KT for Good: Think twice before asking for a plastic bag
In the third part of our series, we're putting the spotlight on the mindless use of plastic bags at supermarkets.
The ugly truth about plastics is everywhere. Khaleej Times' latest 'KT For Good' campaign explores why we need to heed what eco-warriors have been telling us all along: Say no to plastic. In the third part of our series, we're putting the spotlight on the mindless use of plastic bags at supermarkets
We all love the convenience of walking into a grocery store and shoving whatever we want into a plastic bag. Think about the last time you've been to a store: Did you really need a bag for that lollipop?
With everybody "needing" the cheapest, readily available thing they can put their groceries into, two million single-use plastic bags are distributed every minute at store checkout counters across the globe, studies showed.
Khaleej Times did a straw poll among residents in the UAE and most of them said they accumulate plastic bags from the small grocery shops they visit every now and then for their basic necessities. We also found that it was usually the neighbourhood supermarkets in densely populated areas like Deira and International City in Dubai that seemed to be clueless about the hazards caused by plastic use. Shareef, who runs a small convenience store in the Naif area, said he had never seen a decrease in plastic bag demand since his shop opened 20 years ago.
"Most of our customers in this area are bachelors and workers who come over to buy basic things like soap, cold drinks, chips, eggs and more. And I cannot remember a time when someone refused to take a plastic bag - not even once," he said.
"In fact, there were so many times that when a customer took only one or two small things such as chewing gums or lollipop, I tried to hand them what they bought - but then they would still ask for a plastic bag. I don't want to annoy my customers, so I have to put their small purchases in a bag."
Abdul Basit, a store manager at Al Madina Mart in Dubai Silicon Oasis, said they end up using 15kg of bags or slightly more in a month.
"Although I am conscious about plastic waste and waste segregation, when it comes to customers, it's beyond my control. I try to give one or two things in their hands, but most of them demand a plastic bag."
Doing home deliveries, which most customers prefer, also leaves Basit's shop with no choice but to use a number of bags, he said.
"Another demand that some customers are quite fussy about is segregating vegetable bags from other food items. This requires us to use extra plastic bags when all the items can be placed in one, since vegetables are already packed in thin plastic. It's like putting them in double plastic covers," Basit lamented.
One store in International City, Dubai, uses about four kilos of plastic bags on a daily basis, its manager told Khaleej Times.
Arif Backer, manager of the Pasons store in the neighbourhood, said: "In about 100 customers, just one customer may refuse a plastic bag. All others say they want one.
"Personally, I know plastics have long-term effects on our environment, but we have never seen any anti-plastic campaign happen in this area to encourage and educate us and our customers. Hence, we never thought about it."
Sharing the sentiments of other storekeepers, Backer said they also couldn't afford to argue with customers who insist on putting their goods in bags. "But thanks to the campaign by KT, we realised the enormity of the plastic problem and we will try to reduce the usage or at least think twice before overusing plastics."
Some demand extras for their garbage
In Sharjah, when we asked Abdur Rasheed, store manager at Hilal Al Madinah, on whether they are doing anything to reduce plastic use, he said: "As a store, we try to give minimal plastic bags or just enough to accommodate all the items our customers bought, but it is so sad that many of them ask for more, which they said they wanted to use for other purposes.
"Many say they need the extras as they would use them as garbage bags at home. In a week, there will be only one or two customers who say no to plastic bags."
Rasheed said that considering how big their store is, they were "not faring too badly" in terms of plastic use.
"We use a little more than 10kg a month, maybe. Thanks to Khaleej Times, we are now reminded to further reduce our usage of plastic bags and encourage our customers to do the same," he added.
Extra charge for bags?
Most of the plastic bags used by small supermarkets and grocery stores were found to be single-use plastics.
Last year, supermarket chain Waitrose's five stores in Abu Dhabi launched a 12-week trial campaign where they started charging customers 24 fils for all single-use plastic bags.
Another grocery operator, Spinneys, which has a number of outlets across the UAE, also said last year that a plan to implement a carrier bag charge was in the works.
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