DUBAI // Major supermarkets and grocery stores say they are well prepared to cope with the ban on the supply of non-biodegradable plastic bags that comes into force in the new year.
A number of shops are already using environmentally friendly biodegradable or reusable bags, in keeping with the Ministry of Environment and Water's initiative to move away from non-biodegradable plastic bags that was launched in 2009.
"This is the right step," said Fahmi Al Shawa, the managing director of Convenience Arabia, the franchise holder for the Circle K chain, which has 17 stores in the UAE.
"We are already using biodegradable bags in some stores and within the next one to two months we will shift completely to them," he said.
The Ministry of Environment has banned the import, manufacture and supply of non-biodegradable bags with effect from January 1, with the goal of completely eliminating the use of such bags by 2013.
Mr Al Shawa said banning the manufacture of the bags would make a big difference.
"To be honest, most supermarkets stock items on a short-term basis so there won't be an issue of thousands of plastics bags being used in supermarkets when they shouldn't be.
"We have been looking to introduce a number of alternative biodegradable bags and I don't see that we will experience any issues with them."
It is a similar story at the upmarket Waitrose chain, which has stores in The Dubai Mall and Dubai Marina Mall.
"We've been using oxo-biodegradable bags for the last two years and we also offer the reusable jute bags," a spokeswoman said.
She added the supermarket was confident of meeting the new regulations.
"Normal plastic bags take many hundreds of years to degrade, but the ones we have react with the oxygen in the air and decompose much faster."
LuLu supermarkets also use biodegradable and reusable bags. "We don't have jute bags but we have strong reusable ones; I'm not too sure what they are made of," said a member of staff at the LuLu Hypermarket in Barsha, who did not wish to be identified.
He said they had not been given information about when the old non-biodegradable plastic bags could no longer be used, but they had switched to environmentally friendly bags and the staff encouraged customers to use reusable bags.
The Ministry of Environment wants to phase out non-biodegradable plastic bags because of the damage they cause to the environment. The Emirates Authority for Standardisation and Metrology (Esma) is enforcing the changes, which already include not allowing shops to use their logos on non-biodegradable bags.
"There isn't a set deadline for supermarkets, but the beginning of 2013 is when there should be no more conventional plastic bags in use or in circulation," said Mohammed Badri, the acting director general for Esma.
"It follows that if these bags can no longer be made or supplied, then over the coming months only biodegradable bags will be used."
Esma will inspect manufacturers to make sure the oxo-biodegradable bags meet required standards. No plastic bags will be allowed to circulate unless they meet Esma's standards.
But not everyone is convinced that oxo-biodegradable bags are the way forward.
Nils El Accad, the general manager of the Organic Foods and Cafe in Dubai's The Greens neighbourhood, believes that even these bags will take too long to breakdown.
"I did notice they fall apart when left in the heat for a long time, but actually biodegrade?"
"I am not an expert, but it would be very worrying if they only disintegrate, so end up as plastic in a small format that we cannot see - that would, in effect, be worse.
He said the cafe used fully recycled paper bags and also offered customers reusable jute bags.