UAE supermarkets geared up for new rules on plastic bags use

Abu Dhabi ban starts this week with Dubai introducing tariff for plastic and paper bags next month

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Supermarkets said they are geared up to implement new rules to tackle plastic bag waste, as they urge shoppers to choose long-life alternatives.

Abu Dhabi’s ban on single-use bags will begin on Wednesday, June 1, and Dubai will introduce a mandatory 25 fils ($0.07) charge for each single use bag from July 1.

Several of the country’s biggest chains said shoppers were ready to embrace the move, which was shown to be highly effective in Europe and Africa.

Even a nominal charge of 25 fils - equivalent to the 5 pence charge in bags in the UK - is expected to be highly effective.

People have been so used to getting these bags for free that it’s more of a convenience issue than anything. We will be encouraging people to bring their old single-use plastic bags into us to be recycled
Sophie Corcut, sustainability manager for Spinneys and Waitrose

This week, supermarket chains were promoting the sale of 'bag-for-life' alternatives, which are typically made of recycled plastics and permitted under the rules. Carrefour offers a woven plastic bag for Dh2.50, a canvas foldable bag for Dh9.50 and a heavy duty juco bag - a mix of jute and cotton - for Dh10.

Lulu supermarkets likewise offer Dh2.5 heavy duty plastic bags. Spinneys and Waitrose offers similar.

Bernardo Perloiro, chief operating officer in the GCC for Majid Al Futtaim Retail, which runs the franchise for French supermarket giant Carrefour, said the charge marked "responsible retail".

“As part of Majid Al Futtaim, Carrefour is committed to phasing out single-use plastic across all our operations by 2025 and becoming net positive in carbon and water by 2040.”

Plastic bags were 'too convenient'

Sophie Corcut, sustainability manager for Spinneys and Waitrose, said the public would soon get used to the new rules.

“From the conversations we’ve been having with customers and from feedback on social media, I think the response is going to be overwhelmingly positive,” Ms Corcut said.

“I think we’ve been prepared for this for many, many years to be honest.

“We previously ran a trial in Waitrose, charging 25 fils per single-use plastic bag and it was big success.”

She said she the biggest hurdle to the scrapping of the single-use bags in the UAE was convenience rather than affordability.

“Other countries with lower income per capita have successfully banned single-use plastic bags,” said Ms Corcut.

“People have been so used to getting these bags for free that it’s more of a convenience issue than anything else.

“That might be where the change is a little uncomfortable for some as the focus in the UAE has understandably often been on providing a great customer experience.”

Vijayan Nandakumar, director of marketing and communications with Lulu, said people are behind the ban on single-use plastic bags. Photo: Lulu

Joining the crowd

Kenya introduced a ban on plastic bags in 2017 to alleviate the country’s issue of severe flooding caused by plastic bags blocking waterways and drainage systems.

The country’s legislation prohibits the manufacture and distribution of plastic bags, with offenders risking a four-year prison sentence or a $40,000 fine.

Thailand issued a ban on the sale of plastic bags in all supermarkets and stores in 2020.

There has also been a total ban in Rwanda since 2008, with policies including luggage searches at borders to confiscate any plastic bags being brought into the country.

Tariffs on the use of such bags are also in place in more than 30 countries globally, with total or partial bans being enforced by more than 90 nations.

Almost 300 million tonnes of plastic pollution is created each year globally, according to figures released by the UN Environment Programme.

Only nine per cent of all plastic waste ever ends up being recycled with the rest finding its way to dumps, landfills and other natural environments.

It is estimated by the UN that oceans could contain more plastic than fish by 2050, unless current trends are reversed.

One of Carrefour's reusable alternatives to single-use plastic bags. Photo: Carrefour

Enshrined in law

The fact the ban has been written into law will also ensure its success, Ms Corcut said.

“In Dubai we will have to implement the charges for the bags or else there will be penalties,” she said.

“It is not voluntary, everyone has to comply and there will be constant inspections.”

She added that while there is not a total ban in Dubai, with charges for each single-use bag being implemented, her company is committed to phasing out their use completely.

“We are planning on not having any single-use plastics in any of our stores by the end of the summer,” she said.

“We will be encouraging people to bring their old single-use plastic bags into us to be recycled.

“Customers who also bring their own bags to use in Dubai will also get 25 fils reduced off their bill too.”

The charge on single-use bags in Dubai does not apply solely to plastic either.

The tariff covers any plastic, paper, biodegradable plastic and plant-based biodegradable materials that are 57 micrometres thick or less.

A micrometre is one thousandth of a millimetre.

Shoppers who choose not to bring their own bags to carry their shopping home will have the option to buy longer-use bags in store, which are less harmful to the environment.

This policy is being implemented by most of the major retailers across the country.

Other supermarket chains in the UAE have welcomed to move to tackle the problem of single-use bags.

“There might be a few hiccups on the day when the ban is first introduced, but nothing major,” Vijayan Nandakumar, director of marketing and communications with Lulu, said.

“That’s understandable but I think consumers are aware and also support the ethos of this move.

“We’ve had an awareness campaign for some time and people seem to be getting behind it.”

Updated: June 01, 2022, 8:18 AM