- Habits have changed after a year of single-use plastic ban
- Many residents found switch to reusable bags easier than expected
Abu Dhabi: A year-long ban on the distribution of single-use plastic bags in Abu Dhabi has made for a definite shift in the public consciousness, with residents today much more aware of their plastic footprint.
Apart from carrying their own fabric totes and multiple-use bags when shopping, residents have become more vigilant of the other disposable plastic items they opt for.
Abu Dhabi regulation
The ban on single-use plastic bags in Abu Dhabi came into effect on June 1, 2022.
The emirate’s environment sector regulator, the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD), worked with major retailers to immediately ban the distribution of single-use bags at checkout counters, and to popularise reusable plastic, paper and fabric bags.
To drive home the cost of plastic use, the EAD also implemented a 50-fil tariff on each multiple-use plastic bag taken by customers upon checkout.
The regulation ushered in a series of sustainable changes. For one, retailers and stores switched to offering multiple-use bags for customers, with most opting for non-plastic materials for their bags. The 50-fil tariff also drove home the cost of plastic use for residents.
Sustainability makes sense
Once the rule came into effect, it assigned a cost on the number of plastic bags we used. It no longer made sense to be wasteful, and we found ourselves becoming more mindful of just how much plastic we were consuming,” Sharifa Alblooshi, 32,“ an Emirati human resources manager, told Gulf News.
Once the rule came into effect, it assigned a cost on the number of plastic bags we used. It no longer made sense to be wasteful, and we found ourselves becoming more mindful of just how much plastic we were consuming.
Alblooshi said while her family did initially forget to take their own bags when shopping, it soon became a habit.
“We began to keep some extra bags in the car, and when we forgot to take some with us, we would simply take our groceries to the car in a shopping cart, and then unload them at home one by one,” she said.
Over the last 12 months, Abu Dhabi has managed to reduce its daily use of single-use plastic bags by more than half a million, as shown in the latest statistics released by the EAD. The reductions have of course been made possible by conscious choices on the part of residents, coupled with regulatory encouragement and a range of reusable bag options made available by stores and retailers.
Shuq Almemari, a 25-year-old Emirati marketing professional, said she and her family not only took along their own shopping bags but also reused any plastic bags for other purposes.
“We use them to line bins, or to carry our shoes when heading to the gym,” she said.
These eco-friendly habits that Abu Dhabi’s laws are inculcating will also help me back home in the Philippines, where similar laws on plastic use are coming into effect.
There are still stray incidents when residents opt for multiple-use bags to take their shopping home. But these are few and far between.
“I get my groceries thrice a week, and know exactly how many bags to take with me before I head out for shopping,” said Arnold Navales, 35, a nurse from the Philippines.
“On the rare instance that I pop into a store after work and end up buying several items, I do pay for a multiple-use plastic bag. But the additional cost of the bag is a reminder that I should not be wasteful with it,” Navales has bought two heavy-duty fabric totes for his shopping.
“These eco-friendly habits that Abu Dhabi’s laws are inculcating will also help me back home in the Philippines, where similar laws on plastic use are coming into effect,” he said.
For Dr Thakur Mulchandani and his family, there was no need for any change in shopping habits.
The regulatory direction in Abu Dhabi has made it easier to spread the word in the community
“We were used to a ban on plastics because it is the norm back home in Mumbai. But the regulatory direction in Abu Dhabi has made it easier to spread the word in the community,” the Indian expat said.
As principal at the Sunrise English Private School, Dr Mulchandani has banned the circulation of single-use plastics within the school.
“The regulation truly highlights the harmful impact on our environment, and it is good to see so many more people, including children being more mindful,” he said.
Easier than expected
In fact, the switch has been much easier than expected for many residents.
Almemari said her in-laws were the first to purchase reusable bags for the family to use.
“My mother-in-law even brought home her own trolley for heavy purchases. She was committed from the start,” she said.
Alblooshi added that her nieces and nephews are the biggest advocates when it comes to curbing plastic use.
The restriction on single-use plastic bags has already had far-reaching impacts.
“We are all much more mindful of the single-use plastic items that we consume. For instance, we always opt out of additional disposable cutlery when ordering in food,” Alblooshi said.
These wider effects on the community will ease the additional control on single-use plastics that will come into effect in January 2024 as part of the Abu Dhabi Single Use Plastics Policy. In addition to single-use plastic bags, the policy will ban the distribution of other single-use plastic items, including cutlery, cups, straws, and lids in Abu Dhabi emirate.
Dubai, Sharjah, and Ajman have since rolled out tariffs on single-use plastic bags as well. The UAE will go on to launch a nationwide ban on these disposable bags from January 2024, and ban the use of other single-use plastic items from January 2026 onwards.
The moves follow the country’s concerted focus on sustainability and climate action, after the UAE was reported at the 2019 World Government Summit to be using plastic bags at nearly four times the global average.
In addition to plastic bags, Abu Dhabi is now working to encourage greater recycling of plastic water bottles.