x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Over-packaging is a wasteful habit

One of the most effective ways to reduce waste pilling up in landfills is to limit the amount packaging that suffocates our food.

The UAE has launched new initiatives for waste management, from building recycling and collection facilities to working with the private sector to reduce, manage and speed up waste disposal. But there are still useful additional steps that can be taken to reduce the amount of household waste the UAE churns out. One of the most effective would be to reduce the amount of packaging that suffocates our food.

As The National reported yesterday, over-wrapped food items are a principle source of the mounds of unnecessary waste that wind up in the nation's landfills. It is common to see food packaged inside cling wrap, inside a plastic container, inside a box, inside a bag. This overkill confronts us at the hypermarket, the fancy restaurant and the takeaway counter at the mall. Indeed, over-bagging of food items has reached epidemic levels. A plastic sack for a single packet of gum surely seems excessive, but in shops in the UAE, it's reflexive.

The trouble is, this is a wasteful practice that has not come under scrutiny by shops, nor by the authorities. Some European countries charge customers for every plastic bag they use, which encourages people to use fewer. Bag fees are an idea worth exploring in the UAE.

The issue of retailers or wholesalers over-packaging food products is harder to tackle. Creating laws that force suppliers to use certain types and amounts of packaging would place unnecessary financial burden on those retailers, and could prove impractical.

The solution, therefore, is for business leaders to come up with ways to promote more sustainable packaging or practices. If done correctly, new strategies could also increase business and encourage brand loyalty. Coffee shops and cafes, for instance, could be encouraged to offer discounts to customers who purchase reusable mugs and fill them up at the shop. Sandwich shops could promote "green lunches", charging a bit more for items packaged in more costly sustainable containers. Or these same shops could offer discounts to those dining in.

In a country with such a diversity of habits, educating consumers to choose food options that are packaged in sustainable fashion will be difficult and will take time. But managing waste better, and creating less of it, requires everyone's cooperation. Reducing the amount of waste pouring out of homes and into landfills is a collective challenge.