Waitrose has seen the use of plastic bags in its five Abu Dhabi stores reduce by almost three quarters following a bag charge trial that was launched last month.
The upmarket chain is the first supermarket in the UAE to charge for plastic bags and during the trial, which will end on September 8, customers are being charged Dh0.25 per single-use plastic bag.
They say the use of single-use plastic bags has been reduced by 74 per cent as a result, and Waitrose has sold more than 5,700 reusable bags in the last two weeks alone — compared to just 60 in the same period last year.
The reusable bags range in price from Dh3.50 to more than Dh20. And the chain also operates an in-store bag exchange, where customers can deposit used bags for other shoppers to use, which is to be rolled out across all Waitrose stores.
Usually 132,000 single-use plastic bags would have been used during this time, but instead only 35,000 were, which is a saving of almost 100,000.
Fine Fare Food Market, which operates all nine Waitrose stores and 52 Spinneys stores in the UAE, will consider rolling out the plastic bag charge across its entire network of stores if the trial is deemed to be successful.
“We may only be two weeks into our plastic bag charge trial, but the fantastic uptake shows customers are willing to make small changes to their behaviour to help bring about a positive effect on the environment,” said Matthew Frost, chief executive of Fine Fare Food Market, which operates all nine Waitrose stores and 52 Spinneys stores in the UAE.
“There is always more we can do, but these initial findings show us that the community fully supports our decision and we hope that following conclusion of the trial, this initiative can be rolled out across of all our nine stores and beyond.”
Carrefour on Tuesday announced that it will be offering their reusable bags, which are Dh2.75 and come with a lifetime guarantee, at two-for-one and they will be replaced free of charge should they wear away.
The trial has attracted positive feedback, according to Waitrose, with 37 per cent of customers willing to pay for a single-use plastic bag. Nearly two thirds, 60 per cent, of shoppers replied to a survey saying that they support the initiative due to the impact of plastic on the planet.
“I feel so strongly about the excessive use of plastic bags in supermarkets and I always try to carry a reusable bag while I’m shopping,” said Waitrose customer Leanne Simpson.
“I was recently on a staycation in Abu Dhabi and forgot my reusable bag but used the in-store bag exchange, which not only saved me money, but also made me feel relieved that I wasn’t contributing to plastic bag waste.”
The news comes on International Plastic Bag Free Day, which was launched to raise awareness about the issue worldwide. People typically use plastic bags for less than 25 minutes, but it takes anywhere from 100 to 500 years for them to decay completely.
According to the United Nations, if plastic pollution continues at its present rate, the volume of accumulated plastic in the world's oceans and seas will be greater than fish.
Fellow UAE supermarket chain Zoom marked Plastic Bag Free Day by stopping the use of plastic bags entirely for the day. It currently has more than 200 stores, 10 of which are completely plastic-free, using paper bags instead. ZOOM has been using bio-degradable plastic bags since 2016, and plans to introduce canvas bags as part of its efforts to eliminate plastic.