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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

Profligate plastic waste needs action now

Stores and consumers need to change patterns of behaviour to save the planet

Thai marine biologists attempt to rescue a pilot whale that had swallowed at least 80 plastic bags. EPA
Thai marine biologists attempt to rescue a pilot whale that had swallowed at least 80 plastic bags. EPA

Most of us are aware of the profligate wastage of plastic in the UAE and worldwide but following the news that Waitrose will soon start charging for plastic bags, we might soon have an additional incentive to cut back.

The horrific impact of our sea of plastic waste drew the world's attention this month when a whale died in Thailand after eating 85 plastic bags. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, eight million tonnes of plastic are dumped in our oceans every year on top of the existing 150 million tonnes already floating there, killing marine creatures and filtering into our food chain.

Yet humans are the biggest culprits. In the UAE, the average resident uses 450 plastic water bottles each year, according to the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment. In a country where it is still common to see one or two items packed per bag in stores, it has never been more prescient to address this problem.

The European Union last month proposed a ban on single use plastics, including straws and cutlery. If the UAE is to make similar strides, a mindset adjustment is needed among consumers and businesses.

An estimated 11 billion plastic bags are used annually in this country while excessive food packaging is prevalent. The tide needs to turn on the overuse of a product which is placing a stranglehold on the environment. Waitrose's decision to trial a 25 fils charge per plastic bag from Saturday in Abu Dhabi stores is a start; Spinneys is now considering doing the same.

The sum might be negligible for most but the accompanying reminder that the cost to the environment is anything but cheap might jog consumers into being more restrained. When supermarkets began charging for plastic bags in England two years ago, their usage dropped by more than 85 per cent in six months. It requires a concerted effort from all stores and supermarkets, as well as consumers themselves, to change patterns of behaviour and question whether that bag or clingfilm-wrapped apple is really necessary.

It takes little effort to take your own recyclable bags with you when you go shopping; stores can play their part too by asking customers whether they actually need bags.

It emerged recently that plastic contamination has reached Antarctica with worrying implications for the food chain and water purity. All of us could do more to reduce our consumption.

If we don't act soon, it will be impossible to stem the tide of plastic pollution.