UAE capital first in Middle East to ban single-use plastic bags

Eco-friendly strategy is being enforced at major supermarket chains in the emirate

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Abu Dhabi introduced a ban on single-use plastic bags on Wednesday ― a first for the Middle East.

Shaikha Al Dhaheri, secretary general of Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, joined other government officials on a tour of branches of Lulu, Spinneys, Carrefour and Abu Dhabi Co-operative Society to see how the green scheme is being put into action.

Alternatives being provided to shoppers include thicker traditional-look plastic bags, which are intended for use between four and 10 times and can be recycled, bags made out of paper, and sturdy "bag for life"-type reusable juco and woven alternatives.

Some outlets, such as Spinneys and Carrefour, have opted to remove thicker traditional-type reusable plastic bags altogether, offering either paper or bag-for-life alternatives only.

Costs start at 50 fils ($0.13), rising to about Dh12 ($3.26) for large, hard-wearing juco bags, which are made from cotton and jute.

Dr Al Dhaheri said the implementation of the single-use plastic bag ban was a “historic day” for the emirate.

“It was very encouraging to see all main retailers in the capital adhering to the ban and adjusting their operations to ensure that consumers have environmentally-friendly alternatives to avoid single-use plastic bags for their groceries,” she said.

“These positive and proactive changes by retailers will allow us to achieve our goal of promoting sustainable living for all residents in Abu Dhabi.”

At Spinneys, bosses said several options were available, starting at 75 fils for a paper bag. And more alternatives are in the works.

“We also have Spinneys' reusable bags, which are Dh5. We also have juco bags, which range from Dh10 to Dh20. The material is a little bit stronger. So they can carry heavier things,” said Gajendra Mahat, area manager of Spinneys and Al Fair.

From June 1, Abu Dhabi will ban the use of single-use plastic bags. Shaikha Salem Al Dhaheri, in white mask, EAD's secretary general, on a visit to Spinneys, Muroor Road, Abu Dhabi. Chris Whiteoak / The National

He said another option is currently in production, which will cost less than Dh5. It should go on sale in the summer.

Carrefour, which started selling reusable bags in 2007, offers several options, including one made out of starch that is sold for 25 fils. Other options include a paper bag, a woven bag costing Dh2.50, and a Dh11.50 juco bag that is produced in collaboration with WWF.

Christophe Orcet, head of commercial and operations for Carrefour at Majid Al Futtaim Retail, said the company launched reusable bags in 2007 in the UAE, aiming to change the mindset of the customer.

“We knew already at that time it was the direction that had to be taken,” he said.

“We have sold four million bags since 2007. The plan for Carrefour in the UAE was to phase out plastic bags totally by 2025. The initiative of the government of Abu Dhabi came as a wow. Because it helped us to anticipate this.

“You will not find any more plastic bags at the checkout of Carrefour in the UAE. Even the [thicker plastic] one which is 50 microns, we don’t want any more. So we are proposing different options, the woven, the juco, the paper and starch, which is plant-based. But no more plastic.”

The policy was introduced to protect the environment.

Estimates suggest that about 13 million tonnes of plastic enter the world’s oceans each year.

A recent study by EAD showed plastic was found in 80 per cent of dead hawksbill turtles in Abu Dhabi.

Turtles often mistake plastic bags for jellyfish, which can cause blockages in their digestive tract. But the problem is not limited to the sea.

A UAE study showed that plastic has caused the deaths of hundreds of camels since 2008.

There are several exceptions to the single-use plastic bag ban. They are:

  • bags used by pharmacies for medicines
  • thin plastic bags kept on a roll in supermarkets for vegetables, meat, fish, chicken, grains and bread
  • large shopping bags designed for fashion or electronic gadgets
  • toys
  • rubbish bags
  • bags for keeping messages, postal parcels, magazines and newspapers
  • bags for transporting plants, flowers and laundry
Updated: June 01, 2022, 10:24 AM
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