Is Takeaway Culture Damaging the UAE Environment?

27 September 2018

Lab Chat

A new study from auditing group KPMG has found that the takeaway habits of UAE citizens may be having a detrimental impact on the natural environment. According to their investigation, approximately 75% of the country’s populace order a takeaway meal at least once a week.

The majority of those meals are delivered in single-use plastic containers, many of which are not recycled at all. This creates a huge problem of profligacy and waste, with a significant amount of plastic ending up in landfill or the even more damaging destination of the world’s oceans and rivers.

A ubiquitous evil

Plastic has become such a common component of Emirati life that its ubiquity is barely noticed any more. In fact, the environmental thinktank Dubai Carbon estimates that the average UAE citizen produces a whopping 2.7kg of waste every single day. While all this packaging may be highly convenient, it comes with a heavy price tag.

Unrecycled plastic persists in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, compromising soil quality, poisoning animals and disturbing the balance of Mother Nature. There also suggestions that plastic pollution contributes to global warming, while the Emirates Environment Group believe it may be having a damaging effect on human health, as well.

“There has been no extensive research to assess the impact that plastic has on us,” explained Habiba al Marashi, founder of the group. “We’re told that it’s safe, but you never know - especially with the hot food that goes in these containers. With environmental protection you need to be conscious of every step that you take. You need to ensure that your impact on the environment is as little as can be.”

Following the Indian example

Concerned environmentalists have highlighted the food delivery systems in India as a possible answer to the problem. In Mumbai, a lunchbox delivery-and-pick-up scheme known as the dabbawalla handles over 175,000 meals every single day. Its proponents argue that if it can function in a city with a much larger population and much poorer infrastructure, it should certainly work in Dubai or Abu Dhabi.

While such a scheme may be some way off coming to fruition in the Emirates, steps are being taken to rectify the situation. Certain Indian restaurants in Dubai already deliver in reusable containers, while some other eateries offer a 20% discount for those patrons who bring their own plates, cutlery and cups.

Meanwhile, single-use plastic straws, bags and bottles are also being phased out. Hilton hotels in the capital have removed them from their locations, as have a handful of other population restaurant chains. The supermarket Waitrose is currently trialling a system whereby customers are charged for plastic bags – a scheme which has seen massive success in the West.

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