A reusable shopping bag. Picture for illustrative purpose only. Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: Single-use plastic bags will be off all cash counters in Abu Dhabi from June 1, with the emirate enacting the first major element of the ‘Abu Dhabi Single-Use Plastics Policy’.

Shoppers in the emirate can therefore expect to pay between 25 fils to 75 fils at checkout for reusable bags made available by major retailers. Alternatively, they can opt to bring along or buy multiple-use bags made from a variety of materials.

How much do the bags cost?

Bags made from a variety of materials are available from June 1 at entry-level prices. These will be available for customers who have not brought along their own shopping bags, and for those who need additional bags to take their shopping home.

They include:

• starch bags at 25 fils apiece at Carrefour stores, owned and operated by Majid Al Futtaim in the UAE

• reusable plastic bags that are 50 microns thick at 50 fils per bag at Lulu stores

• reusable plastic bags at 50 fils apiece at Coop and Spar stores, owned and operated by Abu Dhabi Cooperative Society

• paper bags at 75 fils apiece at Spinneys and Waitrose stores, owned and operated by Fine Fair Foods

• non-woven multi-use bags at Choithrams stores at 50 fils apiece

The policy, first launched in 2020 by Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD), aims to curb the use of all single-use plastics over time. It followed reports at the World Government Summit in 2019 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.

At a briefing with major retailers in the emirate last week, Dr Shaikha Al Dhaheri, EAD secretary-general, said the policy would feel tough at first, but that it is a necessary step to safeguard the future.

“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,” Dr Al Dhaheri had said.

What are single-use plastics?

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 millimetre, 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 marine animals in the UAE.

The Abu Dhabi Quality and Conformity Council has therefore released a series of guidelines for multiple-use plastic bags, including a minimum thickness of 50 microns, and a load-bearing capacity of at least 15 litres.

Retailers’ commitment

The emirate’s major retailers last week signed a commitment with the EAD to stop the distribution of single-use plastic bags at cash counters, and to charge a fee for any 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.

In a statement, Carrefour said it is offering the plant-based starch bags in order to eliminate plastic from store checkout counters. These sustainable bags take less than six months to fully decompose, and will be available at Carrefour outlets in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain from June 1, and in Dubai stores as of July 1.

Bernardo Perloiro

“Of all the plastic ever made, half has been produced in the last 15 years, which is why we were the first UAE retailer to introduce reusable bags back in 2007. We have come a long way since then and, since 2019, we have sold four million reusable bags at Carrefour stores across the UAE. With the implementation of the new policies in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, it is our duty to ensure customers have the most convenient, cost-efficient options. The starch bag, which costs only 25 fils, is an industry first in this region, and we are confident that it will be widely implemented by more retailers in the future. We fully embrace the new government direction, which bans single-use plastic bags in Abu Dhabi,” said Bernardo Perloiro, chief operating officer UAE at Majid Al Futtaim Retail.

V Nandakumar

“We are fully on board with Abu Dhabi’s plan to remove single-use plastic bags, and look forward to making sustainable alternatives available for Lulu customers,” V Nandakumar, director of marketing and communications at Lulu Group International, told Gulf News.

Mohamed Alkhaja

“In addition to the entry-level bags, there will be a variety of other affordable alternatives instore for Coop and Spar customers,” said Mohamed Alkhaja, head of merchandise and marketing at Abu Dhabi Cooperative Society.

Sophie Corcut

“We want to make reusable bags more attractive and convenient as we support Abu Dhabi to implement this policy. And although we are offering paper bags at this stage, we plan to phase them out by the summer and introduce more sustainable alternatives,” said Sophie Corcut, sustainability lead for Fine Fair Foods.

Ashutosh Chakradeo

“We at Choithrams take pride in supporting the UAE Government’s Single-Use Plastic Policy and are happy to offer our customers multiple options for single-use plastic bags in our stores in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain. We have replaced our plastic bags to non-woven multi-use bags in three sizes - small, medium and large, each priced at 0.50 fils. We hope this change will enhance our efforts towards protecting our environment, and encourage patrons to live an eco-friendly life,” said Ashutosh Chakradeo, head of retail GCC at Choithrams.

What kinds of bags are exempt?

The EAD earlier specified that single-use bags of certain types, and those used for certain purposes, are currently exempt. These include the following:

• plastic bags used for medicines in pharmacies

• plastic bag rolls and knot bags used for carrying vegetables, meat, fish, poultry, grains and bread (knot bags)

• large, thick shopping bags designed for transporting fashion items, electronic gadgets, toys

• plastic garbage bags and bin liners of different sizes and types

• bags designated for keeping messages, postal parcels or magazines and newspapers

• bags designated for transporting plants and flowers

• laundry bags

The EAD has accordingly trained its own inspectors, and inspectors from the Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development and the Abu Dhabi Agriculture and Food Safety Authority, to ensure compliance with the policy.

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Alternatives and incentives

There are also a number of differently-priced reusable bags available at each retailer. These alternatives are made of paper, woven materials, juco, cotton, canvas, and jute.

At Carrefour, the reusable bags can carry the load of five regular single-use plastic bags. The stores will also offer bonus SHARE points for purchases of new reusable bags, and each plastic woven bag bought at Carrefour will come with a lifetime guarantee. In addition, Carrefour has partnered with conservation organisation, Emirates Nature-WWF, to design limited edition reusable bags priced at Dh11.50, each with illustrations of threatened marine species in the UAE, and QR codes that can be scanned to learn more about each animal and the harms of single-use plastics.

At Spinneys and Waitrose, reusable plastic-woven bags will be available from Dh5 onwards, as well as juco bags at Dh12.50 apiece. Waitrose stores already offer a popular juco bag designed by Emirati fashion designer, Huda Al Nuaimi, at Dh49. A series of premium limited edition bags, upcycled from the iconic yellow Spinneys plastic bags and designed locally, will also be sold from today at Dh99 in Spinneys outlets.

“We will increase this range with newer designs and styles over time, including foldaway bags for convenience and trolley bags,” Corcut said.

At Coop and Spar stores, there are a variety of reusable bags made of jute, canvas or cotton, priced between Dh5 to Dh15 per bag.

“There are also a variety of promotions to encourage reuse,” Alkhaja said.

At Lulu stores, reusable bags made of juco, cotton, jute, woven plastic and canvas are available at prices between Dh2.50 and Dh7.

“These bags are perfect for reuse, made of good quality materials and with a premium feel. We will also bring out more options to ensure convenience and affordability, and incentivise shoppers who reuse bags with discounts, special offers and dedicated checkout counters,” Nandakumar said.

At Choithrams, a washable multi-use bag dubbed the ‘Bag for Life’ will be available at Dh3 apiece, and jute bags will be priced at Dh10 per bag.

“Our ‘Bag for Life’ comes with a lifetime warranty and can be replaced or refunded in case of any damage,” Chakradeo said.