SHARJAH // Shopowners should charge customers Dh1 for every plastic bag and offer alternatives, despite the lack of a law to make it obligatory, says the man known as the Green Sheikh.
And people and companies should be urged to replace bottled water with filtered water from taps.
"If they had to pay Dh1 people would get rid of them," said Sheikh Abdulaziz Al Nuaimi, nephew of the Ajman Ruler.
"First you need to give them an alternative so they can replace them with paper or recyclable bags.
"Then you tell the customer if they need a plastic bag, they will be charged this amount. I would support a law, but a lot of businesses are going to be resistant."
The UK and Ireland charge for bags, with use falling by up to 90 per cent when costs equal to 25 fils and 50 fils became law.
Sheikh Abdulaziz made the call at an event to mark a year of the Drop It campaign, organised by social enterprise Goumbook to replace water in single-use water bottles with filtered water from taps.
Tatiana Abella, founder of Goumbook, said that the Government had to take action, then businesses would follow.
"We really need to make the change first and ask for fewer plastic bags," Ms Abella said. "Take reusable bags with you. This is what we can do as consumers.
"We should help people make the right choice, but sometimes things like taxation make people take action. The law will come, we hope."
Drop It has signed up 14 companies to buy or use fewer plastic bottles, leading to savings of more than 27 tonnes of carbon dioxide and 230,000 fewer plastic bottles in the past 12 months, Ms Abella said.
"When we say drop it, we want people to drop a habit," she said. "It is very easy to carry a plastic bottle with water in it all the time but sometimes you do not need it, especially at home or in the office where you have tap water.
"The tap water in the UAE is of an extremely good quality. Sometimes local bottled water is actually tap water just put into a bottle, so why should you buy it when you can drink from a tap?
"To make a little plastic bottle, you need three times the quantity of water to produce the plastic, which you use for five seconds then throw away."
There are not many springs or natural mineral water sources in the UAE so bottled drinking water is similar to what comes from the tap, the only difference being that bottled water goes through a purification system and minerals are added.
"Tap water is safe to consume almost everywhere in the UAE but no one can guarantee the maintenance and quality of piping and water tanks," Ms Abella said.
She said the brown tap water in some areas of the country "is typically a sign of rusting pipes".
A panel gathered to mark the Drop It campaign’s progress included environmentalists, sustainability advocates and company directors who had introduced its message in their workplace.
Linda Merieau, director of international water sustainability project Surge, said UAE residents used an average of 500 litres each a day – one of the highest rates in the world and 82 per cent more than the global average.
"This is just the water we can measure – things like brushing our teeth and cooking our pasta," Ms Merieau said. "Actually, our water footprint is much higher.
"Ninety per cent comes from hidden water sources we are simply not thinking about. We need to think twice about how much we consume, and how much water we waste."
Plastic bottles and packaging can take up to 450 years to break down, the World Economic Forum has said.
Even then, they do not entirely disappear and instead form microplastics, tiny particles that go into the oceans, choking marine life, stunting the growth of creatures and affecting the entire food chain.
The responsibility of preserving plant and marine life weighed heavily on humans, said Dr Thani Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment.
Dr Al Zeyoudi said it was time to "face the facts and blame the irresponsible behaviour of people".
"A huge amount of plastic is being used in our daily life and the problem starts with the improper disposal and recycling of plastic products," he said.