One discarded plastic bottle for every two metres of coastline in Abu Dhabi, says expert

Monir Bou Ghanem says single-use plastic items are the issue

Abu Dhabi's bottle-return programme aims to recycle about 20 million single-use plastic bottles a year. Getty
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Plastic bottles are ruining Abu Dhabi's environment with, on average, one discarded for every two metres of coastline in the emirate, an expert has said.

According to an Environment Agency Abu Dhabi survey, it is also estimated that the average person in the UAE uses about 500 single-use plastic bottles a year, which is higher than the global average.

Monir Bou Ghanem, policy adviser at the agency, said the environmental and public health impact of single-use plastic waste must be addressed.

Speaking to The National on Monday, Mr Bou Ghanem said addressing waste was not only about bans but encouraging positive action.

“My key message is that we are not fighting plastic,” he said. “It has many advantages. Our clothes, offices, cars and planes all use plastic. The issue is with single use and avoidable products. This is what is getting us into … environmental impact and public impact.”

Mr Bou Ghanem’s comments came after the agency on Wednesday launched an ambitious initiative that aims to recycle about 20 million single-use plastic bottles a year.

Abu Dhabi’s bottle return programme involves “reverse-vending machines” being installed in areas with high footfall, such as mosques and supermarkets, with people able to accrue points for bottles deposited and redeem them at participating entities.

Larger smart bins will operate in residential areas that allow people to drop off bigger amounts.

The initiative is a key instrument of the Abu Dhabi single-use plastic policy approved in 2020 and follows last year’s hugely successful ban on single-use plastic bags through which 172 million bags have been taken out of circulation.

The agency reported the carbon footprint of the quantity of plastic eliminated is equivalent to 272,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

The UAE, which will host the UN climate summit Cop28 in November, aims to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

“The bags case was very encouraging,” said Mr Bou Ghanem. “Our best estimation was way less.”

A ban on single-use styrofoam products will come into force in Abu Dhabi in 2024, with a UAE-wide ban on single-use plastic bags effective from the same year.

Plastic pollution is a global problem and waste winds its way to the food chain, hurts the environment and is detrimental to wildlife.

According to the UN, there could be about 227 million tonnes of plastic waste on Earth by 2040 if action is not taken.

Mr Bou Ghanem said plastic bottles have value and can be recycled into products such as flakes for fibres for textiles. Other plastic waste often has little economic value and so is collected as waste.

The return programme is part of a range of measures, from bans to awareness campaigns, that aim to change people’s mindsets about single-use plastic while also contributing to the UAE’s drive to promote the circular economy.

“Awareness and incentives [and positive encouragement] are important,” said Mr Bou Ghanem. “It is not only about banning but changing mindsets. When you change a habit of business as usual and start to think of reuse it is quite challenging.

“[But] business as usual is no longer an option for us. The impact of convenience is coming back to [affect] us.”

How to recycle plastic bottles to earn free bus rides in Abu Dhabi

How to recycle plastic bottles to earn free bus rides in Abu Dhabi

How to recycle plastic bottles to earn free bus rides in Abu Dhabi
Updated: July 18, 2023, 8:09 AM