by Hana Namrouqa | Oct 25, 2012 | 22:32

AMMAN — When Mohammad Ali Hassan shops for his family every weekend at a supermarket in Amman, he leaves the store with over 40 plastic bags.

Hassan said he doesn’t mind the huge number of plastic bags, as his wife reuses them for different purposes.

But 45-year old’s last shopping experience was different; he used three large reusable bags instead of the usual plastic ones.

“I’m letting go of plastic bags and starting to use reusable shopping bags instead. I’m taking responsibility towards the environment,” the father of two girls said as he paid for his purchases.

Hassan, a manager at an accounting firm, is one of few shoppers who responded to recent calls to lower public dependence on plastic bags and substitute them with environment-friendly shopping bags.

The UNESCO office in Amman decided to address the excessive use and littering of plastic shopping bags through a month-long awareness campaign called “BalashKees”, (no need for a bag).

The overall objective of the campaign was to reduce the use of plastic bags at five major supermarkets in Jordan through increased consumer awareness and environmentally friendlier packing policies, according to a UNESCO statement.

As part of the campaign, which ran from September 16 to October 16, UNESCO trained cashiers and packers in these supermarkets on how to stow purchases in fewer plastic bags and to communicate with customers to inform them about the negative effect of plastic bags on the environment and public health.

Limited change has been reported since the campaign was launched, according to organisers, who remain optimistic, noting that behavioural change needs time and is a long-term process.

“Cashiers said they faced some resistance from customers, while others asked for more plastic bags. However, the participating supermarkets reported little reduction in the number of used plastic bags,” one of the campaign’s organisers at UNESCO, who preferred to remain unnamed, told The Jordan Times.

The campaign sought to curb the excessive use of plastic bags in Jordan, where more than three billion bags are used each year, according to environment ministry estimates, which means that each person uses 1.6 bags per day and 584 bags a year.

A supermarket chain in Amman that participated in the campaign is encouraging customers to buy reusable bags.

“In a few words, our cashiers are telling shoppers about the reusable bags which help protect the environment. As an encouragement, we are selling them at their cost price of JD0.75 and offering to replace them if they are damaged, free of charge,” Amjad Mashayekh, cashier office manager at the supermarket in west Amman, told The Jordan Times.

Mashayekh noted that around one million plastic bags are used monthly in the supermarket and its express branches, underscoring that buying plastic bags “takes a huge budget every year”.

Plastic bags are made of polythelene, derived from petrol, and take 1,000 years to decompose — this means that for the production of plastic bags, “a scarce natural resource is being diverted from our current needs to produce a non-biodegradable material that is essentially an environmental, economic and health hazard”, the UNESCO statement said.

In addition to the environmental impact of the current usage patterns of plastic bags there are several significant repercussions, such as visual pollution across the country, where swathes of land and nature are covered in plastic, the statement added.

According to official estimates, more than 30 million bags a year are littered across the country.

Plastic bag littering also affects agricultural productivity and reduces the quality of livestock by contaminating important nutrients naturally occurring in the soil with dangerous toxins released by plastic.

Every year, 2.5 per cent of Jordan’s 2.5 million sheep suffer weight loss or mortality due to blockage of the digestive system as result of eating plastic bags, according to the statement.

Campaign organisers said the only practical solution to end the excessive use of plastic bags is imposing fees.

“Fees or taxes must be imposed on plastic bags so that people start considering using reusable bags,” the UNESCO official noted.

The campaign was featured on seven supporting radio stations — Play 99.6, Sunny 105.1, FANN FM, Rotana, Sawt Al Ghad FM, Radio Al Balad and Ayyam FM — YouTube, Facebook ( and Twitter and in the participating supermarkets: Carrefour, Cozmo, Al Ahlia Plaza Superstores, Safeway and Spinneys.