Recycling insufficient to combat current plastic pollution, experts say
Here in the UAE, the government has outlined its support towards sustainability in policies such as the Single Use Plastic Policy and the UAE Circular Economy
Recycling and reusing items in their current format alone are insufficient methods of combatting plastic pollution, experts and business leaders across the UAE said.
Instead, the world needs to collectively take steps to consider and manage our plastic usage. This includes improving waste collection and scaling up on recycling efforts, switching to recyclable plastics, and eliminating unrecyclable plastics from the supply chain.
Speaking to Khaleej Times ahead of International Plastic Bag Free Day, which falls on July 3, Deyan Dimitrov, CEO of Laundryheap, says that it is no secret that plastic is the one of the biggest contributors to environmental damage; its detrimental impact contributes to a range of issues from the contamination of marine life deep in the oceans to microplastics polluting the water we drink, and entering our bodies through the food chain. He revealed that in the next 10 years, an estimated 22 million tonnes of discarded plastic – and potentially up to 58 million tonnes – will end up in our seas each year.
“This is a sobering thought,” he said. “While we’ve seen the global campaign to mitigate plastic waste gain considerable speed in the past few years, it hasn’t quite reached the levels that will make a meaningful dent in this growing issue. In fact, only nine per cent of plastic ever produced is recycled. To save our planet, its ecosystems and all those who inhibit these, we need to take steps towards turning off the plastic tap and eliminating our everyday reliance on it.”
Dimitrov also noted that businesses across the UAE are stepping up their efforts and commitment to sustainable practices. For example, one of the key steps that Laundryheap has taken to reduce its plastic footprint is eliminating the use of single-use plastic laundry bags in its services. These have been replaced with reusable cotton bags, which are a more sustainable option. “The transition has saved over 20,000 plastic bags over the last few months alone. In addition, we are working on integrating microfibre capturing bags for synthetic items as a priority to further curb the microplastic emissions of every wash.”
SUPs have to go
Several experts across the UAE’s hospitality and tourism sectors pointed to the use of single-use plastics (SUPs) as a key contributor of plastic pollution, and announced plans to curb and, in many cases, completely eliminate their use across the industry.
Jan Moenkedieck, GM of Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah, revealed that Hilton has rolled out several initiatives to cut its environmental footprint in half. “We have replaced plastic key cards with RFID-enabled recycled wood key cards; removed single-use plastic water bottles; introduced water stations across the hotel; eliminated plastic straws in restaurants; and are continuing to encourage team members and guests to minimize plastic waste more broadly.”
This project has proven a huge success, so far reducing the hotel’s plastic waste by 10 tonnes over the last two years. “It is incredibly important for us to share why and how we can phase out single-use plastics in our everyday lives, and one which we are committed to furthering in the coming years,” Moenkedieck said.
Similarly, Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, in October 2019, pledged to eliminate all SUPs across its portfolio of luxury hotels by the end of March 2021. Three months on from that deadline, the group has made significant progress towards meeting the goal, despite ongoing challenges. By the end of the first quarter of 2021, the group had achieved nearly 70 per cent reduction in this annual plastic footprint. Based on estimated plastic stock depletion timelines and supplier delivery commitments, it is expected that all hotels will eliminate SUP by the end of the second quarter of 2022, avoiding 930 tonnes of plastic waste each year.
“Although our ambitious timeline to eliminate all single-use plastic from our premises by the end of March 2021 has been deferred by one year, largely as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have made massive progress, with a majority of our hotels expected to reach the elimination goal by the end of July this year,” said Group CEO James Riley. “Despite the ongoing challenging conditions, our colleagues have continued to embrace our commitment to deliver on the group’s sustainability responsibilities.”
Saadiyat Beach Golf Club and Yas Links Abu Dhabi, both of which are owned by Aldar Properties, have announced that they have eliminated all SUP bottles as of March 2021, underlining their commitment to environmental sustainability. A combined total of over 100,000 plastic water bottles are consumed by golfers between the two properties on an annual basis. The goal now is to reduce this figure by 40 per cent this year. Members and guests will be encouraged to use and refill their own reusable water bottles from the water coolers throughout their round.
“As plastic waste and pollution increases, we should all be making a conscious effort to do our part,” said Francisco de Lancastre David, cluster general manager at Saadiyat Beach Golf Club and Yas Links Abu Dhabi. “I’m proud to have both golf clubs onboard with this new sustainable initiative, which will reduce our carbon footprint significantly and I hope that our members and visitors will be encouraged by this when visiting the course.”
Virginia Messina, SVP and acting CEO of The World Travel & Tourism Council, noted that the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the global sustainability agenda, with businesses and policymakers now putting an even stronger focus on it. “As a growing priority, businesses are expected to continue to reduce single-use plastic products waste for the future and drive circularity to protect not only our people, but importantly, our planet. It is also becoming clear that consumers are making more conscious choices, and increasingly supporting businesses with sustainability front of mind.”
Save the oceans to save Earth
According to a recent report by The Pew Charitable Trusts and SYSTEMIQ, in the current trajectory, which we call Business-as-Usual, annual flows of plastic into the ocean could nearly triple by 2040. What’s more, even if all current major industry and government commitments are met, the world would see a reduction in annual rates of plastic pollution flowing into the ocean of only seven per cent from the Business-as-Usual scenario. According to another report by the UN, plastic waste causes an estimated financial damage of $13 billion to marine ecosystems each year.
The harmful impact of plastics on our oceans was recently witnessed firsthand by four volunteer members of Azraq, who ventured out to Lulu Island in Abu Dhabi to undertake a cleanup from the seabed and around the island itself, and ended up removing exactly 137.9kg of debris, mainly plastic water bottles and fishing debris.
Azraq is a UAE-founded not-for-profit dedicated to marine conservation and protection. The company has a long history of beach cleans, which the team will continue to do wherever possible, even when having to accommodate to social distancing regulations.
“There is a great deal of debris on the sea floor, which I see regularly as a scuba diving instructor, and in order to conserve and protect our local waterways, we need to not only look at stopping the debris from entering the waterways, but assist to remove it also,” said Natalie Banks, founder of Azraq. “We are extremely grateful for the support from the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi and Tadweer which sent a boat to Lulu Island to collect the debris afterwards.”
The report by The Pew Charitable Trusts and SYSTEMIQ, showed that if the world were to apply and robustly invest in all the technologies, management practices, and policy approaches currently available – including reduction, recycling, and plastic substitution – in 20 years there would be about an 80 per cent reduction from the current trajectory in the flow of plastic into the ocean.
“In this world where plastic is omnipresent, it is difficult to eliminate it,” Deyan Dimitrov says. “But, reducing our individual plastic footprint is one way we can play our part in contributing towards a more sustainable way of living. Whether as a business, an individual, a family, or otherwise, we each have a role we can play in reducing our consumption and every contribution, whether big or small, is valuable.”
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