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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 20 November 2018

We must all wage war on plastic waste

Only more education, backed by tough legislation, will end the tyranny of the humble plastic bag

Plastic waste is piled outside an illegal recycling factory in Malaysia. Lai Seng Sin / Reuters 
Plastic waste is piled outside an illegal recycling factory in Malaysia. Lai Seng Sin / Reuters 

The news that two thirds of UAE residents are concerned about plastic waste is an encouraging sign that the fight against this environmental blight is a battle just waiting to be won. But the YouGov survey also shows that there is still much to be done to educate people about the perils of plastics. As with climate change, the case against single-use plastic has been comprehensively made. Made from fossil fuels, it can take centuries to degrade, while leaching harmful chemicals into the environment. Burning it releases toxic emissions. Discarded to litter the sea and the land, plastic bags are not only unsightly but pose a fatal hazard to animals.

Yet, in the UAE, public awareness of the problem lags behind other parts of the world. An identical YouGov survey in the UK found that 80 per cent supported a ban on disposable plastic coffee cups, straws and takeaway containers. In the UAE, only half of those polled favoured the same measures. By some estimates, the UAE consumes an astonishing 11 billion plastic bags a year, to say nothing of the 450 plastic water bottles the average resident throws away annually. In 2009, the government campaign “UAE Free of Plastic Bags” set out to eradicate their use by 2013. Now, that aim could finally become a reality.

Education must be stepped up, but persuasion must be reinforced by legislation. This year, one supermarket chain conducted a successful experiment, charging 25 fils for each plastic bag to encourage customers to bring their own. The government should, as others have done, oblige all shops to do the same, with the eventual goal of banning disposable plastic bags outright. Ultimately, though, government can do only so much.

The battle against plastic waste must be waged by each of us in our daily lives. Carry reuseable water bottles and coffee cups, go shopping with your own bags, gently nudge the shop assistant to hand out fewer plastic bags. The environment belongs to everyone, and it behoves each of us to do everything we can to protect it, for ourselves and for future generations.