By Shakir Reshamwala
KUWAIT: Plastic bags seem to be everywhere – in parks, sewers, deserts, forests, oceans, and lately, in the news, after authorities in Dubai announced they are ending the free distribution of single-use plastic bags in a drive towards more sustainable practices. “In line with enhancing environmental sustainability and encouraging individuals to reduce the excessive use of plastics, the Executive Council of Dubai has approved the policy to limit single-use bags by imposing a tariff of 25 fils (about $0.07) on single-use bags,” the authorities said. The decision will come into force at the start of July in shops, restaurants, pharmacies and for home deliveries.
In Kuwait, there are no restrictions on single-use plastic bags, and despite attempts by supermarkets to promote reusable bags, there aren’t many takers due to their relatively high cost and the freely available plastic bags. It is common for baggers at supermarkets to place each item in separate bags, and it is not uncommon to see shoppers shamelessly grab a bunch of extra bags at checkout counters.
Nevertheless, people are waking up to the threat these plastic bags pose to the environment. In an online survey conducted by Kuwait Times whether Kuwait should also charge for single-use plastic bags, a majority of respondents voted in favor of such a move. Many however pointed out they do reuse them as garbage bags. Others called on authorities to go a step further and ban plastic bags altogether, expressing skepticism whether a token charge will deter their usage.
“There is a charge on plastic bags worldwide. Why not in Kuwait too?” one user responded. “Sell reusable canvas bags at checkouts. I’m tired of seeing a sea of plastic everywhere I go,” said another. Other respondents to the survey called for using paper bags instead, while some pointed out that waste in Kuwait needs to be segregated to make recycling easier.
Those against charging for plastic bags had their own reasons. “Ban plastic bags but use recyclable alternatives. Everything here is already expensive and overpriced. We consumers are suffering, so adding even a little more to the equation makes no sense,” commented a user. “We use those bags for the trash, so let them be free,” wrote another.
Explaining their decision, the authorities in Dubai vowed that this is the first step of a strategy planned over several stages, aimed at completely banning single-use plastic bags within two years. “With sustainability becoming a global priority, changing the behavior of the community to reduce the environmental footprint of individuals is crucial to preserve natural resources and environmental habitats,” the authorities said. In March 2020, Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, announced its “new environmental policy” aiming to eliminate single-use plastics by 2021 – but regulations have yet to be applied.
A report by wildlife group WWF last week warned plastic has infiltrated all parts of the ocean and is now found “in the smallest plankton up to the largest whale”, calling for urgent efforts to create an international treaty on plastics. According to some estimates, between 19 and 23 million tons of plastic waste is washed into the world’s waterways every year, the WWF report said. In one 2021 study, 386 fish species were found to have ingested plastic, out of 555 tested. Separate research, looking at the major commercially fished species, found up to 30 percent of cod in a sample caught in the North Sea had microplastics in their stomach.
To be fair, authorities in Kuwait are not totally oblivious to the plastic problem. In a first step, the Environment Public Authority last year distributed one million ecofriendly bags to cooperative societies in all the governorates, part of a campaign to raise public awareness about environment protection and minimize the use of plastic bags. The ecobags are made of organic materials that disintegrate in hot water without any harmful effects on the air, soil or water. Each ecobag is strong enough to carry up to 10 kg – although the weight of expectations over this move is seemingly a lot higher.
(With agency inputs)