Eleven billion. That's a lot of plastic bags. But that, according to a Ministry of Environment and Water statement reported in The National yesterday, is how many of them are being used in the UAE each year. The statistic was released as the ministry revealed plans to begin the third phase of its "plastic-free UAE" campaign, which has already seen some reduction in the use of the environmentally unfriendly synthetic material.
Meanwhile, the Centre for Waste Management (CWM) in Abu Dhabi is urging householders to make good use of a new system for separating rubbish into recyclables and nonrecyclables. This follows the roll out of dedicated bins - green for recyclable waste and black for everything else - that began last month. More than 14,000 homes now have the new bins, and more will be delivered in coming months.
Without recycling and related initiatives, we risk getting swamped in rubbish. In 2011, the CWM estimated that the 4.7 million tonnes of waste produced per year in Abu Dhabi emirate could rise to 31 million tonnes a year by 2030 if greener practices were not put in place. Dumping it all in the desert and forgetting about it is not an option.
There are already teething problems with the new bins, but that is to be expected of a system requiring residents to change the habits of a lifetime. As The National reported on Monday, some householders do not know the difference between the black and green bins, and have put general waste into both. The CWM is working on that, with brochures explaining how the system works and staff available to give advice.
The bottom line is that we all have to stop and think every time we dispose of something we no longer need, and consider whether it is recyclable or not. Similarly, we need to reduce our use of plastic bags at supermarkets, by reusing bags taken home on previous shopping excursions or buying dedicated shopping bags made from durable - and preferably recycled - materials.
That will be made easier if we can be assured that the (admittedly minimal) inconvenience of separating waste from recyclables is something worth doing. We need to be assured that there is a logistics chain that begins in our kitchens, and be confident that recyclable material will remain separate from the waste that is burnt or goes into landfills and will, indeed, be recycled.