Plastic Is Eating Up Our Ecosystem, Our Environment, Even Our Children
I remember that when we were kids, grandmothers used to bring grocery in jute bags. Then we were exposed to the cheaper and easily available plastic bags. Today the use of plastic has increased so much that it is not only used for grocery but also in the kitchen in the forms of utensils, furniture, food packaging, and even in cosmetic products.
Today we have 6000 plastic factories in Pakistan, mostly located in Punjab (60%) province, followed by Sindh (30%), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (7%) and Balochistan (3%). Total labour force dependent on this industry is 600,000 in all four provinces. On one hand 600,000 force is dependent on this industry and on the other hand plastic is costing environment heavily.
Annually, Pakistan produces 6 billion plastic bags which goes into rivers and choke marine life. According to United Nations, 164,332 tons of plastic is dumped into Indus basin, which is 2nd highest for any ocean globally. Micro plastic, which naked eye can’t see, ends up polluting Indus river basin. When plastic comes in contact with heat, it converts into smaller particles. These smaller particles become part of the food cycle of marine life, humans and also mammals living on land. These smaller particles also become part of air pollution. According to a research, humans eat 72,000 micro plastic particles from indoor and outdoor air annually. In the form of fish we eat and the air we breathe, it poses serious health risks like cancers, development issues in young children, fatigue, endocrine disruption and obesity.
Plastic waste disposal is a major issue in Pakistan. Most of the waste goes into either open landfills or burned, and the rest ends up in Indus river basin. According to research a single plastic bag takes 10-1000 years to decompose in landfills.
Plastic bottle which we use for drinking water takes almost 450 years or more. Imagine what kind of menace it would cause for fishes, whales and turtles when a single water bottle company contributes to oceans 8 billion tons of plastic every year.
Cigarette butts, a very small thing, also contain plastic material which decomposes in 10-12 years. Burning of plastic waste releases harmful gases which are carcinogenic. Plastic also reduces soil fertility as it reduces rainwater percolation in the fields.
Pakistan has no control on plastic pollution despite having laws and regulations in place. In the year 2013 there was a regulation named “Prohibition of Non-biodegradable plastic products” which was never implemented by the government for the capital territory. This regulation clearly states that manufacturing, sale and usage of plastic are prohibited.
Next year, it was adopted in Sindh as well. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa also adopted the regulation in 2016 and named it as “Prohibition of Non-degradable Plastic Products (Manufacturing, Sale and Usage) Rules 2016”.
The regulation states that there shall be a complete ban on manufacturing of non-biodegradable plastic products and no person shall import, manufacture, stockpile, trade, supply, distribute, sell or use any non-biodegradable plastic products; provided the existing stocks of non-biodegradable plastic products shall be disposed of by the wholesale dealers and retailers within a period of three months, after the commencements of these rules.
There is need on the awareness raising against the damage plastic is causing to the environment, human life and marine species. Pricing mechanism should be introduced to discourage its use. We need to move towards alternates such as biodegradable plastic. Private sector should come forward for its recycling as it is a huge business. Many other countries are generating a lot of revenue from recycling of all kind of wastes including plastic waste. Academia, media, civil society and government should make collective efforts to tackle with this menace.
The author is Environmental Expert at Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI)