View of part of the Fujairah Corniche and the Hajar Mountains in the Background

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Check-Out Green Shopping Bags.

It was heartening to read the Gulf News article (February 24, 2007) that reported a trialing of natural fibre supermarket bags as environmental alternatives to the ubiquitous plastic bags. Around 500 jute bags were distributed to five Choithram supermarkets in Dubai, by people representing a partnership between some schools, community groups and the supermarket.

When I contacted Choithram’s General Manager, Mr. Manoy Thanwani, to ask about the outcome of this experiment he said, “This was a joint venture and it was a great success. Within eight hours all the jute bags had been sold at a cost of Dh10 per bag. It was a little unexpected but I detect there is in the market now a willingness to change.”

“When are we going to get recyclable check-out bags in Fujairah?” I enquired. He assured me of his plan that all the Choithram stores be part of a nation-wide strategy in partnership with the government, community organizations, businesses and the media.

When I called Mr. Riyas, the Chief Buyer at the Lulu Hypermarket Headquarters in Dubai, I got an equally positive reception. “Plastic bags are polluting our environment,” Riyas said forcefully. I asked about any plan to offer biodegradable bags and he said, “We are thinking about it.” He recognized that one of the hurdles in switching to eco-friendly bags was the issue of cost. “Many of our customers would be reluctant to make the change if they had to pay between Dh2-10 per bag.”

It appears that the Clean Up Campaigns, the Green Schemes, the ongoing community education programmes and even Al Gore’s Academy Award are all raising the public consciousness in the U.A.E. There is widespread concern about the 150,000 tons of plastic that is produced each year in the U.A.E. and its effect upon the environment. There is a growing awareness of the problems for the environment when plastic bags take hundreds of years to break down and the lethal impact on birds, animals and marine life when they get trapped or when they consume the plastic.

With the major supermarket chains beginning to offer customers natural bags (like Carrefour) or starting to plan their approach, the time seems ripe for an overarching and coordinated campaign. This needs to be led by the national government and local municipalities, delivered by the supermarkets, supported by sponsors with the ongoing consciousness raising and customer education being done by community groups and the media.

Environmental organizations like Planet Ark provide useful accounts of how other countries have approached this challenge with case studies of communities that have become ‘Plastic Bag Free’, strategy templates for towns and cities, tips for retailers and bag designs.

Switching to environmentally friendly shopping bags to carry our groceries home is a small step. Yet it is part of the journey which will inevitably lead us to face greater challenges that are confronting our U.A.E. environment.

Geoff Pound

Image: Photo courtesy of Ron Prendergast, Melbourne Zoo.