With 2016 having started as a year of austerity in Oman, a ‘plastic bag tax’ would potentially help the government boost its revenues, as well as serve the cause of environment protection.
To curb the use of plastic bags, many countries have passed new laws to oblige shops to charge customers a small fee.
Scotland and the Netherlands have recently introduced a mandatory charge and Ireland has had a national bag tax in place since 2002, which has led to a drastic decrease in the use of plastic bags.
An environmental campaigner in Oman told the Times of Oman (TOO) that it would be “a good idea to charge customers for plastic bags.”
An official from SPAR supermarkets, who didn’t want to be named, said SPAR would support a mandatory charge for plastic bags.
“I would definitely support it, as the consumption of plastic bags is very harmful for the recyclable [of waste]. Therefore, I would like to support non-plastic initiatives. It is good for any country, with so much plastic being wasted, which is not degradable,” he said.
An official of Lulu Hypermarkets in Oman, who also chose to remain anonymous, said his company would follow any official legislation regarding a fee for plastic bags, should that be introduced.
“If there is a change in government policy, whereby plastic bags had to be paid for, we would follow that rule,” he stated.
Speaking to TOO, Maia Sarrouf Willson, research and conservation manager for the Environmental Society of Oman (ESO), said, “Plastic bags are not, themselves, toxic, but they are indigestible by animals.”
Reduce its use
Lamees Daar, executive director of ESO, said her organisation has always supported a reduction in the use of plastic bags.
“We encourage customers to be aware of the environmental effects of plastic bags and for retailers to encourage good practice by asking customers the basic question of whether or not they need a plastic bag.”
On the question of a mandatory charge for plastic bags, customers at a supermarket in Darsait expressed mixed opinion.
Richard Dsouza, from India, said he did not support a mandatory charge for plastic bags.
Instead, people should go for jute or cotton bags as alternatives to plastic ones.
“The way of life should change. Now, if only one person comes with a jute bag, it would look awkward. But when everyone starts bringing their own bag, people don’t mind, because everyone does.”
Omani national, Muhammad Nasser Al Saqri supported the idea.“I am prepared to pay for the bags, but it should be part of an all-encompassing solution. We have to ban the use of plastic bags in general. I think supermarkets should swap plastic bags for paper bags, as they are lighter.”
Eva Anastasio, from the Philippines, occasionally brings her own bags.“I take my own bag with me, but in case I happen to pass by a supermarket, we are using the bags provided. You have no choice.”
Ahmad Rashid Al Hamhani, an Omani citizen, said he would not be willing to pay extra for his shopping bags.“We see the importance of the environment, but if it’s free, I don’t see any problem in it,” he noted.
Supermarkets to limit use
Supermarkets in Oman have adopted measures to limit the use of plastic bags and some said they will introduce alternatives soon.
An official from SPAR supermarkets said he has instructed his team to reduce the use of plastic bags. “Very soon, we will be introducing biodegradable bags, paper bags and jute bags. The only thing is that jute bags are costly,” he said.
He, however, declined to comment on whether SPAR would charge its customers for these bags.
A Lulu official said Lulu is already training packing staff at the counters to limit the use of plastic bags.
“Because most customers prefer their shopping to be packed for them, we are continuously training the staff to do the bag packing, to make sure they minimise the use of (plastic) bags.”
Also, all bags used at Lulu are biodegradable, the official noted.
Colette Shannon, spokesperson for al-Fair, said in addition to using oxy-biodegradable bags, al-Fair sells reusable bags at its stores, trains staff to use less bags and encourages customers to use reusable bags.
“We are committed to the health and well-being of our customers and the environment and would support any initiative started by the governing authority to reduce waste,” she stated.
However, according to Ms. Willson, the global scientific community is not at all supportive of biodegradable plastics.
“Biodegradable plastics, especially oxy-degradable plastics (those degradable after oxidation), only make plastics degrade faster, allowing smaller parts to enter the food chain easily and quickly.”
By Erik Prins
© Muscat Media Group