(MENAFN - Khaleej Times) Acknowledging that plastic waste is one of the great environmental scourges of our time, the UAE's big supermarket chains are leaving no stone unturned to do away with at least single-use plastics.
Taking a stern step to tackle the plastic menace, Union Coop, the largest consumer cooperative in the UAE, introduced biodegradable and recyclable shopping bags in all its branches last year, to promote environment-friendly shopping experience.
Mohammed Berregad, director of administration affairs department, said: "We have a responsibility to preserve the natural resources for our future generations, which is why Union Coop, in all its branches, uses biodegradable shopping bags that are recyclable. Union Coop is very particular about the shopping bags received from suppliers as a part of the tender process, which should be as per the specifications of 'Emirates Authority for Standardisation and Metrology' and the suppliers should have necessary licences from the authorities."
He said the chain is also conducting studies aimed at reducing the consumption of shopping bags, in line with the directions of Union Coop's senior management, to contribute to the preservation and sustainability of the environment.
Urging shoppers to take advantage of Union Coop shopping bags, Berregad said: "Utilise them fully and control the usage of plastic bags to ensure a pollution-free future. The responsibility of preserving the environment falls on all entities functioning in the society. Controlling the usage of plastic, using healthy substitutes and reusing plastic bags in daily life are among the many ways of creating a sustainable environment.
LuLu group that has hundreds of supermarkets, hypermarkets and departmental stores across the country also stated its allegiance against plastic by rolling out a number of initiatives almost every year to discourage and reduce plastic bag consumption.
Speaking to Khaleej Times, V. Nandakumar, chief communications officer, Lulu Group International, said: "We introduced the Student Opposing Plastics (STOP) campaign with some schools in Abu Dhabi. Participating students would come and stand with our cashiers at the stores, where the plastic bags are given to customers. They would speak to consumers about avoiding plastic bags. Our concept behind this initiative is aimed at encouraging the young generation taking up this cause as they are the future leaders. We noticed that such campaigns saw a reduction in usage of plastic bags compared to earlier days when people would specially ask for extra plastic bags for other purposes."
He said LuLu group has been promoting the culture of refuse, reduce and reuse plastic bags for the last four years as recycle may or may not be the most convenient option.
Nandakumar added: "Last year onwards, we also introduced biodegradable re-usable bags at our stores that are sold for Dh2. So although it comes at a minimal cost, you have to bear in mind that it comes with life-long free replacement. Once you buy it and if it gets damaged, we will replace it with a new one. The idea was not to make money but to promote the culture of using these bags."
The latest addition to LuLu's green initiatives is the 'green checkout counters' which are special billing counters only for people who are using re-usable bags. "This is a fast-track priority-checkout counter, where we promote and expedite the billing for those customers who use eco-friendly bags.
"These were launched last year on the World Environment Day. We now want to increase the number and make 50 per cent of our cash counters green checkout counters so that more and more people get encouraged to go plastic-free," Nandakumar said.
Group director of Al Maya Kamal Vachani said he is very concerned about the plastic problem the world is facing and is also looking into ways to reduce it.
"We are committed to reduce plastic consumption and do encourage our customers to get their own bags for shopping. We are also looking into new concept of introducing re-usable bags or some other alternative to plastic bags. In the bakery sections, we try to avoid as much plastic as we can and are using paper instead."
Talking about the importance about creating awareness in the staff of the store, manager at New Westzone supermarket in Al Muteena, Dipak, said it is important to first instil an eco-friendly culture among the staff of the store and then it would become easier to target customers.
"All of us staff would earlier drink water and tea in single-use plastic cups, eat in plastic plates. So I first decided to change that. I got steel plates and glasses for all the 25 staff members in my store and our company appreciated this measure and paid for it. After doing this, I briefed my staff on the plastic pollution problem."
Dipak added: "Now, when the customers line up at the cashier counter and if we see them taking less items - like one or two - then all our staff has been told to first try and give them those items in their hand."