Abu Dhabi has announced an initiative to gradually phase out disposable plastics, in a first for the UAE.
In line with improving environmental policies, there will be the introduction of new regulations and fees to prepare for the move.
The emirate is due to introduce compulsory charges for plastic bags before banning them completely within two years.
Among another 15 items to be targeted is plastic cutlery, usually with takeaway and delivery food, along with disposable plates and plastic straws.
A bottle-return scheme will also be introduced, in which residents will be compensated for returning used containers for recycling.
New environmental policies targeting plastic use have been mooted in the UAE for years. Now the Abu Dhabi government is introducing the measures as part of the Ghadan21 programme.
Abu Dhabi plans to be free of disposable plastic bags by 2021, officials said.
“The launch of the single-use plastics policy reflects our commitment to a more sustainable economy that seeks to minimise waste and protect vital ecosystems in our environment,” said Dr Shaikha Al Dhaheri, secretary general of the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi.
“By implementing this new policy, Abu Dhabi will be joining more than 127 countries that have already taken measures to ban or limit the use of disposable plastic materials.
“An estimated 13 million tonnes of plastic enter the world’s oceans annually, altering vital habitats, endangering marine wildlife and impacting the food chain by releasing toxic chemical compounds.
"This issue is a grave concern for the preservation of our local species, posing a threat to our marine wildlife, sea turtles and seabirds, among others. Our policy responds to this global issue.
“If we do not take bold steps to contain the use of single-use plastics ... there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans and seas by 2050.”
This would affect “not just ocean health, but ultimately human health and global food security”, Dr Al Dhaheri said.
At first, charges will be introduced for plastic bags and other disposable items. This is a stepping stone to banning them totally in future, according to the announcement made on Monday night.
The policy was drafted in co-operation with other government bodies, companies and retailers, and the Department of Economic Development, the environment agency said.
A report published last year said that the use of plastics bags in the UAE is higher than global averages.
About 11 billion plastic bags are used in the UAE every year – an average of 1,184 a person.
This compares with a global use rate of 307 a person.
The tonnes of plastics entering the oceans every year is equal to dumping the contents of one rubbish lorry into the ocean every minute, the UN said.
Some retailers in the UAE have recently introduced charges for plastic bags, in response to a growing environmental awareness among the public.
These charges have generally been shown to significantly reduce use of such items.
Elsewhere in the world, bottle-return schemes have also proved a major success, helping to boost recycling rates.
Getting drastic on plastic - Abu Dhabi latest to act
Countries and cities across the globe are bringing in measures similar to Abu Dhabi's. Here are a few notable schemes:
The European Parliament voted for a ban on single-use plastics across the bloc to stop pollution of the oceans.
Proposals to outlaw plastic cutlery and plates, cotton buds, straws, drink-stirrers and balloon sticks were passed overwhelmingly in October 2018.
The new law was approved in March 2019.
In new targets, EU member states will also have to achieve a 90 per cent collection target for plastic bottles by 2029.
Plastic bottles will have to contain at least 25 per cent recycled content by 2025 and 30 per cent by 2030.
The new rules will come into force by 2021 and governments are putting in place plans to comply.
Many European countries already had anti-plastics policies in place. Ireland brought in a charge on single-use plastic bags in 2002.
Justin Trudeau, the Canadian Prime Minister, said last year that it was hard to justify to his children a lack of action on plastics.
“How do you explain dead whales washing up on beaches across the world, their stomachs jam packed with plastic bags?” Mr Trudeau asked.
"How do I tell them that against all odds, you will find plastic at the very deepest point in the Pacific Ocean?”
The Canadian government declared it would ban many single-use plastics, and an independent report published this year backed up its position, legally allowing ministers to move ahead with their plans.
“We will be moving towards a ban on harmful single-use plastics and we will be doing that in 2021,” Jonathan Wilkinson, Canada’s Environment Minister, said in January.
The Californian city has moved to ban containers made of polystyrene, better known as Styrofoam.
Food and drink containers, egg cartons, ice chest coolers, aquatic toys for swimming pools, mooring buoys and navigation markers were among the items affected.
While its low cost and weight, and its strength, made Styrofoam popular with many businesses, it was particularly bad for the environment as it easily breaks into tiny, often airborne particles that are difficult to clean up.
Enforcement was suspended in December, after the restaurant industry filed a lawsuit but officials hope this will be overcome.
California has been a leader in the US in the fight against plastics. In 2014 it became the first state with a ban on single-use plastic bags.
New rules coming into force in 2023 will ban hotels from supplying travel-sized plastic bottles of shampoo and lotion.
Last year, a single-use plastic ban came into effect in the Red Sea province.
The ban, the first of its kind in Egypt, was inspired by a memorandum presented to authorities by a voluntary environmental group on the dangers of plastic to humans and marine life.
It provided an expanded set of regulations on the use of single-use plastic products, which was first announced in 2008 but was never properly implemented.
It applies to restaurants, supermarkets, grocery shops, pharmacies and cruise and leisure ships that dock off the shores of the province.
Single-use plastic bags were banned completely in New Zealand in July last year.
Businesses were told that it was against the law to provide them to customers, and members of the public were urged to refuse them if offered.
The government said the ban would stop millions of single-use plastic bags from entering the environment each year, helping the world’s waterways, oceans and wildlife.
Businesses were told they faced fines of up to NZ$100,000 (Dh233,120) if they deliberately ignored the rules.
A small number of exemptions included bin liners and bags to pick up pet waste.
New Zealand is also examining the introduction of a nationwide bottle-return scheme.