Representatives of outlets with Dr Shaikha Al Dhaheri, secretary general at the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, during the declaration Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: Abu Dhabi’s upcoming ban on single-use plastic bags will be one of the toughest policies to implement and popularise, but its far-reaching impacts make it our responsibility, a top environmental official said in the capital on Monday.

“Since the announcement [on the ban of single-use bags], we have seen a lot of positivity but also a lot of resistance. Our responsibility now is to communicate with those who are resistant. They do not oppose the policy because they do not believe in it; they do so because they are not comfortable with the ban [and the changes it requires],” Dr Shaikha Al Dhaheri, secretary general at the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD) said at a briefing.

First leg

She was speaking to representatives from the major retail groups in the emirate, ahead of a signing ceremony in which the entities voluntarily pledged their commitment to the Abu Dhabi Single-Use Plastic Policy. The first leg of the implementation of this policy, which was initially launched in March 2020, with come into effect next Wednesday, June 1, with retailers putting a stop to the distribution of single-use plastic bags.

Environmental impact

Single-use plastic currently constitute 36 per cent of the global plastic production, which is around 400 million tons each year.

“In the UAE, for example, 11 billion plastic bags are consumed annually, according to a report presented at the World Government Summit in February 2019. This is equivalent to 1,182 plastic bags per person annually, which is considered to be a very high rate compared to the global average of 307 bags per person per year,” Dr Al Dhaheri said.

In effect

When the ban comes into effect next week, one of the most noticeable differences will be in the kind of grocery shopping bags that are made available. These will no longer be of the single-use kind that are widely used at present, and customers will also be charged a fee for each reusable plastic grocery bag. As EAD officials earlier told Gulf News, the aim is to encourage customers to reuse plastic products, or to shift to reusable bags made of other materials.

Ultimate goal

Over time, the policy aims to reduce the use of disposables in the emirate, including single-use cutlery, lids and stirrers, thus reducing the pressure on Abu Dhabi’s marine and land environment from single-use plastic waste. It is also designed to increase the use of reusable products, which calls for a shift in consumption habits, Dr Al Dhaheri said.

Dr Al Dhaheri stressed the comprehensive negative effects of single-use plastics on marine life and wild species, and also their impact on human health.

“We owe these changes in behaviour to our children, whose futures we must protect. The first few months will be hard, there is no doubt. But it will force a change in behaviours that will be positive,” she said.

Voluntary declaration

Signing the Abu Dhabi Retailers Declaration today were representatives from Abu Dhabi Co-operative Society and Spar, Carrefour, Lulu Group, Choithrams, Spinneys, and Waitrose. The signatories confirmed their commitment to implement the Abu Dhabi Government ban on single-use plastic bags as of June 1, 2022, and to charge customers a fee for each reusable plastic grocery bag.

Signatories during the event Image Credit: Supplied

The signatories also committed to using collected fees to implement sustainable initiatives, and to publish reports on how these funds are spent. This is in addition to contributing to the Abu Dhabi government’s efforts – represented by EAD – in raising awareness related to reducing reliance on single-use plastic products.

“The declaration today emphasises the importance of joint action between all concerned parties from the government and private sectors to address the challenges related to single-use plastics, and their impact on the environment,” Dr Al Dhaheri said.

Retailers commit

“Abu Dhabi Co-operative Society is committed to removing single use plastic from our outlets and across our business, and we proudly support the vision of our leadership to protect the natural beauty and environment of the UAE. This initiative to remove single-use plastic will be a big win for the health of our oceans, wadis and deserts. As a community retailer we will exert effort to help our customers to make the change towards a more sustainable and a greener future,” said Abdulmajeed Alkhoori, chief executive officer of Abu Dhabi Cooperative Society.

“As an Emirati company, we have a commitment to protect and save our community, which is the reason we grew our sustainability operations exponentially over the past few years and pledged to eliminating single use plastic and becoming Net Positive in carbon and water by 2040. Today, by joining hands with our government and the wider industry, we are one step closer to a greener UAE. I would like to thank the Abu Dhabi authorities for leading the way to a better, plastic-free future,” added Ibrahim Al Zubi, chief sustainability officer at Majid Al Futtaim Holding.

“We welcome the decision taken by the Abu Dhabi authorities to reduce the use of single-use plastic bags. Choithrams has been actively encouraging use of reusable shopping bags for years now. Our multi use ‘Bag for life’ is available for purchase at all Choithrams stores; these bags come with a lifetime guarantee and can be replaced if damaged. Together we can ensure a clean marine and terrestrial environment in UAE,” said Rajiv Warrier, CEO at Choithrams.

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“This landmark initiative is going to be a major game-changer in the fight against the negative impact of plastic on our precious environment and Lulu Group is fully committed to make Abu Dhabi Single-Use Plastic Policy a grand success. We have already launched a major awareness campaign throughout all our hypermarkets and in social media to achieve an impactful result from day one itself. In our second phase. we will be implementing many innovative projects to further promote re-usable shopping bags and various sustainability initiatives,” said Saifee Rupawala, CEO of Lulu Group International.

“As a retailer established in the region for more than sixty years ago, we have a great responsibility to help protect our local environment and eco-systems. We view the Abu Dhabi Single-Use Plastic Policy as a significant step forward that accelerates the UAE towards a cleaner, healthier future,” added Sunil Kumar, CEO of Fine Fare Food, which runs both the Spinneys and Waitrose brands.

The signatories have also committed to cooperate, securing alternatives, resources, and financing to support environmental protection. This is in addition to reducing the amount of single-use plastic materials in their Abu Dhabi outlets, and raising awareness to encourage and accelerate the shift in consumer behaviour away from single-use plastic materials.