Plastic Waste is the New Gold: Informal vs Formal Sector

According to a WWF report, 65 percent of the waste that ends up only being waste is plastic packaging, bottles, and bags. With the booming population, increased consumption, rapid urbanization and luxurious lifestyle the annual production of solid waste in Pakistan has also increased by 2.4 percent and plastic nearly contributes 6.4 million tons.

Per capita, production of plastic in Pakistan is only 0.8kg which is lower than the global average of 1.42kg but our authorities due to lack of infrastructure, policy, government support, and technology can hardly manage to collect half of our produced waste and mismanages the waste by 96 percent and the collected waste is either incinerated or dumped. The street scavengers ended up gathering 70 percent of plastic waste as there are no estimated numbers that how much labor is engaged in this sector thus their efforts in waste picking, economy and reducing environmental impacts are unheralded.

Plastic is severely harmful to the water bodies, land, air, humans, animals and everyone. A recent study about the arctic revealed the presence of nearly 12,000 microplastics on every liter of the ice sheet. How it gets to the place where someone hardly lives the reason is, it is ubiquitous and not potentially biodegradable. It is surprising how plastic can be co-opted to reduce harm to the environment.

Asian columnist believes that the global recycling industry can employ more people on planet than any other industry, agriculture is an only exception. We must fill our policy gaps and set specific yearly recycling goals.

Informal recycling is a common way to earn money in developing countries but promotes child labor and causes severe occupational hazards. In developing countries around the world, 15 million people are waste pickers. The potential factor that pushes people into the job of garbage picking is poverty. When they are given the choice between starving and waste picking, they ultimately choose the latter.

Informal Recycling

Recycling is the best alternative to manage the growing plastic waste problem. Speaking of the formal recycling practices it ensures workers’ safety, recovers 90 percent of the energy, produces valuable products, contributes enormously to the economy and most importantly negates child labor. But the Government and locals are usually unconcerned about effective waste management and it has never been discussed as a national agenda or government failure, so the informal waste recycling is still thriving.

The waste moves from garbage pickers to the Godown where the plastic is hardly segregated and then sells it to the factories. They buy the waste based on color and makes the grain out of the waste and either produce a product themselves or sell it to the factories to manufacture a product. But these factories directly manufacturing or buying waste plastics and raisin are not clean facilities because the waste is not treated through proper steps and has impurities like food particles, feces, inorganic waste, etc. and even produce waste as told by different locals in the Band road facility.

Secondly, the product quality is not satisfying so the market prefers imported products and it ultimately reduces the reliance on the recycled product. Our Government officials do not recognize the efforts and problems of this sector. As told by the head of the small grain-producing shop in Band Road “Our business is going through a downfall as the factories prefer imported grain and government has never answered our requests of providing us a loan to switch from dirty practices to clean recycling”.

Formal Recycling

Green Earth Recycling is the only state of the art facility all across Pakistan supporting the notion of sustainable development and contributing enormously to Pakistan’s economy and reputation. According to the Manager Business Development, Syed Bilal Termezi they are currently working on UNDP’s project in collaboration with KPK Government to promote tourism. He said, “KPK government was initially importing these plastics from Estonia but now we at Green Earth Recycling facility are making our own 95 percent recycled resorts and our national product is promoting eco-tourism.” He is also running a school that aims to reduce child labor and provide free education to the children of their employees and especially garbage pickers. According to him, the Government is currently providing soft loans to the informal sector, but it is not sufficient.

The informal sector is very limited and without any external aid, they can only recycle a small fraction which is not very contributive towards the economy. Shutting them down is not a sustainable approach rather the government should support them towards more effective waste management which is only possible through formal recycling practices.

Asian columnist believes that the global recycling industry can employ more people on planet than any other industry, agriculture is an only exception. We must fill our policy gaps and set specific yearly recycling goals. Many societies around the world segregate their waste at the household level as they have installed 3 or 5 bin systems labeled as metal, paper, glass, plastic, and tetra pack. As a citizen of Pakistan, we should take responsibility for our trash.

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