It was a few years ago that Dubai resident Supatra, while reading a feature on eco-pollution, learnt that plastic takes 500 years to decompose. ‘To say I was shocked would be an understament,’ she says. ‘It was also a wake up call of sorts.’
She began reading up more about how she in her own way could save the planet from the scourge of single-use plastics. ‘I set my mind to de-clutter and eliminate plastic from our home and have become a crusader of all things green ever since.’ If once upon a time leftover food was stored in plastic bags or boxes, now she uses glass food storage containers or metal cooking vessels. She also carries along reusable grocery bags whenever out shopping. Her kids too have become eco-conscious as ‘they prefer to use stainless-steel water bottles’, she says.
Over the past several years, she has eliminated, and is avoiding using, single-use plastics as far as she can. ‘This personal transformation was simply amazing! It made me feel good and our home now feels more natural,’ says Supatra, a homemaker and teacher who has also been conveying this message to her students as often as she can.
She is all in praise of the UAE Government’s aim to ban single-use plastic bags completely in two years. ‘Supermarkets across the UAE are now offering various alternatives and it is a true testament to how we are all growing into a more responsible society,’ adds Supatra.
Exciting times are ahead as the UAE will once again lead the way towards achieving sustainability and encouraging global cooperation to address environmental issues. The recently concluded Dubai Expo opened avenues where the world witnessed how a world-class programme can still be successful and achieve fruition in its sustainability agenda.
The next year, 2023, will be no different as the UAE gears up to host the Conference of Parties (COP 28) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
This clearly will underscore the importance the UAE is giving to making the world a better place to live in.
With over three decades of advocacy in the area of going plastic-free, Habiba Al Marashi, President of Arabia CSR Network, Co-Founder and Chairperson of Emirates Environmental Group (EEG) initiated the ‘Say No to Plastic Bags’ campaign in 1992. She feels enthused to see that this initiative has now found its rightful place in the legal arena where supermarkets and corporates are forced to adopt sustainable solutions. With a ban on single-use bags in the next two years, she is glad to see Dubai paving the way for this much-awaited behavioural change. ‘Moving ahead, I would like to see the active involvement of the private sector in shouldering responsibility in our efforts towards a sustainable UAE,’ she adds.
Ibrahim Al-Zu’bi, Chief Sustainability Officer at Majid Al Futtaim, is also equally passionate on environment conversation. In 2019, the company decided to phase out single-use plastics within the business by 2025 as part of their broader circular economy strategy. ‘So far, we have achieved this across seven countries. We recognise that packaging constitutes a large amount of single-use plastic and so have found alternative materials for containers for fresh produce. In addition, we are removing plastic cutlery and straws in food outlets across the business, including at VOX Cinemas and Ski Dubai. We are also removing plastic bottles at community events and trying to encourage residents to bring their own bottles. Raising awareness on single-use plastics is very important to us,’ says Ibrahim.
‘We know that this is a major behaviour shift that we are demanding of our customers, so we want to ensure that we ourselves are following suit internally. This is the beginning of our commitment to leading the region towards a circular economy approach that reduces resource consumption and adds value,’ he adds.
Several other companies are also on the path of going green totally. Mazen Kaanan, co-founder and CEO, House of Pops that produces plant-based fruit pops, says that the company is keen to ensure their offerings are 100 per cent natural. ‘So, we decided to make a shift to non-plastic packaging BOPLA, a compostable and biodegradable film made from plant starch – in line with the EN13432 standard.’
This sustainable packaging material is a lot more expensive than plastic. ‘But it is our commitment to the environment that is seeing us through,’ he says. ‘I must admit that ever since our company made a conscious decision to go all out on sustainable and natural offerings, we are attracting a new set of customers who are aligned with our offerings of authentic taste, natural flavours and environmental friendliness. We are witnessing higher growth potential with so many companies approaching us for event partnerships. This is helping us immensely in building ourselves as a sustainable and responsible brand,’ says Mazen.
Another innovator Nawar F. Al Daas, CEO of ECO & RAW, says: ‘Knowing that, that single-use plastics are major concerns for both landfills and marine animals, I wanted to do my best to see how we could make a positive impact. Hence, we created ECO & RAW to provide people in the UAE with eco-friendly alternatives to plastic without compromising these products’ value, convenience, quality, style and luxury.’
A company has been set up to promote biodegradable and compostable products and ensure that the UAE becomes net zero by 2050, which will make the country the first across the Middle East and North Africa to reach such a mark. This is the first natural drinking straw in the world with a patent that has been made entirely from a fallen coconut leaf. With a 12-month shelf life, this straw has also been designed in a manner that makes it easy to pierce, which makes it a viable option for tetra pack manufacturers as well.
Kris Barber, Director at DGRADE that produces sustainable clothing using Greenspun yarn made from recycled plastic bottles, has also been a vocal advocate of the importance to go green. The UAE’s first bottle-to-yarn manufacturing company focused on making clothes out of plastic, initiated the ‘Simply Bottles’ campaign offering organisations a platform to collect plastic bottles and convert them into t-shirts, trousers, shorts, jackets, towels and caps.
‘Engaging with our community encourages a sense of ownership for responsible citizens who can contribute to the bigger cause of environmental awareness.’ The company currently recycles 720 million bottles per year (nearly a fifth of plastic bottles used annually in the UAE), thus diverting a significant amount of waste that would otherwise enter the waters around the region.