Have you ever known someone who seems to always be able to get what they want no matter what? If you do, you can bet that this person has a specific strategy which they have developed to help them achieve their goals.
Plastic ban – A bold move for UAE
The Intelligent SME spoke with Eng. Mohammed Saleh Al Badri, director general, Emirates Authority for Standardisation and Metrology, to better understand the regulatory and conformity process that is entailed in the manufacture of plastic bags in the UAE.
TIS: What does the regulation of use of oxo-biodegradable plastics prescribe? How will this change the previous scenario with regard to the use of plastics?
MB: The UAE Cabinet has issued the UAE.S 5009/2009 standard where all plastic manufacturers and importers are only allowed to produce or supply plastic bags that are degradable with the use of additives or by producing bio-plastics.
All companies must conform to this standard from 2013. Plastics that were used previously were hydrocarbon-based and stay intact for at least 1000 years without decomposing. Disposing of these bags, which are hazardous to the environment, are one of the biggest problems facing our environment and wildlife.
The registration process is ongoing and all companies will have to register themselves by the end of 2011. Right now, we are registering manufacturers and importers. Once registered, there is a set of procedures that will begin by our authority, as we are the ones who will look into the technical side, while the ministry of environment and water will look at the regulatory and promotional matters.
ESMA officials will visit each factory and see that the manufacturing process complies with our specification. So, basically, the raw materials, additives, and manufacturing process, will be pre-approved by us. The companies will have regular monitoring, and we will collect finished samples, as well as the ones still being made for testing. Unannounced visits will be made to ensure consistency. At this point, we don’t have a testing centre, so all samples are sent abroad, but we are encouraging labs to take up this facility within the country.
This regulatory measure will ensure that all the plastic bags used in the country will be degradable to harmless substances that will not affect the environment. This is a bold move for the UAE that may well influence the other GCC countries.
TIS: How is the response to the campaign? If a company has not implemented the new regulation on time, is there a possibility of extension of deadline? Also, what are the penalties meted out to manufacturers?
MB: The response is good, especially since the ministry of environment and water sent out a circular calling all manufacturers to register by the beginning of 2012.
The process of approval takes from one to six months. We are confident all UAE companies can conform to the standard in a year’s time.
Each company will be allowed to use a conformity mark on each plastic bag. Companies that do not conform to the standard will not have certified material (in this case the plastic bags having the logo), so they cannot produce plastic bags as per regulation and then suppliers will not be able to buy from them.
As for fines, this is yet to be decided by the ministry of environment and water. There will be no extension of deadline. Some companies may still be allowed to manufacture bags for exporting purposes only, but again, this is yet to be decided.
TIS: Please give us a picture of what is happening in the environment in the UAE with regard to the use of hydrocarbon-based plastics?
MB: Currently there is a huge demand for plastic bags in the UAE. If you go to a supermarket, they will give you items in different bags, depending upon the item. Thus, there is exaggerated use of the product. Nobody reuses it either. If the bags were being reused by all households we wouldn’t have this problem to begin with. Instead, many of the bags are disposed of improperly. This scenario needs to be changed.
TIS: What other conformation regulations are being imposed by ESMA to ban the use of regular plastics? Will there be a drive for the entire plastics industry, and not just the manufacturers?
MB: We rely on local authorities and the ministries of the individual emirates to make a regular check on suppliers and supply points in the market. They will keep track and find out from where suppliers have received the plastic bags.
Each logo carries the traceability number, which corresponds to the manufacturer. If officials have any doubts about the quality of a bag, they can go straight to the source with the help of the number.
We have had a few sessions already with manufacturers in Sharjah where we explained the regulations and the approved manufacturing process. We have been invited to visit their factories to give guidance and advice.
As for the general public, the ministry has appealed to all to refrain from making advertisements or promotions on plastic bags that do not have the conformity logo. In keeping with this instruction, suppliers would not buy these bags. We are also looking at other alternatives that will create better awareness among the public.
TIS: How many companies have already complied with the regulations? And please give us the statistics of how many plastic manufacturers are present in the UAE currently?
MB: There are approximately 100 manufacturers and producers in the UAE, comprising of small, medium and large industries. Most of the demand generated for plastic bags, about 95 per cent, is within the UAE.
We have had 20 applications by companies so far and three have been approved. A set of procedures are involved in the registration process. We have found that many small companies have to get necessary documents needed for registration, which takes them time to register.
TIS: What is the next phase in the campaign?
MB: The next phase will involve devising a strategy for different kinds of plastic items. We also have to fix on regulations for the companies that export bags abroad. As many other countries do not have this ruling, the ministry would have to take a feasible decision so that their export activities are not hampered.