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Climate Change

Plastic Pollution: A Looming Disaster

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The historical address of PM Imran Khan at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) started with the topic of climate change which is disturbing the environment of the entire world massively; extreme temperatures, floods, melting of glaciers etc are clear signs of deteriorating climate.

Among many other reasons for climate change, extensive use of plastic materials is also a substantial one. Plastic bags have been banned in many cities in Pakistan and this step deserves appreciation but this is not enough. Plastic is doing irreparable damage to the environment. According to an article by Nadeem Khurshid, an expert in environmental policy and urban planning,

“In Pakistan, each year, 30 million tons of solid waste is produced, out of which nine percent are plastics. Here, 55 billion plastic bags a year are produced. These single-use non-biodegradable bags mostly find their way to open garbage dumps, landfill sites or municipal sewers, thus making sewage disposal systems less efficient by choking, thus adding to the costs of utility operations. Current urban waste management practices are partners to this crisis, since they only focus on picking waste from communal bins and disposing of it in urban fringes without segregation, material recovery or recycling, and also by not making communities act responsibly. They are spending as much as Rs 3000 to Rs 6000 per ton without any business model to recover costs.”

Plastic pollution (i.e presence of plastic where it shouldn’t be) is a new looming threat to our lives. One research tells us that “a plastic bottle can last for 450 years in the marine environment, slowly fragmenting into smaller and smaller pieces which eventually end up microscopic but never truly go away”.

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In order to fight plastic pollution, recycling of plastics is a reasonable and feasible solution. We need to recycle plastic rather than creating a new one. Ecoalf is an excellent example of plastic recycling. It is a “Spanish brand creating the first generation of fashion products made with recycled materials with the same design and quality as the best non-recycled ones available in the market. They use tires, plastic bottles, fishing nets, and even coffee grounds, showing that our trash does have a second opportunity and that also, recycling it, shortens the industrial processes that go from the raw material to our finished products.” We should also have plastic recycling factories as it has become a dire need.

We really need to think and act on this issue and find a sustainable way to replace conventional plastics. This crisis can only be tackled through collaborative efforts by industry, government, researchers and end-users. Garbage collection systems are often inefficient or almost non-existent in Asian and African countries where plastic pollution is drastically increasing.

Margaret Renkl, a contributing writer in The New York Times, while talking about adverse effects of plastics on wild lives suggests: “A true solution will require concerted effort: the political will to address climate change, conservation strategies that restore habitat, policies that consider wildlife needs as well as human needs. More than anything, it will require a comprehensive understanding that wildlife needs are human needs.”

Plastic pollution is leading to many other problems including blockage of small streams and underground sewerage systems. We also need to introduce bins for the collection of recyclable materials so that people shall throw plastic materials in those bins instead of throwing them on open-air garbage sites. In addition to all this, we seriously need to educate our nation regarding plastic recycling and how they can play their role in making our country free of plastic pollution.

Laura Parker, specialist in covering climate change and marine environments, states in her article that prevention of plastic wastes from entering into rivers and seas could be achieved through ‘improved waste management systems and recycling, better product design that takes into account the short life of disposable packaging, and reduction in manufacturing of unnecessary single-use plastics.’

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