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A shopper with reusable bags on Wednesday, the first day of the implementation of the 'Abu Dhabi Single-Use Plastic Policy' Image Credit: Samihah Zaman/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: Abu Dhabi on Wednesday marked a major milestone in its fight to protect the environment by implementing an emirate-wide ban on the distribution of single-use plastic bags.

Implemented by environment sector regulator, the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD), the ban is part of a larger policy designed to curb the overall use of all single-use plastic products in the emirate, and to promote reuse and recycling.

Inspection tour

Marking the start of the ban, EAD secretary-general Dr Shaikha Al Dhaheri, conducted an inspection of four major retail outlets in the capital, where large signs informed customers about the newly implemented policy. A range of reusable plastic bags were also available at each of the stores, including reusable bags at entry-level prices - ranging between 25 fils and 75 fils – on cash counters.

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Dr Shaikha Al Dhaheri, secretary-general of Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, visits the first outlet to inspect shopping bags on offer Image Credit: Samihah Zaman/Gulf News

Historic day

“Today is a historic day for Abu Dhabi, as we implement the ban on single-use plastic bags as part of our [Abu Dhabi Single-Use Plastic Policy]. It was very encouraging to see all the main retailers in the capital adhering to the ban, and adjusting their operations to ensure that customers have environmentally-friendly alternative to avoid single-used plastic bags for their groceries. These positive and proactive changes by retailers will allow us to achieve our goal of promoting sustainable living for all residents in Abu Dhabi,” Dr Al Dhaheri said.

A group of leading retailers had last week signed a voluntary declaration to signal their commitment to the ban, including the Abu Dhabi Cooperative Society, Lulu International Group, Fine Fair Foods, Choithrams and Majid Al Futtaim. These operators manage 71 per cent of the retail business in Abu Dhabi emirate via outlets such as Coop, Spar, Lulu Hypermarket, Spinneys, Waitrose, Choithrams and Carrefour.

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Shoppers at Carrefour with new shopping bags Image Credit: Samihah Zaman/Gulf News

Encouraging reuse

The declaration not only included a commitment to remove single-use plastic bags from cash counters, but also to charge a nominal fee for reusable plastic bags that are made available. The fees will become part of a fund that the EAD and retailers can use to promote sustainable habits across the emirate. Stores also committed to providing customers with incentives that encourage them to reuse bags wherever possible.

“We want it to be clear that the policy does not ban the reuse of plastic. Instead, it encourages reuse of all kinds of materials. By stopping the distribution of single-use plastic bags, we are encouraging people to reuse their bags, whether they buy them in-store or bring them along from home. They can also choose to not take a bag altogether,” said Monir Bou Ghanem, advisor for integrated environmental policy and planning at the EAD.

Plastic bag consumption

The Abu Dhabi ban follows reports at the World Government Summit in 2019, held in Dubai, that the UAE consumes 11 billion plastic bags every year, or 1,182 plastic bags per person. The global average in the same year was much lower at 307 plastic bag per person per year.

“We are aware that change takes time, and we believe the community can take positive steps towards utilising reusable bags as a means to ensure that Abu Dhabi offers a healthy environment for all. I am optimistic that, in time, Abu Dhabi will serve as a leading city, and that we will reap positive rewards from boldly taking this step forward for current and future generations,” Dr Al Dhaheri said.

What are single-use plastic bags?

Single-use plastics are made primarily from fossil fuel–based chemicals, and are meant to be disposed right after use. These bags are ultra-thin at about 18 to 21 microns thick, given that a micron is one-thousandth of a milllimetre, and they are therefore not very durable or heavy-duty in nature. Used for an average of 20 minutes each, they typically end up in marine bodies, killing many animals in the UAE, including dugongs, turtles and camels.

Shoppers with reusable bags on Wednesday, the first day of the implementation of the 'Abu Dhabi Single-Use Plastic Policy' at Lulu, Mushrif Mall. Image Credit: Anas Thacharpadikkal/Gulf News


The Abu Dhabi Quality and Conformity Council has therefore released a series of guidelines for the multiple-use plastic bags that are now offered by retailers, including a minimum thickness of 50 microns, and a load-bearing capacity of at least 15 litres. A quick check of the lowest-priced plastic bags on offer at the major retailers revealed printed messages to this effect.

Lowest prices

At Lulu, Coop, Spar and Choithrams stores, the lowest-priced reusable bags were made of plastic, and available for a fee of 50 fils. Meanwhile, Carrefour outlets currently offer starch bags at 25 fils each as their lowest-price offering, whereas Spinneys and Waitrose offer paper bags at 75 fils apiece.

Higher-priced alternatives are also available at all of the stores, and these are typically made of woven plastic, jute, cotton, juco, and canvas. Senior executives added that they would continue adding more options in order to ensure affordability and convenience for customers.

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Some retailers are offering discounts and loyalty points to customers who bring along their own shopping bags or purchase reusable ones in-store Image Credit: Samihah Zaman/Gulf News


In addition, many of the retailers are currently offering discounts and loyalty points to customers who bring along their own shopping bags or purchase reusable ones instore, thus incentivising reuse.

At this stage, the ban on single-use plastic bags is being enforced at major retail outlets. An EAD campaign is also in place to increase awareness at smaller outlets, where the ban will eventually be enforced, officials said.


In addition, certain kinds of bags remain exempt from the ban, especially in cases where there are no affordable and viable alternatives. Some exemptions include bags used for medication purchases from pharmacies, and bag rolls or knot bags for vegetables, meat, fish, chicken, grains and bread. Large shopping bags used to carry fashion items, toys, and electronic gadgets are also exempt, as are laundry bags, garbage bags, bin liners, and bags used to transport plants and flowers. In addition, single-use bags for keeping letters, postal parcels, magazines and newspapers are not included in the ban.

Other single-use items

Over time, the EAD will also gradually introduce other initiatives to reduce the use of 16 other single-use plastic products – including cutlery, lids and stirrers – which have been shown to make up about 85 per cent of marine litter in the emirate. In fact, a number of schemes have been introduced to encourage recycling of plastic water bottles.

A ban on all Styrofoam products will also come into effect in Abu Dhabi in 2024.

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What do residents say?

Rania Ghazzawi

Rania Ghazzawi, 33, a media executive from Jordan and mother-of-three, said: "This is a major change, given that we have used single-use plastic bags for as long as I can remember. From carrying home groceries to lining bins, I have always had use for them. So I will have to wait and see how this new policy affects me.

“For this week, I will likely order groceries online as I check with friends and family on how they are adjusting to the change. For example, can you rely only on reusable bags, or do you have to end up bringing home some items in reusable plastic bags at a fee?

“I know this is great for the environment and I fully support it. But I do like shopping from the store in person, so I will have to figure out what it means for me.”

Khadija Alamasi

Khadija Alamasi, 34, an Emirati nurse manager, said: "I typically go shopping twice a week, and bring home at least five shopping bags worth of goods on each trip. But I have always reused these plastic bags, sometimes to carry items when going out and sometimes as bin liners. I have also bought environmentally-friendly bags for use during shopping trips, and if I forget them, I opt for plastic bags at the cash counter.

“Personally, I don’t think this will be a particularly different change for me. After all, I know I am helping my leadership implement something that prioritises community safety. I only need to make small adjustments for a big gain.

"So yes, I will take reusable bags with me whenever possible, and I am also willing to pay for reusable bags id needed. I believe that if we all adopt positive habits that this change will help make a big difference in protecting our environment.”

Abigail Alexander

Abigail Alexander, 26, a school communications executive from the US, said: "A friend gave me a canvas shopping bag about two years ago, and since then, I have been brining my own bags with me whenever I go grocery shopping. Initially, it took some getting used to, and I had to remember to put the bag in the car when heading out. But then it just became habit.

“So this new policy will not mean any real change for me. At the same time, I do believe it will help reduce plastic consumption in Abu Dhabi, and encourage more people to bring their own. If I ever forget to take my reusable bags with me, I also wouldn’t mind paying for the alternatives.”

Shoppers with reusable bags on Wednesday, the first day of the implementation of the 'Abu Dhabi Single-Use Plastic Policy' at Lulu, Mushrif Mall. Image Credit: Anas Thacharpadikkal/Gulf News

Restrictions elsewhere

In the meantime, Dubai will also implement a 25-fil tariff on the use of single-use plastic bags from July 1 onwards, with the aim of banning their use completely within wo years’ time. Ajman has also announced plans to ban the use of single-use plastic bags by 2023.

These regulations will ensure that the UAE joins 90 other countries that have already imposed bans on the distribution of single-use plastics, and 30 that have imposed charges on their distribution.