Retailers in Dubai have reported an overwhelming response from consumers in the wake of the imposition of tariffs on single-use bags, with some retailers reporting over a 40 per cent drop in consumption of such bags in the first month.

Interestingly, the trend among Dubai shoppers to bring along their eco-friendly and recycled bags when shopping has been picking up since July 1, when the Dubai Municipality imposed a minimum charge of 25 fils for single-use bags across all the retail platforms.

Dr Suhail Al Bastaki, director of happiness and marketing at Union Coop, said consumers had responded impressively and positively to limiting single-use plastic bags in the first month as they are increasingly using recyclable and environmentally friendly bags with a majority of them buying high-quality, environmentally friendly and multi-use bags.

“Consumers today are very smart as they realise the responsibility they have towards society in particular and the environment in general,” he said.

Dr Dhananjay Datar, chairman and managing director, Al Adil Trading, said since people were aware of this law before its implementation, they embraced this change very quickly and wholeheartedly.

“This was a very reasonable tariff. Therefore, Al Adil outlets recorded over a 20 per cent drop in single-use bags. People are aware of the damage to the environment from single-use plastic bags; hence they bring jute bags to buy goods to our outlets. In the future, we expect a further uptick in eco-friendly bags and reduction in single-use bags, which will greatly benefit the environment,” he added.

Kamal Vachani, group director and partner of Al Maya Group, said it’s been a fusion response from the customers towards the plastic ban as some carry eco-friendly bags with them for shopping and even purchase the eco-friendly bags from stores, while others continue to purchase the single-use bags for 25 fils.

“Trend towards purchasing single-use plastic is diminishing every passing day. We have seen a decline of approximately 40 per cent in plastic bags. Old Dubai areas such as Deira and Bur Dubai saw a higher drop in consumption compared to New Dubai areas such as JBR and Al Barsha,” added Vachani.

Sophie Corcut, Sustainability Lead at Spinneys, echoed her peers’ views, saying the customers’ response has been overwhelmingly positive.

“We also reward customers who bring their bags to store with a 25 fils discount from their total bill each time they bring one or more bags to store. This has been very popular with our shoppers,” said Corcut.

Spinneys has completely removed single-use plastic bags from the checkout.

“Based on the two-month of data available since the changes, we can see that the quantity of paper bags sold has increased but represent a fraction of the volume of plastic bags previously being consumed at checkouts. Paper bag quantities are not even 10 per cent of the previous average monthly plastic bag consumption, which tells us that shoppers are bringing their own bags to stores,” she added.

James Scott, CEO of Grandiose Supermarkets, said consumers are more than happy to accommodate the introduction of the new tariff.

“Given that Grandiose was one of the first retailers to let go of plastic bags back in 2017, most of our customer base is accustomed to purchasing our canvas tote bags and bringing in their own reusable bags for a shopping run. With rising awareness around the importance of sustainable alternatives, a growing number of consumers are turning to this movement with an open, environmentally conscious and adaptable mindset,” he said.

So far Grandiose Supermarket has saved more than 15 million plastic bags.

More people bringing bags along

Given how high up sustainability is on the UAE’s agenda, Scott expects more and more customers to reduce their usage of single-use bags. “While the initial block for customers is to remember to carry a reusable bag before a regular shopping run, we will soon witness the change turn into a habit as it becomes a part of their lifestyle,” he said.

While sharing feedback from customers, Scott said they want to see more designs and a variety of canvas bags offered by Grandiose, reflecting that eco-friendly bags are becoming common for shoppers during their everyday visits to supermarkets.

Sophie Corcut of Spinneys added that people bring their own environment-friendly multi-use bags when they come to shop.

“We are seeing all sorts of innovative new shopping behaviours from fold-away bags, rucksacks, trolley bags and even large storage boxes which can easily be loaded in the Spinneys trolley, packed at checkout and packed into car trunks! We are also seeing people just carrying food-to-go products to be consumed instantly, which is a great way of reducing unnecessary waste,” she added.

Al Maya Group’s Kamal Vachani added people do bring bags for shopping. “There are cases when the bags customers fetch from home falls short, so they don’t mind buying the extra eco-friendly bags from stores,” he said, adding that the reduction in consumption of single-use bags is visible with every passing day.

Union Coop’s Al Bastaki also sees a further reduction in the consumption of single-use bags.

“Through our communication channels, we have been educating the consumers about the importance of reducing the dependency on single-use plastic bags, and we’re glad to notice a decisive response,” he added.

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