With a plan to eliminate all single-use plastic soon…

According to some estimates, the UAE is currently getting through 11 billion plastic bags each year, that’s more than a thousand for every inhabitant, and roughly three times the global average.

And, contrary to what the message of 90s bubblegum pop outfit Aqua would have us believe, life in plastic is not fantastic. At least not the single-use stuff. The plastic fact sheet on Earthday.org ominously states that “virtually every piece of plastic that was ever made still exists in some shape or form”.

It’s all there, circulating in our ecosystems, marinating in our oceans and in addition to being a turtle-choking eyesore, can potentially pose catastrophic health hazards to humans too.

What’s On spoke to Sheikha Al Mazrouei, the then Acting Executive Director – Integrated Environment Policy & Planning of the Environment Agency — Abu Dhabi (EAD), to find out more about what the UAE is planning to do to combat this blight.

Mission 2021

Back in March 2020, the Environment Agency — Abu Dhabi (EAD), announced a commitment to banning all plastic bag use by the end of 2021. Sheikha Al Mazrouei explains: “EAD and Abu Dhabi government launched the Abu Dhabi Single Use Plastic Policy back in 2020 at the night of the COVID-19 breakout. Many of the policy instruments were affected and delayed by the pandemic like applying measures targeting specific single use plastic products.”

If you think about all the paraphernalia associated with PCR testing, disposable gloves and masks — the pandemic really wasn’t the best backdrop for the war on single-use plastic.

That doesn’t mean the project has been ignored though, in fact green shoots emerged directly from the challenges issued by the global health crisis. Al Mazrouei continues: the “EAD has used the time of the pandemic to develop the regulatory framework in close cooperation with the relevant private and public sector actors.”

“Our plan is bringing all these instruments back on track in close coordination with the concerned COVID-19 authorities to ensure alignment.”

Talking about the immediate future of what is being planned in the capital, Al Mazrouei had this to say: “These measures are stated in the policy and include a ban on single use plastic grocery bags while introducing alternative multiple use bags, as well as the establishment of an incentive-based bottle return scheme to ensure recovery of potable water bottles.”

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April 2022 update

A communication issued today (April 6, 2022) by the EAD now states that the ban on the use of single-use plastic bags will be effective from June 2022.

To prepare customers and business owners for this deadline, a widespread awareness programme will be put into effect.

What are the alternatives for single-use plastic bags?

The reason the deployment of single-use plastic bags became so popular in the first place is primarily because they were cheap enough to give to customers for free (at least in terms of transparent up front charging), its the environment that’s been picking up the tab, however.

In terms of alternatives, the education of shoppers about the benefits of using and being charged for ‘bags for life’ (multiple-use plastic bags) is key. There are also plastic alternatives like tote and jute, even a biodegradable cassava composite piloted by Virgin Megastores in the UAE.

When can we expect a total ban to fall into place?

The EAD announced that it was moving towards legislation in support of phasing out all single-use styrofoam cups, plates and food containers by 2024.

Images: Getty