’s most efficient use. Retail is a good place to start. Due to its scope and diversity, governments have often used the sector to draw consumer attention to environmental issues, whether it be the organic movement that began in the mid-20th century, country of origin labels to draw attention to fuel used to transport items or the newer emergence of refill-only shops. Introducing people to the importance of sustainability in their shopping can help them think of the same thing in their cars, homes and workplaces.

Today, not casually picking up a bag at the end of a shop might feel like a small sacrifice to the individual customer. But the wider implications and messaging of that happening en masse is a moment of great importance in the UAE’s efforts to preserve the environment.

Published: June 01, 2022, 3:00 AM