Introduction: The UAE’s battle against single-use plastics

Plastic is a miracle man-made material. It can be found everywhere. Our lives would be difficult to imagine without plastics. But our appetite for cheaply produced plastic goods and disposable products is drowning the planet. Plastic is non-biodegradable. If not recycled, it can last for thousands of years, and many plastic items are not recycled, like plastic straws and bags.

Businesses and private individuals all over the UAE are trying to break our plastic habit. These are just a few examples of the many initiatives being implemented all over the country.

    • Emirates Airline has committed to reducing single-use plastics on board in all their air crafts. Starting June 2019, eco-friendly paper straws started being introduced as a replacement. All Emirates flights will soon be plastic straw-free. Plastic swizzle sticks and stirrers are also being replaced with eco-friendly alternatives by the end of 2019. Plastic bags used for in-flight purchases have been replaced with paper bags. It is estimated that this will eliminate around 81.7 million single-use plastic items from landfill each year. [1]
    • Carrefour / Majid Al Futtaim retail group has pledged to phase out single-use plastic in all its operations by 2025. It is currently encouraging customers to switch to reusable and recyclable bags. Carrefour is also phasing out single-use plastic items, such as straws, cutlery, containers and trays, across the company’s business units.[2]
    • American University of Sharjah (AUS) intends to become the first university in the UAE to ban the use of single-use plastics on the campus by January 2020. The initiative, which is being led by the AUS’ Sustainability Office, will forbid the sale of water, food and beverages in plastic containers.

Rose Armour, director of the AUS Sustainability Office, observed that “Per capita, the UAE has some of the highest rates of waste generation in the world. A typical UAE resident uses 450 plastic water bottles on an average in a single year. There is an enormous amount of plastic entering landfill sites, 77 % of all waste ending up in a landfill – impacting the environment for thousands of years to come.” [3]

The annual usage of plastic bags in Dubai in 2017 was estimated to be around 3.6 million pieces, a 25 per cent increase from the 2.9 million figure Dubai Municipality released in 2013. Most of this plastic waste is ending up in landfills, some finding its way to pollute our beaches, coastline and oceans, leading to the death of marine life. Dubai intends to reduce landfill waste by 75% by 2021. This means that individuals, businesses and public entities must collaborate to change our consumption behaviour and to reduce plastic pollution. Dubai municipality is sponsoring campaigns for sorting waste at the source and promoting recycling and reuse. [4] The UAE may also introduce a charge for single-use plastic items to discourage their usage, according to Shaikha Al Hosani, executive director of the environment quality sector at the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi. [5]

Making a difference: Top tips for a plastic-free workplace

As UAE residents are becoming more aware of the harmful effects of single-use plastics on the environment, consumers and businesses are pushing for change.[6] But making a significant impact is going to take us all working together. Committing to help the environment, and to reduce single-use plastics means that we all have a part to play, as individuals and as corporate entities; as at home and work. Even small changes in behaviour can have a cumulative impact, and this includes implementing changes in the office.

But how can you cut down plastic use in your workplace? Here are our top tips for simple changes you can implement to create a plastic-free workplace. [7] [8] [9]

  1. Audit: Carry out a plastic waste inspection to find out where the plastic waste is coming from to eliminate it at the source, or to replace it with different materials.
  2. Procurement: Update company procurement policies to favour non-plastic materials or recyclable components and office supplies. For example, try to switch to longer life pens, and remove rubbish bins from under each desk and have one central bin to reduce the number of plastic rubbish bags used per day.
  3. Suppliers, Vendors & Clients: Request vendors and suppliers reduce plastic packaging materials or encourage the use of alternative components. Help clients understand the need to reduce plastics and to accept alternatives, for example, newspaper packaging rather than Styrofoam.
  4. Green/Sustainability Team: Establish employee engagement by creating a team or committee of office volunteers to promote better habits, set targets, solicit suggestions and ideas, as well as organising office activities.
  5. Awareness: Increase employee knowledge about the dangers of plastic pollution and help them to change habits at work and home. This can include scheduling office talks or seminars, sharing articles and news items.
  6. Recycling: Eliminating all plastic waste will be difficult. But by providing easily accessible recycling bins for sorted waste, including plastics, employees will not only contribute to recycling but become more aware of the number of plastics they are discarding.
  7. Company Pledge: Make a company-wide commitment to creating a plastic-free office.
  8. Company activities: Engage in team activities to increase awareness and engagement such as:
    1. Organising team effort to clean plastic waste in a park or beach, or to volunteer at recycling centres.
    2. Encourage people to bring their lunch to work in reusable containers, or plastic alternatives.
  9. Plastic-Free Beverages:
    1. Provide unlimited free filtered water – not in bottled water, which is one of the main sources of plastic waste. For example, last year we installed a Quooker water filter tap in our pantries, replacing our plastic water bottles with free filtered tap water for drinking.
    2. Go plastic-free coffee & tea: Try to switch to tea leaves brewed at the office or coffee made without pods, like a filter or French press, to cut down on plastic packaging waste.
  10. Eating & Drinking:
    1. Provide reusable cutlery and dishes in office canteens/kitchens. For example, last year, we bought more reusable items for our pantry – plates, cutlery, glasses and mugs to use for our team events and day-to-day meetings.
    2. Gift employees with replacements for commonly used plastic items. This includes water bottles, coffee cups or even lunchboxes, and reusable lunch bags. Recently, we gave all our on-site employees reusable lunch containers that keep their food cold and warm. Not only is this aligned with our focus on improving employee health and well-being by encouraging healthier eating habits, but it also will help reduce plastic waste. 

Get more ideas creating a more sustainable working environment. Read about implementing the Circular Economy in the Office

Together we can make a Positive Difference: Sustainable Workplace

At Summertown, we take our commitment to sustainability very seriously. As the UAE’s top green fit out, and design and build specialist, we are committed to contributing to creating a better world in everything we do. We strive to:

      • Implement superior quality interior fit out solutions for our clients according to the highest international standards;
      • Provide our employees with a working environment that promotes health and well-being;
      • Contribute to our local community; and
      • Share our knowledge and expertise.

We try to incorporate sustainability into all our practices and processes – stretching from office procurement to project implementation. What we promote to our clients is what we practice “at home”. Get in touch today to find out how to implement a green office fit out and to create a more sustainable workplace.




[3] American University of Sharjah bans single-use plastic on campus