Abu Dhabi says goodbye to plastic bags

In 2018, there were 474 supermarket or hypermarket branches in the United Arab Emirates, according to Statista, an online data aggregator. Adding to this hundreds of gas stations, shopping malls, convenience stores and department stores, it is clear that, from tourism to the domestic market, retail is a key part of the UAE’s diverse economy.

Its importance to markets also means that it plays a role in the country’s broader priorities. Durability is essential. Today, shoppers will begin to see how retailers, together with government and consumers, are doing their part to help the UAE’s environmental goals.

Starting today, Abu Dhabi will ban single-use plastic bags. Instead, the purchase of affordable multi-purpose bags will be encouraged. Within a month, Dubai will also introduce a mandatory 25 fils ($0.07) fee for single-use bags.

There is strong evidence around the world that such measures work in protecting the environment and, above all, that they represent a minimal economic burden for even the poorest buyers. Since 2008, Rwanda has enforced an extremely strict ban on plastic bags, which even involves searching luggage to prevent it from entering from abroad. In Kenya, a 2017 law solved the problem of flooding from blocked sewers and waterways. Globally, more than 90 countries have introduced full or partial bans.

Rather than being economically punitive, reusable bags encourage consumers to become more aware of how their actions can help the planet. A 2019 study found that California’s ban reduced plastic bag consumption by more than 70%. Such cuts are necessary. The UN estimates that nearly 300 million tons of plastic pollution are created each year. From the energy needed to produce them to the lingering effects of unsustainable disposal, reducing their use is an important step in addressing the global environmental crisis.

Abu Dhabi’s decision is not to ban plastic altogether. The material has transformed the industry and the world for the better. It is important to remember that it also has its own positive effect on the environment. From preserving food and reducing waste to making cars and planes lighter for better fuel efficiency, plastic has a role to play in the journey to a more sustainable future. And as recycling technologies develop, the burden they sometimes place on the planet may soon become more manageable.

Today’s ban aims to ensure the most efficient use of plastic. Retail is a good place to start. Because of its size and diversity, governments have often used the sector to draw consumers’ attention to environmental issues, whether it’s the organic movement that began in the mid-20th century, labels indicating the country of origin to draw attention to the fuel used to transport items or the more recent emergence of refill-only stores. Introducing people to the importance of sustainability in their purchases can help them think about the same in their cars, homes, and workplaces.

Today, not picking up a bag casually at the end of a store may seem like a small sacrifice to the individual shopper. But the wider implications and message of what is happening en masse is a moment of great significance in the UAE’s efforts to preserve the environment.

Posted: 01 Jun 2022, 03:00

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