x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Plastic bags must pass government approval

Environment chiefs will run checks on new generation of bags that boast biodegradable credentials.

Degradable plastic bags will be subject to intense government scrutiny from next month to check they are environmentally friendly. 

The initiative is the first step of a larger move to stop the use of conventional plastic bags, said Mohamed Badri, Acting Director General of the Emirates Authority for Standardization and Metrology (Esma). The Ministry of Environment and Water has set 2013 as the deadline after which conventional plastic bags will be banned.

Plastic takes hundreds of years to break down and contributes to littering and pollution. To overcome this issue, chemical companies have created additives that can make conventional plastic film degrade faster. Known as oxo-degradable plastic, the material breaks down in the presence of light and oxygen. Effective from November 27, all oxo-degradable plastic bags in the UAE will have to be certified by Esma, Mr Badri said.

"We want to assure that plastic bags that claim to be degradable comply with those claims," he said. Manufacturers who fail to obtain a certification will still be allowed to sell their bags, but will not be allowed to make the claim that the bags are oxo-degradable. Plastic bags manufacturers will have to declare the chemical composition of the additives, which are usually organic compounds of metals such as iron, nickel, cobalt and manganese.

Only additives that are approved by Esma will be allowed for use. The move is to ensure the additives are safe for the public and the environment, Mr Badri said. Two additives manufacturers - Sharjah-based Eco-Polymers and Excel International, based in Ras al Khaimah - have already been registered under the scheme. "If a bag manufacturer is using one of the two approved additives, they should meet the new standards," said Shakul Rai, managing director of Excel International, which received its certificate in August this year.

In addition to proving use of approved additives, each manufacturer will have their premises audited, with officials assessing the quality of the plastic material used and the production lines. Obtaining a certification can take from two days to two months, depending on the facility and the quality of the documentation supplied, Mr Badri said. Plastic bag importers will also have to meet the requirements if they claim their products are oxo-degradable. Once the scheme is up and running, Esma will conduct spot checks and send samples for independent testing.

The new scheme comes months after a study, commissioned by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the UK, questioned some of the environmental benefits of oxo-degradable bags. A team of scientists from Loughborough University concluded that oxo-degradable bags do not have a better environmental impact than conventional plastic. While the additives do cause the plastic to break down into small pieces, the question still remains as to whether they fully degrade in nature and how quickly this process occurs.

Mr Badri agreed that some questions still remain. "Nobody has verified the duration," he said. "But this is a good first solution. The main solution is to go for alternatives such as reusable bags as they do in Europe. "Here our culture is different. We use a bag once and we throw it away. This should change. It can be a plastic bag too, as long as it is reused many times and then recycled." 

vtodorova@thenational.ae