Jamilah the camel is the symbol of the anti-plastic-bag campaign in the UAE. Photo: Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi.
It may be better known for its profligate energy use than its environmental friendliness, but the United Arab Emirates is making encouraging strides on at least one count: reducing the use of plastic bags. This weekend, the capital city of Abu Dhabi is hosting a test run of its plastic-bag-free future.Residents of the UAE use 11.6 billion plastic bags a year, according to the Middle Eastern environmental website Green Prophet, which tipped us off to this weekend's event, an effort to "smooth out the transition for residents" ahead of a full ban set to be instituted in 2013.
The Environmental Agency - Abu Dhabi and the Ministry of Environment and Water have gotten nearly 40 businesses, including major supermarket chains such as Spinneys and Carrefour, to agree that they will charge a fee -- money that will go to an environmental charity -- for any non-biodegradable plastic bags they hand out this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. (Friday and Saturday make up the weekend in the UAE and a number of other majority-Muslim countries.) Some of the stores said they would also offer rewards to customers who reuse bags.
Plastic Bags A Serious Threat to Camels
The campaign's symbol is a colorful plastic-bag camel named Jamilah. Camels are a symbol of the dangers of plastic-bag waste of the UAE, where many of the animals have died a slow and painful death after eating plastic bags -- which often smell of food -- that have drifted out into the desert. According to a study carried out by the environment ministry, half of all camel deaths in the UAE each year are due to the ingestion of plastic bags.
The effort also includes the distribution of 10,000 reusable jute bags to schoolchildren across the country, the undersecretary of the environment ministry told the local newspaper the Khaleej Times. An additional 25,000 free eco-bags will be given out over the weekend at campaign kiosks at large malls, while mosques were scheduled to give sermons about the issue during today's Friday prayers.
"Every time we reach for a plastic bag we need to stop and think about the effect it has on our natural heritage," said Dr. Jaber Al Jaberi, an official from the Environmental Agency - Abu Dhabi.
More On Plastic Bags
Are Plastic Bags the Greenest Option After All?
Plastic Bag Ban Starts in New Year in Italy
China's Ban Kept 100 Billion Plastic Bags Out of the Trash
Plastic Bag Bans Sweep Cities Across Nation
Plastic Bags Used in DC Drop From 22 Million to 3 Million a Month
99 Reuses for Plastic Bags
Paper Bags or Plastic Bags? Everything You Need to Know