Go drastic on plastic waste in UAE

Go drastic on plastic waste in UAE

The call to action isn't surprising given the alarming statistics that show 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic goods were produced last year.


Sherouk Zakaria

Published: Sun 1 Apr 2018, 12:05 AM

Waste from plastic is damaging the environment and choking animals, but the United Kingdom's recent plan to implement a deposit-return scheme offers a solution to the crisis. Under the scheme, people will get a 10-pence refund for plastic, glass bottles and aluminium cans, and experts believe this can be emulated by other countries, including the UAE.
McDonald's, meanwhile, is the latest multinational in Britain that plans to start handing out drinking straws made from paper after figures showed 8.5 billion plastic straws are used in the country every year - or more than 23 million a day which is causing the death of marine animals.
The fast-food giant joins a list of nightclubs and restaurants - including Pizza Express, Wetherspoons, and supermarket Waitrose - that have pledged to dump plastic straws for biodegradable alternatives.
The call to action isn't surprising given the alarming statistics that show 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic goods were produced last year. If current production and waste management trends continue, roughly 12 billion tonnes of plastic waste will be in landfills, or in the environment by 2050.
While such schemes might be effective in encouraging people to adopt greener lifestyles, a federal decision in the UAE would go a long way to curb plastic use, according to Abdul Majeed Sifaie, Director of Waste management department of the Dubai Municipality.
Sifaie said each emirate is doing its bit to reduce waste. However, a common plan is important to combat the problem as the country's residents use a whopping 13 billion plastic bags a year.
Figures show that a resident uses 450 plastic water bottles on an average in a single year, making the country one of the highest in bottled water consumption in the world.
Dubai, for example, focuses on awareness campaigns to establish a waste-sorting culture and enhance environmental behaviour. In one such campaign with Lulu Hypermarket, the Dubai Municipality collected nearly one million plastic bottles in five days, amounting to 2,000kg. Recycling initiatives that reward users for returning recyclable plastic material are also held annually in Dubai.
Deposit systems like the UK's may be a good first step, but they aren't the answer to combating plastic waste, said Tatiana Abella, co-founder of Goumbook. The not-for-profit environmental group, which encouraging resident to reduce plastic use by getting them to switch to drinking filtered tap water in reusable containers, believes an alternative to plastic must be found before it's too late.
She said there are 40 countries worldwide - including Germany, Sweden and Israel - that have been implementing a version of the deposit return scheme for plastic bottles.
"However, plastic is a material that never degrades and ends up in landfills. It's something you use for a few minutes but lasts forever," said Abella. As of 2015, of the 6.3 billion tonnes of plastic waste generated worldwide, only 9 per cent was recycled and 12 per cent were incinerated, but the remaining 79 per cent accumulated in landfills or the natural environment.
Abella said taxing factories that use plastic packaging will make suppliers stop delivering plastic-wrapped products to supermarkets. She said the solution must come from consumers who should refuse to use plastic bags. "Using fabric bags to carry your groceries back home sends a strong massage."
Impact on marine environment
Marina Antonopoulou, Marine Conservation Lead at Emirates Wildlife Society-WWF, said the material suffocates sea animals and impact marine environment. Figures show that 70 per cent of litter on beaches comprise plastic, with items such as straws, cups and stirrers making up 20 per cent.
She said 8 million tonnes of plastic products ends in the ocean every year. "We need all sectors to take the issue seriously, whether it's through supermarkets having a plastic-free aisle with products sold in bulk, or companies finding alternatives to plastic packaging."
Introducing return schemes or reducing unnecessary packaging and plastic bags will have a major impact in reducing plastic consumption, she said.
Antonopoulou, however, said the role of the individual matters to a difference to the environment. "Recycle more and drink from reusable water bottles to leave no waste footprint in the beach or desert."
Mustafa Ibrahim, Founder of A Beach Cleanup Dubai group, called for urgent action to reduce plastic waste that is mainly a result of people's distrust in drinking tap water in UAE.
"When we clean up beaches, we collect plenty of plastic bottles and cigarette butts that are made of 95 per cent plastic. They're very hard to collect, often ending up in the ocean and affecting the marine environment." For the past seven years, the group has been collecting over 11,000 cigarette butts from beaches during one cleanup.

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