UAE launches drive to monitor levels of plastic waste

Ministry of Climate Change and Environment is tracking pollution in seas and coastal areas

Samples were collected from nine areas around the coast. Photo: Ministry of Climate Change and Environment
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The UAE has launched a major drive to monitor plastic waste in the seas and coastal areas of the country.

Announcing the initiative on Wednesday, the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment said it would identify the main types of waste and then try to limit the amount of pollutants in the water and on beaches.

It is the latest effort from the UAE to tackle the issue, with a nationwide ban on plastic bags coming into effect from January.

“The plastic waste monitoring programme in the UAE’s marine environment represents one of our most prominent initiatives aimed at monitoring this type of waste and taking a number of measures to limit these pollutants in all the country’s waters and beaches," said Mohamed Al Hammadi, assistant undersecretary for biodiversity and marine life sector at the ministry.

"The upcoming period will witness work on the programme and [the ministry will] showcase its results as soon as possible."

Globally, plastic waste is one of the largest sources of pollution in rivers and oceans. Discarded plastic, which can take decades to degrade, can harm the environment and animals, and be broken down into microplastics that find their way into human bodies, crops and rain.

According to figures published by the Earth Day charity, five trillion plastic bags and 500 billion plastic cups are used around the world each year.

Dubai officials last year said nine in 10 turtles and five in 10 camels found dead had plastic in their stomachs, while a UAE study showed hundreds of camels had died since 2008 because of consuming plastic.

As part of the programme, teams from the Marine Environment Research Centre, which is affiliated to the ministry, have already carried out a study to monitor plastic waste. Samples of beach waste, macro and microplastics were collected from nine areas around the coast to assess the amount of waste. Microplastics are pieces smaller than five millimetres and macroplastics are larger.

The collection method was in line with international standards, the ministry said, and involved selecting two random areas of 100 metres, with 10 metres between each location. One square metre was taken in each of the two random areas to measure the amount of beach waste and macroplastics, and three areas of 0.5 square metres were chosen for measuring microplastics.

Seawater samples, meanwhile, were collected from 14 stations on the country's coastline to measure the quantity of microplastics.

“Through the programme, we also seek to raise community awareness about the impact of plastic waste on the marine environment, which reflects on the life of marine organisms and threatens fishery resources and human health,” said Mr Al Hammadi. “This drives us to guide partners and all members of society towards responsible consumption of plastic products and their safe disposal rather than in the environment.

"The programme contributes to the UAE's achieving the 14th Sustainable Development Goal set by the United Nations, which aims to conserve the oceans, seas and marine resources and use them sustainably.”

The ministry also said the drive came as part of efforts to preserve marine resources, seawater quality and beach cleanliness as the UAE marks the Year of Sustainability.

The UAE has already been taking measures to tackle plastic waste. Authorities have announced that from January 1 next year, plastic bags will be banned nationwide.

Last year, Abu Dhabi banned single-use plastic bags, while Dubai imposed a nominal 25 fils charge. Sharjah had already planned a ban on bags from the beginning of next year.

A ban on the importation of plastic cutlery, drinks cups, styrofoam and boxes will also take effect from 2026.

The UAE is also gearing up to host the UN climate summit, Cop28, from November 30 to December 12.

World leaders will gather at Expo City Dubai to tackle the climate emergency.

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Updated: April 20, 2023, 1:21 PM