Oman announces end to single-use plastic bags by 2021

Companies have a year to phase out plastic bags before the enforcement that aims to ‘protect the environment’

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Oman on Sunday became the latest country to announce a ban on single-use plastic shopping bags, with the government saying they will be phased out by the end of the year.

A statement by the Omani Environment Ministry said the Cabinet had backed the bill to ban plastic bags from January 1, 2021, to "to preserve the environment in Oman".

The statement said those breaching the rule will be fined between 1,000 and 2,000 Omani rials (Dh9,100), with the penalty doubling for repeat offenders.

Environment officials told local media in December they were looking into more eco-friendly alternatives to plastic bags before the announcement could be made.

Last year, the Environment Society of Oman said shoppers use about 1 million plastic bags a day in Oman.

"Some of them end up on our beaches and that harms the marine life. The practice of issuing plastic bags to shoppers must stop otherwise there will be irreversible damage in the future," it said in March last year.

ESO also had recommended to the government to stop the manufacturing plastic bags in the country in 2020.

But economists say the production of plastic bags in the country is big business.

"It is about a 50 million rial (Dh477.5m) trade that may not go easy with local manufacturers. They also employ a lot of people and they will be jobless if they close down," Faisal Al Khalifa, an independent economist, told The National.

But environmentalists said plastic bag manufacturers could turn to manufacturing environmentally friendly alternatives with only a little loss in income while preserving the environment.

“The income of the plastic bags industries can be saved as well as the jobs. These manufacturers can start making environmentally friendly bags and make the same money while preserving the ecosystem,” Khamis Al Subhi, a member of ESO, said.

Mr Al Subhi said a clean-up initiative it runs clears an average of 5 million bags from the shores of Oman every three months.

"Those are on the beaches and we don't know how many plastic bags get into the sea to kill the fish. This how serious the problem is," he said.

The announcement comes a week after Abu Dhabi announced a gradual phase-out of disposable plastics. This will involve charges on single-use plastic bags before an outright ban within two years. But the measures go further to cut out 15 widely used one-time plastic items, including disposable cutlery, takeaway packaging and disposable coffee cup lids.