UAE-wide single-use plastic ban: How residents, retailers, restaurants, packaging firms are adapting to a new way of life
Dubai: The UAE’s announcement of a nationwide blanket ban on single-use plastic bags effective January 1, 2024 has been welcomed by residents and retailers who are making progress towards a sustainable future following the first set of regulations adopted in various emirates.
While Abu Dhabi banned single-use plastic bags on June 1 last year, Dubai implemented a 25 fils tariff from July 1, a move followed by Sharjah from October 1. Ras Al Khaimah Municipality launched ‘single-use plastic no more’ and the ‘go paperless’ initiatives earlier in January 2022 while Umm Al Quwain and Ajman announced a ban on single-use plastic bags from January 1 this year.
While the entire country aims to be free of single-use plastic bags by 2024, it will serve as the prelude to banning products made of single-use materials. From January 1, 2026, the country will ban plastic or foam products like cups, plates, cutlery, containers and boxes. These include spoons, forks, knives, chopsticks, straws and stirrers as well.
By gradually reducing the consumption of single-use plastic items and eventually banning them totally, the Government aims to inculcate a culture of sustainability and enhance the protection of the environment, marine creatures and animals.
According to residents, retailers and packaging companies that Gulf News spoke to, the UAE’s blanket ban on single-use plastic will see a smooth implementation as residents and companies have also become more conscious about the need to move away from the use of harmful plastic products with the government taking the lead in protecting the environment.
What residents say
Euan Megson, a British expat living in Dubai since 1985, said: “I remember driving to Hatta in the early days with my family and seeing hundreds of blue plastic bags clutching to trees and other shrubbery across the landscape. That image of humanity’s impact on nature forged a lifelong memory, and I am thrilled that future generations will evolve beyond the chronic overuse of single-use plastics. In a year when the UAE will host COP28, the announcement is undeniably timely, but this latest step follows recent initiatives by the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi and other domestic government stakeholders to tackle the plastic pandemic which have seen residents make some changes in their shopping habits.”
Megson’s family has voluntarily opted for reusable shopping bags for a couple of years, he said.
“I also keep a small-to-medium cardboard box in my car, which I use for smaller shopping excursions. I look a bit strange walking around the supermarket with it, but for every odd glance you get someone say, ‘that’s a good idea’. Supermarkets always have a cache of empty cardboard boxes from product deliveries – if you want one, just ask. If they say no, go around the back and get one. It’s really not hard,” said Megson, managing director, Action Global Communications.
“We use reusable bags or totes and always keep two of them in the car. That way, if you forget to put one back in the car after taking your shopping home, you can use the back-up. It’s not rocket science; it’s forward planning to avoid environmentally destructive convenience.”
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- UAE: 25-fil tariff on single-use plastic bags comes into effect in Sharjah
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While Megson agrees that the cost of alternative bags and products may be challenging for some more than others, he pointed out that there are cheap alternatives like cardboard boxes. “It’s not hard, it just takes effort,” he said.
Reusable bags for groceries
Abu Dhabi resident Joanne Rico from the Philippines is also among those who have got into the habit of carrying reusable bags for grocery shopping.
“I highly commend the UAE government for its initiative to regulate single-use plastic products in the country. It is alarming that it takes 20 to 500 years to decompose a plastic, so the lesser the volume of plastics we use, the more we help our environment.
"Since last year, I have been carrying my own reusable bags whenever I shop at supermarkets. Not only do I save money from extra charges for plastic bags, but also, I save Mother Earth in my own little and compounding way,” said Rico, who works as head of Marketing at Salma Rehabilitation Hospital.
Need for affordable alternatives
Rafael Hu Zhi, General Manager of RMS Middle East Ship Services from China, who has been living in the UAE since 2008, also welcomed the country’s move towards protecting the environment by banning single-use plastic bags and other products.
However, he said he would like to see the availability of alternative environmentally—friendly products at affordable rates.
“If the alternative products are not cost-effective, retailers will pass on that expense to the consumers and we might end up paying more. So, I hope that it will not contribute to inflation. I am looking forward to the authorities taking initiatives to ensure the availability of affordable options when single-use plastic items are banned.”
What packaging companies say
Abdul Jebbar PB, managing director of Dubai-headquartered Hotpack Global, said “We comply with regulations across all countries we operate. We engage as a solutions provider driving towards more sustainable packaging with our multinational presence and diversity of product range. About 97% of Hotpack’s products are sustainable as they are either reusable, recyclable, biodegradable, or compostable.”
He said the Research and Development team identifies newer products and technologies that further help minimise the ecological footprint.
“We produce a wide variety of alternative products including paper bags, recyclable plastic bags, and a variety of mono-layered materials that can be classified as biodegradable, compostable, reusable, or recyclable. We constantly innovate and reinvest cutting-edge technologies in manufacturing products that ensure reduced carbon emissions as well as protect the environment from pollution. Our team of experts also takes up awareness campaigns among the public, in addition to offering eco-friendly alternatives to our clients.”
Welcoming the total ban on single-use plastic products, he said: “It is a welcome move that is in line with the initiatives implemented in over 90 countries aimed at limiting the usage of single-use bags that are harmful to the environment. The ultimate motive of the ban is to educate consumers and create awareness about sustainable waste management and promote renewable alternatives and reuse of bags.”
While the ban on single-use plastic will help combat plastic waste pollution to a last extent, he added that a lot also depends on plastic pollution created by humans dumping plastic waste irresponsibly.
What retailers say
Since the introduction of a ban on single use plastic bags in Abu Dhabi last year, retailers have seen a very positive response from the community, said V. Nandakumar, director- Marketing and Communications, Lulu Group.
“Though there were some initial teething problems, the shoppers soon shifted to either non-plastic bags or reusable shopping bags. Each month, we have been noticing this trend gaining momentum as more and more shoppers are aware of the negative impact of single use plastics.”
“We have introduced many eco-friendly & budget friendly shopping bag options as well as launched a massive awareness campaign, which has yielded the desired results and we are confident that the large-scale ban on “single use plastic” next year can be very effective and all stakeholders will do their bit to make it a success. The main focus should be on awareness and introducing cost-effective alternative options in the market,” added Nandakumar.
While supermarkets and hypermarkets are increasingly seeing the trend of shoppers bringing in their own bags, it is not a regular sight at convenience stores at petrol stations. “We hardly get people bringing in bags to carry items. Most of their customers stop by to purchase only a few items on the go and they just want to use the plastic bags with extra money. Some people even refuse to pay extra for that. Not many seem to be interested in buying the reusable bags from us,” said Siju A, who works at a convenience store at a petrol station in Dubai.
What restaurateurs say
The total ban on single-use plastic products will have a major impact on the restaurants in the UAE. While many have started working towards changing the delivery bags into paper bags or recyclable bags, some have gone a step ahead and started changing the serving bowls and cutleries as well.
“We have always promoted healthy eating and we want to be nature-friendly as well,” said Shanavas Mohammed, managing director of Golden Fork Restaurant Group.
“We appreciate the initiatives taken by the UAE authorities in banning harmful plastic products. In line with the sustainable, nature-friendly initiatives, we have already changed our carry bags for delivery services. We are using only paper bags now.
"Also, we have imported paper bowls to replace disposable plastic bowls and we are expecting the eco-friendly cutleries to arrive soon. Almost one million pieces of these products have already been ordered from China. We are not waiting till 2026 to make that move,” he added.