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Citizen Moves LHC to Seek Complete Ban on Polythene Bags and Styrofoam Products

LAHORE: A citizen has moved the Lahore High Court (LHC), seeking ban on the manufacturing, sale, use, storage and marketing of polythene bags and Styrofoam products.

Making the Punjab government through the chief secretary and the Environment Protection Department (EPA) the respondents, the petition – filed under Article 199 of the Constitution – says their failure to curb the practice is a violation of the fundamental rights of the petitioner and the citizens of Punjab, which are protected and guaranteed under Article 9 and 14 of the Constitution.

The petitioner, Sanita Gulzar Ahmed, says polythene bags and Styrofoam products – including plastic straws, cups, spoons, plates, food trays and other disposable and packaging materials – are single-use plastics, which take up to thousands of years to decompose, contaminating soil, water and sewerage system.

“These two kinds of plastics (polythene bags and Styrofoam products) are causing havoc in various areas of Punjab, in particular damaging the sewerage system of cities, spreading epidemics, polluting soil, causing water pollution and endangering aquatic life. As a consequence, the quality of human health and environment in Punjab is being degraded and adversely impacted,” the petition reads.

It also quotes the United Nations’ report titled “Single-Use Plastics: A Roadmap for Sustainability” which says only 9 per cent of the nine billion tons of plastic the world has ever produced has been recycled.

“The UN Single-Use Plastics Report further indicates that if the current consumption patterns and waste management practices continue then by 2050 there will be around 12 billion tons of plastic litter in landfills and in the environment across the world.”

“Studies have also found that plastics represent most of the waste (60 to 95 percent) found in seas all around the world,” it added.

Further discussing the disastrous effects of these items, the petitioner says, “In the year 1988, poor drainage resulting from polythene bag litter clogging drains contributed to devastating floods in Bangladesh, resulting in several deaths as two-thirds of the country was submerged.”

It notes that the episode led to an anti-bag campaign in the early 1990s that was initially limited to only Dhaka but eventually became the world’s first nationwide ban on plastic bags in 2002.

The petition also mentions the Punjab government’s decision in 2002 to ban manufacturing, use, sale and import of polythene bags of below 15 microns thickness, but adds that the thickness criterion is arbitrary, discretionary, capricious and lacks scientific reasoning/study and rationale.

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“As per latest research on the issue, anything above 50 micron is presumed to be relatively less hazardous for the environment; however, still they are unsafe for the environment.”

“As far as those falling between 15 to 50 are concerned (wherein the limit prescribed by the 2002 Ordinance falls), they are utter disasters for environment, banned in almost every part of the world. Therefore, the Petitioner, in the interest of the environment and the public at large, is desirous of a complete and absolute ban on polythene bags, irrespective of its thickness and sizes.”

It also says that the Punjab government has failed to implement the LHC judgment [Khurram Khan v. Government of Punjab PLD 2009 Lahore 22] even after nine years, in which it was directed “to initiate necessary measures for required legislation within the period of six months, for an absolute ban on manufacture, sale, marketing, use and import, etc of polythene bags”.

Pointing to the absence of any legislation to deal with the issue under consideration, it says any further inaction or delay by the Respondent in introducing laws, policies and plans for prohibition and prevention of such plastics will result in disastrous consequences for the province of Punjab as a whole and the environment.

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