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The Problem of Plastic Waste in the UAE and Options to Address It

The Problem

The problem of plastic waste in the UAE is a significant ecological issue regarding plastic pollution and the safe disposal of waste products. Despite the efforts to use alternative materials and the recent developments in biodegradable plastics, the situation is still not ideal. Plastic waste has a severe long-term effect on the population of the United Arab Emirates and the environment as a whole. It is not limited to a particular emirate within the UAE, as it is a global issue that every country has to face in some capacity. It had become more noticeable in the Emirates when the population began to grow rapidly, following the economy’s expeditious development.

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The government should address this problem because it is unlikely to resolve itself naturally. Plastics such as PET, which is used for bottles, allow for simple and cost-effective manufacturing processes, whereas developing ecologically friendly alternatives tends to be costly. Consequently, businesses have little incentive to reduce plastic waste. Recycling is also not always financially viable since even some materials that are considered biodegradable require specialized facilities to create the necessary conditions for decomposition. Therefore, the UAE needs to institute a policy that would encourage companies to reduce waste and invest in recycling equipment.

Size of the Problem

Due to the recent burst in GDP growth, the size of the problem has also increased dramatically. A current report shows that, on average, a UAE resident uses 450 disposable water bottles every year, contributing to the alarming quantity of plastic bags thrown out in the United Arab Emirates annually (Plastic waste management in UAE, 2020). The total yearly plastic waste per capita amounts to over 70 kilograms (Plastic waste generation per person, 2010). Although these numbers are not the highest in the world, they indicate that the UAE has ample room for improvement in reducing its plastic consumption.

The Underlying Factors

Governance This will not be the first time that the UAE institutes a policy aimed at reducing pollution, and the government already has some tools that can help determine what steps should be taken.
Financing Reducing waste in some areas involves a high upfront cost of changing the manufacturing process or switching to a different packaging method. However, reducing waste also has a positive effect on the cost of production, which could compensate for the initial investments over time. Recycling facilities are more challenging to finance, as they may not yield significant profits. Their operation is often associated with high cost, while the end product can have a lower value for buyers.
Delivery Delivery of the new plastic waste policy would benefit from the systems that have recently been instituted in an effort to reduce pollution in the UAE. There are services that allow the government to monitor the progress in reducing plastic waste.

Options to Address the Problem

Option 1 – Introduce a new standard of packaging

The packaging is among the primary sources of plastic waste, as it is often thrown out immediately after opening. It also does not affect the main product’s qualities, which means it can be reduced, removed, or made from a more ecologically sensible material. There have already been several examples of companies that successfully made the switch to shipping their goods, such as deodorants and hair products, without additional boxes. Supermarkets aremaking an effort to remove unnecessary plastic from their shelves (Tesco to ditch plastic-wrap for multipack tins, 2020). The new plastic waste policy could continue this trend by instituting a set of criteria to determine which items need packaging and which ones should be sold without it. For instance, metal nail clippers do not need to be protected by a thick plastic shell, whereas some long-shelf-life food items might require plastic packaging to ensure that they do not spoil.

Option 2 – Discourage disposable plastic bottles

Water bottles are an excellent example of a disposable product that amounts to substantial increases in pollution rates. This form of beverage distribution is convenient for the consumer and the supplier; however, it has a considerable negative impact on the environment. To encourage more sustainable practices, the UAE government could introduce a tax on disposable plastic bottles. This would stimulate residents to carry water in a reusable container instead of purchasing new bottles, resulting in a drastic decrease in plastic waste (Why reusable water bottles are good for the environment, 2020). To improve the policy’s effectiveness, the authorities could place water access points at convenient locations on city streets and in other places with high foot traffic. Being able to refill an empty bottle with drinking quality water easily would eliminate the need to purchase water in disposable containers.

If the water distribution system receives a positive response, the functionality of the access points could be expanded. In addition to offering free water, these spots could be used to sell popular drinks either on tap or in paper cups. This model’s high convenience and lower prices would draw most people away from buying beverages in disposable plastic bottles, thus drastically reducing plastic waste.

Option 3 – Improve recycling efficiency

Despite the efforts outlined in the previous options, it is not yet possible to eliminate all plastic waste on the production stage. Plastic is a highly versatile material that makes it possible to create affordable products without compromising functionality. However, these items eventually break or become obsolete, resulting in them being thrown out. Recycling provides an opportunity to reclaim some of the raw materials from these discarded products. Unfortunately, numerous circumstances severely decrease the efficiency of recycling. Contamination is among the primary reasons that prevent some plastic packaging from being recycled (Plastic recycling and the plastic recycling process, 2019). This issue can only be alleviated by informing people about the need to wash and sort plastic items when disposing of them properly. Another important factor is the material used in the product that will eventually be recycled. Some plastics are significantly more difficult to process than others. Consequently, it might be advisable to encourage the use of plastics that are less challenging to recycle.

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Implementation Consideration

  • Introducing a tax on disposable plastic bottles could cause negative short-term economic consequences.
  • The cost of creating and maintaining a network of drinking water access points will be financially draining.
  • Additional promotional campaigns may be necessary to encourage people to switch to reusable water bottles.
  • Developing new packaging standards would require careful consideration of factors such as safety, transportation, and product shelf-life.
  • The packaging regulation does not need to encompass a wide range of products. It might be more effective to focus on the most common items first (Tesco to ditch plastic-wrap for multipack tins, 2020).
  • There might be backlash from companies that want to use packaging to make their product more attractive to potential buyers.
  • Recycling is the least effective way to eliminate waste; consequently, the first two options should have a higher implementation priority (Plastic recycling and the plastic recycling process, 2019).
Issues Tree Diagram
Issues Tree Diagram


Plastic recycling and the plastic recycling process (2019).

Plastic waste generation per person (2010).

Plastic waste management in UAE (2020).

Tesco to ditch plastic-wrap for multipack tins (2020).

Why reusable water bottles are good for the environment (2020).

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