Egypt’s Red Sea Governorate is to introduce a ban on single-use plastics that are destroying marine life, the province’s top official said on Wednesday.
The ban, set to take effect in June, covers items including disposable plastic bags, cutlery and cups, and aims to protect the area’s unique sea life, governor Ahmed Abdallah said.
“We want to limit this phenomenon to preserve our maritime environment,” he told AFP.
The world currently produces more than 300 million tonnes of plastic annually, and scientists estimate there are at least five trillion pieces of the stuff floating in our oceans.
Egypt’s Red Sea province depends heavily on income from tourists, many of whom come to snorkel and scuba dive among its spectacular reefs.
The vulnerable shallow-water ecosystems are under threat by both global warming and plastic pollution.
Abdallah said businesses and families in the province will be required to replace plastic with paper and reusable bags.
Heba Shawky, head of the Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Association which campaigned for the ban, said it was “a huge step forward, because plastic bags cause a lot of damage.”
The Egyptian decision comes after countries agreed at a UN conference in March to “significantly reduce” use of single-use plastics, but failed to agree on a full ban, disappointing environmental campaigners.
Sources close to the talks said rich nations, led by the US, were influential in watering down the pledge.
Egypt’s Red Sea province had mulled a ban of single-use plastics prior to the 2011 revolt that toppled longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak, but the ensuing political turmoil put those plans on hold.
The country’s crucial tourism industry, hit hard by the uprising, has bounced back in recent years with tourist arrivals reaching 8.3 million in 2017, according to government figures.
That falls far short of the figure in 2010, when Egypt welcomed 14.7 million tourists.