Use cloth bags, dump plastic

Dubai’s decision to charge 25 fils for plastic bags is a welcome first step in a long line of measures to come in two years’ time

Reuters file
Reuters file

Published: Mon 7 Feb 2022, 10:47 PM

Plastic isn’t fantastic in the UAE. The compound has outlived its use and needs to be discarded in the country. And the message from authorities is clear: start binning it at shops or pay a small fee to use it for two years.

The sooner we start rejecting the material, the better for the environment and future generations.

Dubai’s decision, therefore, to charge 25 fils for plastic bags is a welcome first step in a long line of measures to come in two years’ time. This is part of the country’s plan to phase out the material that is clogging the soil and oceans, threatening animals and humans.

Abu Dhabi, in fact, set the ball rolling against plastic last month and Dubai’s levy on single-use plastic bags from July shows how serious the issue has become. Clean-up campaigns haven’t worked and are often expensive so countries are getting to the root of the environmental problem of industrial proportions: plastic.

In 2019, Dubai Airports said it would go plastic-free. Now the campaign against the material has been put on fast-forward mode as the danger is clear and present. Businesses have welcomed the move, so have residents.

Plastic was a considered a cheaper alternative, though it was less bio-biodegradable than natural and sustainable materials like paper and wood. The material was a product of the industrial lobby which saw it as a cheaper alternative to paper in the 1960s.

The polymer-based product’s use spread in the 70s and 80s and has since taken the world by storm. As we look back, the material has been the singular source of soil and water pollution. According to some figures, we use 5 trillion plastic bags every year! The UAE uses 11 billion plastic bags annually, World Economic Forum numbers from 2019 suggest. The situation is dire.

The UN says: “Only 9 per cent of all plastic waste ever produced has been recycled. About 12 per cent has been incinerated, while the rest — 79 per cent — has accumulated in landfills, dumps or the natural environment.”

A UN paper says 77 countries have fully or partially banned plastic bags. Some 32 countries have imposed levies on the use of these bags, which is not enough. Nothing less than outright bans will suffice, and the issue must be treated in all seriousness before it is too late.

So what are the alternatives? Jute bags are an option, and were widely used in South Asia till the 1990s before plastic snuffed them out. The jute industry soon went under.

Paper is another option which would mean cutting down more trees or resorting to more recycling of the natural product. Reviving the jute industry would be more sustainable for the earth and livelihoods.

Till that happens it is the responsibility of every resident in the UAE and the world to do their bit. How? Carry reusable cloth bags for grocery shopping.

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