Undoubtedly, plastic has become planet Earth’s environmental catastrophe. Currently, the worldwide annual production of plastic is reported to have escalated to almost 300 million tones and it will keep increasing swiftly if it goes unchecked. Studies have shown that plastic harms the environment and all forms of life in many ways. Traces of plastic have been found in the human digestive system. If we continue to use plastic-wrapped food and drink from plastic bottles, according to a scientific research, plastic found all around us would one day be inside us. The grim situation necessitates an out-right ban on single-use plastics.
Before the existence and use of single-use plastic bags, people used jute and cane baskets and rope bags or reusable plastic baskets to carry things and the earth’s environment was not so dangerous for life. Today, plastic has been used abundantly in the form of shoppers, bottles, plastic wrappers, disposable cups, spoons and plastic papers etc. As a result, plastic pollution has become the most common pollution all over the world and in Pakistan as most of the garbage includes the plastic items.
The UN found that in cities around the world, about five trillion plastic bags used each year equaled nearly 10 million plastic bags per minute. Most of plastic waste clogs drains, inundating streets and roads with sewage and breeding serious diseases. Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency disclosed that approximately 55 billion plastic bags are consumed annually in the country. Another report revealed that more than 60 countries had introduced bans and levies on single-use plastic bags but because of the lack of better waste management and financial incentives to consumers to change their buying habits and research into alternative materials, they could not have a real change.
Though Pakistan, in order to diminish polluting effects, had imposed ban on non-bio-degradable polythene bags that manufacturing industries produce over 50 billion every year in the country, the federal and provincial governments have failed to implement the bans. The stiff resistance by the industries, easy and free availability of the bags and lack of the governments’ will are some of the key factors responsible for the poor implementation. As a result, in any Pakistan’s market, we see the plenteous existence and use of plastic bags.
According to a UN report, the Indus River has the second highest amount of plastic waste dumped into it. Most of the untreated industrial waste produced by a number of industries ends up in the rivers, lakes and sea. World Wildlife Fund (WWF) found that plastic causes around 50 percent of the pollution at Karachi’s Clifton beach and other beaches along the coastal belt that causes plentiful threats for public health.
The grim problem of plastic pollution prevails across the Sindh province. Under the Sindh Prohibition of Non-degradable Plastic Products Rules and the Sindh Environmental Protection Act, the province had banned manufacturing, sale and use of plastic bags. And finally this year it issued a notification to impose the ban but the ground realities show no evidence of compliance with the laws.
The very fact is that responsibility lies with the government to find out and provide affordable and environment friendly alternative of single-use plastic bags. As there is no 100 percent eco-friendly alternative, therefore, initially, thick recycled plastic bags are a good alternative till we achieve a success in discovering perennial solution of the menace. The prolonged and abundant use of thick bags, according to a recent research, will be as harmful to the environment as single-use plastic bags. Paper bags contribute significantly to global warming and cloth bags are found to be a big carbon footprint.
Though Pakistan has banned the use of polythene bags, one can see the widespread use of the bags in its every nook and corner. Amidst other reasons, the significant one is the people’s ignorance about the havocs that the bags play with their life and environment. The tool of awareness campaign, which has played vital and productive role in many areas, is desperately needed to be launched to have a success in implementing the related laws. The campaign will educate people about the hazards of using single-use plastic bags.
Answer to a question that why have we failed to discourage the use of polythene bags is that there is widespread free availability and use of the bags. Pakistan needs to contemplate a strategy to impose a bag tax to discourage single-use plastic bags’ use. Surely, the strategy will produce fruitful outcomes for it has effectively proved to be workable in many countries. The usage of the plastic bags fell by an estimated 86 percent in Washington DC after it imposed a five cents bag tax.
Before single-use plastic bags play more havoc with people’s lives, a ban imposed on usage of the material except some items such as garbage bags, packing for processed goods, milk pouches, medical supplies and other inevitable uses is needed to be implemented through concrete and result-oriented measures the federal and all the provincial governments have to take preferentially and swiftly.