On June 10th, Dubai Airports Company announced its plan to ban single-use plastics from its facilities by January 1st, 2020. The United Arab Emirates-based firm is responsible for managing both Dubai International Airport and Al Maktoum International Airport. Under the ban, single use plastic straws, forks, cutlery, and plastic shopping bags will no longer be allowed in shops, food courts, and restaurants. This ban follows the company’s recent push toward sustainability. Dubai Airports has already recycled over 43 thousand tons of paper and glass every year, and disposed of 16 tons of plastic water bottles. On World Environmental Day at the beginning of June, the company worked with more than 100 businesses at Dubai International Airport to stop handing out 150 thousand single-use plastic straws.
As massive as the buildings and construction projects are in the UAE, the amount of single-use plastic on Earth to contends with is far greater. It has been estimated that more than 8.3 billion tons of plastic waste has been produced worldwide since 1950. In other words, it would take 16,600 Burj Khalifas, the world’s tallest skyscraper located in Dubai, to fill the same space occupied by plastic. Chair of the Emirates Group Hababi Al Mar’ashi stated that banning single use plastics at Dubai International Airport will encourage international visitors in Dubai to take the initiative in fighting against single-use plastic pollution. With an estimated 90 million people passing through Dubai International each year, the airport has ranked as the world’s busiest for a 5th year in a row.
Dubai Airports is not the first institution in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to ban plastics. The UAE government’s Ministry of Environment and Water enacted bans on a number of non-biodegradable plastic products in 2013. Included in this list are single-use plastic bags, cups, cutlery and plates. Further bans on single-use plastics could have a major impact on the UAE’s waste footprint. The emirate Abu Dhabi’s Environment Agency reported that the average UAE resident uses nearly 1,200 single-use plastics per year, or almost triple the global average. In addition, UAE residents use on average 3 billion plastic water bottles a year. A major shift away from single-use plastics to biodegradable materials has the potential of demonstrating to the world that no matter how heavily people rely on plastics, they can still make the switch to more sustainable alternatives.
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Public opinion in the UAE is also shifting against single-use plastics. A 2019 poll of 2,700 people in the country’s seven emirates showed a majority supported paying a fee for single-use plastics. UAE citizens and the numerous expatriate workers living in the Emirates are already making their own personal changes, such as shopping with reusable bags, and bringing their own water bottles and beverage cups. Enterprises operating in the UAE are also doing their part to curb single-use plastics, with more than 50 businesses pledging in 2018 to stop using plastic straws. When January 1st, 2020 arrives, Dubai Airports will become the largest business in the UAE to ban single-use plastics at its establishments. In a country known the world over for its impressive list of human-made monoliths and achievements, ending plastic waste may yet be its most important.