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Ibrahim Al Zu’bi and Hani Weiss display a range of reusable bags that will be used instead of plastic bags at Carrefour after the press conference in Dubai on Tuesday . PHOTO Sajila Saseendran Image Credit:

Dubai

One of the UAE’s leading retail chains on Tuesday pledged to stop the use of single-use plastic by 2025 and encourage and incentivise customers to use reusable and recyclable bags.

Majid Al Futtaim (MAF) announced the launch of its group-wide commitment to phase-out single-use plastics across its operations by 2025. The decision will affect 26 malls, 13 hotels, 46 VOX Cinemas and nearly 300 Carrefour stores.

Once fully implemented, the initiative will eliminate single-use plastic bags and other unnecessary plastic, two top executives said at a press conference in Dubai.

This involves removal of freely distributed plastic grocery bags from all Carrefour stores in 17 markets by 2025, as well as other single-use plastic items from across the company’s business units, inclusive of straws, cutlery, containers and trays, said Hani Weiss, Chief Executive Officer at MAF– Retail.

On-shelf merchandise like garbage bags, detergent bottles and cleaning products will still be available for customers to purchase.

Last year, Majid Al Futtaim’s shopping malls welcomed 192 million visitors and it is estimated that if each one of those visitors took home just two Carrefour plastic bags, that would total more than two million kilogrammes of plastic waste.

With the new initiative, “800m plastic bags will be out of circulation each year [from Carrefour stores],” said Weiss.

The company will run awareness programmes promoting reusable, sustainable alternatives that drive long-term behavioural change among its customers, suppliers and partners.

Customers are encouraged to sign up for Maijd Al Futtaim’s new lifestyle rewards programme, ‘Share’. Each re-usable bag bought between November 6 and 7 will be credited back in ‘Share’ points, with plans for issuing more rewards in the future.

“We started to incentivize our customers through our loyalty programme if they come back with our reusable bags. Hopefully by the end of next year, we will implement this loyalty programme in all of our 17 markets operational by next year,” said Weiss.

He said the company will not take any fee for replacing the reusable bags bought from its stores.

Trade plastic bottles for NoL cards

The group also launched a plastic bottle recycling initiative to incentivize customers in cooperation with the UAE Ministry Climate Change and Environment and Dubai Roads and Transport Authority.

“Customers who deposit 50 plastic bottles at the recycling station will be issued a Nol card loaded with Dh25. The first 500 customers will be provided these Nol Cards. After that we will be linking the incentive scheme with our loyalty programme and will issue points to those who deposit plastic bottles,” said Ibrahim Al-Zu’bi, Chief Sustainability Officer, MAF-Holding.

The machine used for this was inaugurated by the Minister of Climate Change and Environment Dr. Thani Ahmed Al Zeyoudi at Carrefour, Mall of the Emirates.

Weiss said Carrefour recently became the first retail chain to start a refill station for liquid detergent as well.

He said the company also banned single-use plastic bottles in all its offices last year.

Notice boards will be displayed urging customers to bring their own bags or buy any of the reusable bags with prices ranging from 50fils to Dh10. The new reusable cotton bags for fruits and vegetables is priced at Dh2.50.

“We will also work with suppliers, other partners and our competitors to form a committee to start strict rules saying if they don’t stop giving plastic bags, we will not have the products in our shelves. We need to tell our customers and partners to change the behaviour…This is a way of life and there is no going back,” he added.

Challenge of changing behaviour

Changing the behaviour of the customers is the biggest challenge, the executives said.

“We found out through our loyalty data that our customers, at least 50% of them, are ready to walk away if we don’t offer them a plastic bag at the cash counter. This is very risky. This shows the level of awareness,” said Weiss.

“In Dubai, roughly 1.2billion plastic [bags are being] dumped in landfills a year and less than 10% of it only is being recycled. Saudi uses 20 times more than the average consumption of single-use plastics. In Egypt, they use 12billion single-use plastic items in the market. Bahrain is facing a big problem with its landfills. If I don’t share these figures and what is happening in our world, our customers will not feel the impact.”

The UN estimates that over one million sea birds and 100,000 mammals die every year as a result of their interaction with plastic waste.

The group has also committed to becoming Net Positive in carbon and water by 2040 and has joined the United Nations Environment Programme to collaborate on resource efficiency and sustainable developments.

All these initiatives are part of the company’s move towards the creation of a circular economy and efforts to minimize its footprint on the environment, in line with its sustainability strategy ‘Dare Today, Change Tomorrow’.