Supermarkets in the United Arab Emirates are preparing for new rules on the use of plastic bags

Supermarkets have said they are ready to implement new rules to tackle plastic bag litter as they urge shoppers to choose long-lived alternatives.

Abu Dhabi’s ban on single-use bags will begin on Wednesday June 1 and Dubai will introduce a mandatory 25 fils ($0.07) fee for each single-use bag from July 1.

SSeveral of the country’s biggest chains have said shoppers are ready to accept the ban and the tariffs, which have proven very effective in Europe and Africa, among other countries.

Even a nominal load of 25 fils – equivalent to the 5 pence load in bags in the UK – should be very effective.

Bernardo Perloiro, GCC chief operating officer for Majid Al Futtaim Retail, which manages the franchise of French supermarket giant Carrefour, said the charge read “responsible retail”.

“As part of Majid Al Futtaim, Carrefour has committed to phasing out single-use plastic in all our operations by 2025 and to becoming net carbon and water positive by 2040.”

Plastic bags were “too convenient”

Sophie Corcut, sustainability manager for Spinneys and Waitrose, also welcomed the initiative.

“Based on conversations we’ve had with customers and feedback on social media, I think the response is going to be overwhelmingly positive,” Ms. Corcut said.

“I think we’ve been prepared for this for many, many years to be honest.

“We have already run a trial at Waitrose, charging 25 fils per single-use plastic bag and it was a great success.”

She said the biggest barrier to disposing of single-use bags in the UAE was convenience rather than affordability.

“Other countries with low per capita income have successfully banned single-use plastic bags,” Ms Corcut said.

“People are so used to getting these bags for free that it’s more about convenience than anything.

“Perhaps this is where the change is a little uncomfortable for some, as the focus in the UAE has often naturally been on providing a great customer experience.”

Join the crowd

Kenya introduced a ban on plastic bags in 2017 to alleviate the problem of severe flooding caused by plastic bags blocking waterways and drainage systems.

The country’s law prohibits the manufacture and distribution of plastic bags, with violators facing a four-year prison sentence or a $40,000 fine.

Thailand banned the sale of plastic bags in all supermarkets and stores in 2020.

There has also been a total ban in Rwanda since 2008, with policies including baggage searches at borders to confiscate all plastic bags brought into the country.

Tariffs on the use of these bags are also in place in over 30 countries around the world, with full or partial bans enforced by over 90 countries.

Nearly 300 million tonnes of plastic pollution are created each year worldwide, according to figures published by the United Nations Environment Programme.

Only nine percent of all plastic waste ends up being recycled, with the rest ending up in dumps, landfills and other natural environments.

The UN estimates that the oceans could contain more plastic than fish by 2050, unless current trends are reversed.

One of Carrefour's reusable alternatives to single-use plastic bags.  Photo: Crossroads

Enshrined in law

The fact that the ban has been enshrined in law will also ensure its success, Ms Corcut said.

“In Dubai, we will have to apply the bag fee, otherwise there will be penalties,” she said.

“It is not voluntary, everyone must comply and there will be constant inspections.”

She added that while there is no outright ban in Dubai, with charges for each single-use bag put in place, her company is committed to eliminating their use altogether.

“We plan to have single-use plastic free of all of our stores by the end of the summer,” she said.

“We will encourage people to bring their old single-use plastic bags to us for recycling.

“Customers who also bring their own bags to use in Dubai will also receive a 25 fils discount on their bill.”

The single-use bag tax in Dubai doesn’t just apply to plastic, either.

The tariff covers all plastic, paper, biodegradable plastic and biodegradable materials of vegetable origin with a thickness of 57 micrometers or less.

A micrometer is one thousandth of a millimeter.

Shoppers who choose not to bring their own bags to carry groceries home will have the option of purchasing longer-use, less harmful to the environment bags in-store.

This policy is implemented by most major retailers across the country.

Other supermarket chains in the UAE have been keen to tackle the issue of single-use bags.

“There might be a few hiccups on the day the ban is first introduced, but nothing major,” said Vijayan Nandakumar, director of marketing and communications at Lulu.

“It’s understandable, but I think consumers are aware and also supportive of the philosophy behind this decision.

“We’ve been running an awareness campaign for some time and people seem to support it.”

Updated: May 31, 2022, 04:25

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