Biodegradable bags to become compulsory across the UAE

Bags will be compulsory for supermarkets, although some experts say they are not as environmentally friendly as first thought.

DUBAI // Biodegradable plastic carrier bags will become compulsory in all supermarkets in the new year, despite concerns by some experts that they might not be as environmentally friendly as first thought.

Many supermarkets have already switched to oxo-biodegradable bags, which break down much faster than normal plastic ones.

The Ministry of Environment and Water has said it will ban the supply and use of non-biodegradable plastic bags from January 1.

The new rules were brought in after it was found that discarded plastic bags, apart from being an eyesore, pose a risk to wildlife.

“The rules will be enforced at the start of the new year,” said Mohammed Saleh Badri, director general of the Emirates Authority for Standardisation and Metrology (Esma), the agency that is implementing the changes.

“The decision to bring in these new bags was done after extensive consultation with experts. Our inspectors have conducted checks on plastic-bag manufacturers and we will only give accreditation to companies that meet these standards.”

However, some experts warn that the new oxo-biodegradable bags may still pose a risk to the environment.

The chief administrative officer for Emirates Environment Technology – which runs a plastics recycling plant in Al Ain – Katharina Goeschl, said the chemical properties of the newer bags mean they cannot be recycled.

The centre receives 160 tonnes of the new degradable plastic bags from the eastern region of Abu Dhabi each month.

“We have tried to recycle these bags but the chemical property that makes them degrade so fast means they are not suitable for recycling.

“What will happen is that they will be dumped in landfill sites, and although they will break down into ever smaller pieces they won’t completely degrade.

“The thing with the older plastic bags is that they are perfect for reuse and recycling but you can’t do that with oxo-degradable bags.”

But Mr Badri said the key reason the new plastic bags were being introduced was to solve the problem of uncollected bags littering the environment and even suffocating wild animals.

The government is now looking to bring in similar regulations for other household plastics.

Mr Badri said: “No plans have been finalised as yet but we are looking to see what we can do to make things like daily use plastics that get thrown away more environmentally friendly. These are things used by people every day, like plastic knives and forks, which are used once and then thrown away.”

He added that Esma would review the issue in depth after about six months.