|05 November, 2019

Is the time right to impose a sin tax on single-use plastic?

There's nothing more harmful to the environment and therefore to society and individuals than single-use plastic

Image used for illustrative purpose. Single-use plastic cutlery and plates are on display in a shop in Nice, France, November 22, 2018.

Image used for illustrative purpose. Single-use plastic cutlery and plates are on display in a shop in Nice, France, November 22, 2018.

Reuters/Eric Gaillard

Good on you, Majid Al Futtaim (MAF), for pledging to ban single-use plastic from your malls, hotels, movie theatres and chain of supermarkets/hypermarkets across 16 countries in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. It couldn't have been an easy decision considering the scale of your operations, but we're glad you worked out a way to implement it. While every individual matters in the fight against the scourge of single-use plastic, it is immensely reassuring when organisations such as MAF put sustainability over profits and take the leap.

Discerning readers of this column will know that I usually avoid naming brands and organisations in my comment pieces, but a promise like this from a large-scale retailer, something that is bound to positively impact the health of the planet, deserves all the acknowledgement and appreciation that we can bestow. The steps that we take today will decide whether the next generation remembers us as morally bankrupt paper chasers or righteous heroes who helped bring the world back from the brink of disaster.

Led by visionary rulers, the UAE government has made sustainability and environment key pillars of the national agenda while seeking that perfect balance between economic and social development. The country's aptly named Ministry of Climate Change and Environment is tasked with developing programmes and initiatives that will contribute to the sustainability of water, enhance food security, raise the rates of bio-security and enhance environmental security. The UAE's National Climate Change Plan offers a roadmap for steps to mitigate the effects of climate change.

At the same time, there is no doubt that more needs to be done at the individual level to encourage more commercial organisations to follow in the footsteps of the trailblazers. Keeping the health of residents in mind, the UAE government recently hiked the so-called 'sin' tax on sugary/carbonated drinks and tobacco, among others. A sin tax is specifically levied on goods deemed harmful to society and individuals. There's nothing more harmful to the environment and therefore to society and individuals than single-use plastic. Perhaps now's the time to introduce a similarly punitive tax on shopping bags, cutlery, styrofoam cups and containers, plastic straws and food wrappers, etc. to help us kick the habit.

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