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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 June 2018

Dubai restaurants 'stop sucking' in bid to reduce plastic waste

Sea Shepherd ask restauraters to join its campaign to ditch straws and other single-use plastics

Freedom Pizza is cutting down on using single-use plastic and has introduced bio-degradable paper to their packaging. Reem Mohammed / The National
Freedom Pizza is cutting down on using single-use plastic and has introduced bio-degradable paper to their packaging. Reem Mohammed / The National

Dubai restaurateurs are working with marine conservation group Sea Shepherd to eliminate straws and stop plastic from entering the food chain.

“It has a dramatic impact not only on our marine life but also on our consumers who eat seafood because toxic plastic goes into their food,” said Natalie Banks, the managing director of Sea Shepherd UAE. “A lot of the plastic that we throw away on land ends up in the ocean.”

Reducing marine debris is one of the main goals of Sea Shepherd’s Middle East chapter, which opened in December. To help restaurants cut-out single-use plastic, it has provided re-useable cups to sell to customers.

Restaurants that have ditched the straw include Bikers Cafe, Flow, Freedom Pizza, The Noodle House, Pierchic, Single Fin Cafe and the Yumtingz food trucks.

Ian Ohan, founder and chief executive of Freedom Pizza. Reem Mohammed / The National
Ian Ohan, founder and chief executive of Freedom Pizza. Reem Mohammed / The National

“The more that retailers in the food industry take these steps, the more people will get behind it and the less plastic that will end up on the ocean and in our shores,” said Ms Banks.

It’s estimated that 500 million drinking straws are used in the US every day.

Straws are non-biodegradable and their size makes them difficult to recycle. They often end up in the sea, where they are ingested by marine life and break down into microplastics. A 2013 article in the journal Conservation Biology found that half of green turtles had ingested debris, the majority of which was plastic.

Straws are just one part of the equation. Some retailers are switching from bottled to filtered water, cutting out plastic cutlery and looking for other alternatives to single-use plastics that are used for minutes and take hundreds of years to decompose. Straws and plastic cutlery are amongst the ten most common types of sea debris.

Single Fin Cafe has switched to filtered water and uses bamboo straws sourced from Bali. It has eliminated between 450 to 500 plastic bottles a month by switching to glass bottles and almost sold out of Sea Shepherd’s re-useable tea cups in the first week they were introduced.

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“There is a tiny cost involved but I think that the customers appreciated it a lot and they’re willing to spend a tiny bit more,” said Daniel van Dooren, co-founder and managing partner of Single Fin Cafe and Surf House Dubai. “The mindset is completely changing.”

One hitch is that biodegradable alternatives cannot be locally sourced.

“If you’re looking for recycled or environmentally friendly materials, in an ideal world you get that from a local market,” said Ian Ohan, founder and chief executive of Freedom Pizza. “It makes some of the solutions expensive and I think that’s the biggest challenge in the UAE.”

Freedom Pizza gave has stopped giving away straws and plastic cutlery. Instead it offers biodegradable alternatives for an additional cost of 50 fils. It has invited other companies to join their #dontsuck initiative, which follows the #stopsucking campaign launched in the US in September.

“The fact that we’ve shown that the consumer supports it, it reinforces the message to our industry peers,” said Mr Ohan. If some of the big chains join, it would make a big difference.”

Bikers Cafe switch to paper straws and biodegradable cutlery a week ago.

“It’s still early days but obviously people are impressed and it’s quite positive,” said Pascal Moser, the business development manager at Bikers Cafe and co-founder of Yumtingz food trucks and Myocum. “It is more expensive, however it’s healthier. It’s better for people, it’s better for animals. We didn’t really consider cost to be a factor because the ethos and the morals behind it are deeper.”

Sea Shepherd members are found throughout the UAE and can help businesses looking to reduce their use of single-use plastics. To find out more, go to the Sea Shepherd UAE Facebook page or email uaeadmin@seashepherdglobal.org.