Plastic can kill. This single biggest pollutant of planet earth is a threat to animal and marine life. Plastic, with its harmful toxins, can reduce humans into a pill-popping race perennially fighting ill-health.
Saying 'No' to plastic is the only way to fight this menace. And that requires a huge lifestyle change.
A group of restaurateurs in Abu Dhabi are taking the lead by prodding their customers to turn away from plastic, especially single use plastic items like cutleries and straw.
"Humans are creating a menace for the environment. We just simply don't see the connection between that straw we are using to sip that chilled mocktail and the whale that was found dead after swallowing 64 pounds of plastic waste that was dumped in our oceans. We all conveniently believe that it's someone else's doing and someone else's duty to clean up. Saying NO, is all it takes," said Anisha Varma, marketing and public relations director of the Royal Orchid Group, Abu Dhabi.
Shocking facts about plastic use
- A UAE resident uses 450 plastic water bottles in a single year
- UAE has the fourth highest bottled water consumption in the world
- UAE residents use 11 billion plastic bags annually, according to the Ministry of Environment and Climate
- The annual per capita waste generated by UAE is 912.5kg
- 50 per cent of the camels that die every year in the UAE die from ingesting plastic waste
The Royal Orchid Group Abu Dhabi that owns restaurants like Kwality, Avasa, Kababs&Kurries, Royal Orchid, Chhappan Bhog and Soy Express in the UAE has called for a 'Skip The Straw' campaign by refraining from sending single-use disposable plastic cutleries and straws with home delivery orders unless customers specifically request for the same.
Jones the Grocer is another restaurant chain that is trying to break the norm of providing plastic cutlery with deliveries and takeaways.
"We prefer to confirm with the guests whether they need cutleries. If deliveries are going to homes, people don't really need them as they can use the real cutleries they have. But if we are delivering food to offices, then we by default provide them," said Miroslav Popov, assistant store manager at Jones the Grocer.
He said many customers are serious about reducing plastic waste and respond positively. "I have had a regular customer who brought back up to 100 cutleries we delivered. She did not want to throw them away."
Inspired by such acts, the restaurant is now planning to roll out a reward system for their customers who bring back cutleries and coffee cups. "We have also stopped printing out our menus to reduce their ecological footprint.
Zomato, the online food ordering mobile app, has launched the 'Go Green' filter on their app to discourage the use of plastic cutleries.
"Creating awareness to reduce plastic waste is something we feel strongly about and as a first of the many initiatives in the pipeline over the next few years, we have launched the 'Go Green' filter.
The objective is to encourage our users to avoid ordering plastic cutlery unless required," said Akshant Goyal, head of corporate development and communication, Zomato.
"The tag appears for all the restaurants and currently the tag is checked for 7 per cent of our total orders in UAE," said Goyal.
Not without hurdles
However, the fight against plastic is not without hurdles, as experienced by some restaurants. "I wanted to implement the no plastic policy on cutleries. But we had a few customers complaining on our social media pages about bad service because there were no plastic cutleries with their takeaways," said the manager of an Arabic restaurant who did not want to reveal his name.
Abhiraj, operations manager of Oasis restaurants in Abu Dhabi, said customers expect cutleries with their deliveries. "You cannot avoid giving them. If we do, people will think we are cutting costs."
But Varma said 'No to plastic' is a message that is slowly but steadily reaching the customers.
"We have not received too many complaints from customers ever since we stopped packing disposable plastic cutleries with the delivery order. These are small lifestyle changes we need to consciously start making in order to stop from further damaging and hurting our planet." said Varma.
According to her, one restaurant can use upwards of 100,000 single-use cutleries per year. "Together, 25,000 people can save 5,000,000 a year," she said.
According to the Tadweer - Centre of Waste Management, Abu Dhabi, a total of about 19,870 tonnes of plastic waste was collected from the emirate in 2017 by the environmental service providers. In 2016, the total plastic waste collected was about 17,500 tonnes.
Based on the data available with Tadweer, LDPE , HDPE and polypropylene plastic are the main types of plastic waste from the commercial and industrial as well as residential sources.
Plastic forms a third of the 80 million tonnes of waste generated in the Gulf every year, according to the Gulf Petrochemicals and Chemicals Association.
In one single beach clean up in March 2017, polymer manufacturer Borouge reported it collected six tonnes of waste. In July in the same year, the Abu Dhabi Municipality collected two tonnes of waste from the Corniche beach, including plastic bottles and aluminium cans.
Despite several clean up drives and awareness campaign run by government entities and volunteers, plastic waste continue to be the main debri in landfills and oceans. The figures on the plastic waste we generate give a scary picture.
Khansa Al Blouki, acting director, environmental outreach environmental information, science and outreach management at the Environment Agency- Abu Dhabi (EAD) said that one of the main challenges faced in the UAE is waste management and the amount of waste generated in Abu Dhabi has been rapidly increasing in recent years.
"Without urgent actions to improve the way we organise, resource and regulate our waste management activities, the size of these problems will increase rapidly as our population and economy continue to grow, causing serious risks to public health, damage to the environment and our natural resources, and threatening the prosperity of future generations," Al Blouki told Khaleej Times.
'Saying NO, is all it takes'
We all conveniently believe that it's someone else's doing and someone else's duty to clean up. Saying NO, is all it takes."
Anisha Varma, marketing and public relations director of the Royal Orchid Group
If deliveries are going to homes, people don't really need them (plastic cutleries) as they can use the real cutleries they have."
Miroslav Popov, assistant store manager, Jones the Grocer.
"Creating awareness to reduce plastic waste is something we feel strongly about and Go Green filter is first of the many initiatives."
Akshant Goyal, head of corporate development and communication, Zomato
Customers expect cutleries with their deliveries. You cannot avoid giving them. If we do people will think we are cutting costs."
Abhiraj, operations manager, Oasis restaurants
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