Plastic may seem convenient. It’s durable, cheap and easy to manufacture. It’s unsurprisingly the first choice for single-use items. But its environmental cost has long been established. Discarded plastics are a leading cause of pollution in seas, rivers, beaches and, in this part of the world, deserts. Global statistics show that plastic pollution is the cause of death for 100 million animals every year.
Developed countries have introduced legislation to protect the environment from such impact. Some banned single-use plastic shopping bags all together, while others introduced charges. Both the ban and taxation have been successful in remarkably reducing plastic bag use and the overall volume of plastic bag waste going to landfill. They also been changed behaviour as shoppers were more motivated to bring their own bags to the grocery store or supermarket.
In the UAE, there have been calls to follow these steps, most recently by Sheikh Abdulaziz Al Nuaimi, nephew of the Ajman Ruler who is known as the Green Sheikh. As The National reported yesterday, he said that shop owners should charge customers Dh1 for every plastic bag and give them an alternative so they can replace them with paper or recyclable bags.
Supermarkets and cooperatives in the UAE are known for their excess use of plastic bags and it’s so normal for a customer to get a plastic bag for each item. This has, unfortunately, helped foster a culture of high plastic bag consumption. Many people use them without questioning whether they really need them or their environmental cost.
A cultural shift can, and should, happen gradually. Supermarkets and cooperatives have to minimise the number of plastic bags being used. They should also have an incentive to move towards more environmentally-friendly options, such as paper, bioplastic or biodegradable bags. Introducing a fee may nudge people to use only what they need. Along with that, there should be more efforts to educate people about the dangers of plastics and the proper disposal and recycling of plastic products.