Looming Threat To Environment Of Pakistan

The economic price of plastic makes its availability all over the world, which results in one of our planet’s greatest environmental challenges. In many cities of the world plastic waste clogs drains, and causes floods. Furthermore, when consumed by livestock, it ultimately it goes into the food chains. Plastic is not only used in the packaging of goods but has various packaging applications, worldwide like plastic containers, drums, toys, bottles, protection packaging baby products, etc.

 According to the United Nations Environment Report on single-used plastic, “Plastic packaging accounts for nearly half of all plastic wastes globally. America, Japan, and countries part of the European Union are the largest plastic waste producers and the Asian continent also produces most of the plastic waste.” According to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), each year Pakistan produces more than 3.3 million tons of plastic waste and most of the plastic waste ends up in landfills, unmanaged dumps, or the waste is thrown on the land or water bodies across the country. Most plastics are non-biodegradable because they slowly break down into smaller fragments known as micro plastics.

Studies conducted on plastic reveal that plastic bags and containers made of expanded polystyrene or Styrofoam usually take up to thousands of years to decompose leaving behind contaminated soil and water. Due to the throw-away culture most of the single-use plastic waste like plastic bottles, food wrappers, plastic straws, plastic lids, plastic containers, cigarette butts, and many other plastic bags are treated as disposable materials. In Pakistan and many countries of the world, this throw-away culture is quite common. People believe that all the single-use plastic is tossed in the bin and then recycled.

but that’s a lame myth because according to the United States Commerce Department 2019 data, Pakistan generates 48.5 million tons of solid waste a year, which increases by 2% annually. Pakistan lacks waste management infrastructure, which contributes to plastic pollution. According to the Government of Pakistan (GOP), 87,000 tons of solid waste is generated per day from major metropolitan areas. Table 1 give comprises statistical data, which elaborates on how many tons of solid waste is generated per day by different cities in Pakistan.

CitiesPopulation in MillionSolid Waste generation/day in tons
Source: Mr. Saadat Ali, USCS Pakistan contact from Project Procurement International, Pakistan. (Website: projectpi.pk)

Today countries across the globe have united against one single-use plastic bag, which is considered the international enemy but other single-used plastic wastes like plastic bottles, food wrappers, plastic straws, plastic lids, plastic containers, and cigarette butts, are not considered enemies. Bangladesh became the first country in the world, which had banned thinner plastic bags. Bangladesh banned plastic bags when plastic bags blocked the drainage system during the devastating floods.

Countries like South Africa, Rwanda, China, Taiwan, Macedonia, Australia, Panama, New Zealand, Kenya, and Italy followed in the footsteps of Bangladesh. According to the United Nations Environment and World Resources Institute 2019 report, 127 countries out of 192 countries (countries, that were reviewed) adopted some form of legislation to regulate plastic bags in 2018. Pakistan in 2019 also worked on implementing the ban on single-use plastic bags.

 In 2019 Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) Environmental and Protection Agency (EPA) issued a notification that aimed to implement the “KPK Environment Protection Act, 2014” in March, which resulted in the implementation of a single-used plastic bag manufacture and usage ban in KPK. Notification issued by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) Environmental and Protection Agency (EPA) not only banned the manufacture and usage of single-use plastic bags but also banned the manufacture and usage of oxo-biodegradable plastic products.

Section 7 Clause XII of the KPK Environmental and Protection Act, 2014 gives power to the provisional EPA to ban any activity, work, mobility, or transport within a particular area by declaring the area environmentally sensitive. After that federal government implemented the “Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency Ban on (Manufacturing, Import, sale, purchase, storage and usage) polythene bags regulation, 2019” in Islamabad.

That ban on single-use plastic bags was visible in Islamabad after the “Clean & Green Pakistan” campaign, which was started by the government of Pakistan on 14 August 2019. But the “Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency Ban on (Manufacturing, Import, sale, purchase, storage, and Usage) polythene bags regulation, 2019” not only banned the usage of single-use plastic bags but other things were also banned like sale, purchase, supply, storage, manufacture, import and wholesale trading of polythene bag was also banned. But the act allows the manufacture, import, or usage of polythene flat bags for the purpose of industrial packaging, primary industrial packaging, municipal waste, hospital waste, and hazardous waste and it also emphasizes the recycling program of the polythene flat bags if used for the purpose, which are mentioned.  After the strong decision of the Federal government against plastic bags in Islamabad, the Sindh government also issued the notification, according to which “Sindh Prohibition of Non-Degradable Plastic Products (Manufacture, sake & Usage Rules), 2014 Act” and “Sindh Environment Protection Act, 2014” implementation was started from 1st Oct 2019.

“Sindh Environment Protection Act, 2014” also banned the import, manufacture, stockpile, trade, supply, distribution, and sale of any non-degradable plastic but at the same time act encourages the manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers to get oxo-biodegradation plastic products and pro-degradant additives registered and it also prohibits the manufacture of any plastic product in black except for garbage sacks. In Quetta, the capital city of Balochistan Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) through a notification implemented the “Balochistan Environment Protection Act, 2012”  in 2020, which aimed to ban use, sale, purchase, and manufacture of plastic bags and then in Punjab, Lahore High Court directed the Environment Protection Agency to enforce manufacturing, sale and use of polythene bags in entire province on the basis of petition because plastic bags were used in all the districts except Lahore, Gujranwala, and Faisalabad.  Lahore High Court banned the manufacturing, use, sale, storage, import, and marketing of polythene bags in the entire province of Punjab. Although in the past provincial governments passed acts for the banning of plastic bags they couldn’t implement the acts as nicely as it is implemented today. Ban on the manufacturing. Indeed, people in several cities of Pakistan have switched to cloth bags, jute bags, and plastic baskets instead of polythene bags.

The initiative taken by the provinces is commendable but at the same time, people have also expressed their harsh concerns over the decisions taken by provinces and federal government because 8,000 factories of plastic bags were providing indirect or indirect employment to millions of people in Pakistan and plastic industry is the backbone of small and medium enterprises and cottage industry.

According to the national survey conducted by the Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 160,000 people were directly dependent on the plastic industry and 600,000 people were indirectly dependent on the plastic industry. Thousands of people linked with the plastic business are starving. A huge number of people, who used to work on daily wages with plastic bag distribution, wholesale or retail businesses are finding it hard to earn money. Printing factors, which used to print labels on bags have also wound up their business and this has also resulted in unemployment for thousands of poor laborers and workers. According to the Ministry of Climate Change, the plastic industry is the fifth largest employer in Pakistan.  The annual growth rate of the plastic industry is 15 percent to 17 percent because the annual per capita consumption of plastic products in Pakistan is 6.5 kg. This is far less than the global average of 38 kg and annual per capita consumption of plastic products in the USA and Germany is above 100. The plastic industry has been among the three best industries of Pakistan also because it has contributed to the development of the cottage industry also because many plastic bags were made by people at their home units.

Small machines at homes, which used to make plastic bags have also been shut down. The distribution business of plastic bags has also been shut down.   The government of Pakistan has been neglecting the plastic industry unemployment issues since the ban was imposed and federal and provincial governments have not formulated any policy for plastic industry.

Pakistan Plastic Manufacturing Association representatives and chairman have expressed their disapproval even before the complete banning of single-use plastic products. According to the Pakistan Chamber of Commerce chief, Jahanzain Jilani “proper waste management in all the cities of Pakistan can lead to a reduction of plastic pollution and banning of plastic bags is not a feasible method of eliminating plastic pollution so the government of Pakistan should work on waste management rather than on banning plastic bags.”

The major cause of the increase in plastic pollution is also the lack of waste management and the lack of recycling of plastic waste. Banning single-use plastic bags is not the only solution to eliminating plastic but we need to learn from countries like Denmark and Ireland. In 1992 Denmark became the first European country, which started to charge high taxes on plastic bags, which resulted in extremely less usage of plastic bags from around 800 million to approximately 400 million bags per year. Ireland in 2002 started to charge for plastic bags, which resulted in 90 percent usage reeducation. Giving people awareness about “Throw away Culture” can also help people create awareness in public about plastic.

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