Environment Day 2023: Beating Plastic Pollution In Pakistan

Environment Day 2023: Beating Plastic Pollution In Pakistan
“Beat Plastic Pollution” is the theme of Environment Day 2023. The United Nations designated the 5th of June as World Environment Day in 1972. Every year a member country hosts this environment day, and Pakistan had the honour to do so in 2021. This year, the environment day is hosted by Côte d'Ivoire and supported by the Netherlands.

As per WWF data, 250 million tons of garbage in Pakistan primarily consists of plastic bags, pet bottles and food scraps. The data shows that 65% of waste at beaches includes water bottles, caps and plastic bottles. WWF further estimated that 8 million tons of plastic waste enters the oceans every year and by 2050 there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish.

The global production of plastic has increased from 270 million metric tons to almost 370 million metric tons, and it is estimated that it will reach 445.25 million metric tons by 2025. The use of plastic has immensely increased in our society. The influence of globalization has effected adversely in our society; firstly the increased usage of plastic bottles in form of plastic water bottles and cold drink bottles. Then the use of disposable utensils also took the place of steel and ceramics. There are other forms of plastic, like toys and the ones used in all forms of appliances and personal gadgets. This not only badly affects the environment, but also hits local sustainable alternatives available in our culture. In the not-too-distant past, there locally made pottery utensils were used in the form of handi, plates/glasses and pitchers. Toys were also made locally with local sustainable materials, now replaced by plastic toys mostly imported from China. This affected badly the local market and many people providing sustainable local products could not survive economically. In 2021, the import bill in terms of plastic imports reached Rs. 2.38 billion due to the annual import of 36,651 metric tons. Meanwhile, recently it was reported to the federal cabinet that Pakistan annually produces 30 million tons of waste in addition to annually importing 80,000 tonnage of bundled waste from around the world. Friendly countries are exporting their plastic waster to Pakistan, and most of the export share lead by UK.

Voices are rising against the increase in plastic pollution around the globe, and this is the case in Pakistan as well. Undeniably, some steps are being taken in the right direction. In Pakistan, the government launched a campaign for reducing the prevalence of single-use plastic bags. Pakistan launched its first National Hazardous Waste Management Policy in 2022. While discussing solutions, the recent report Turning off the Tap by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) focuses on the circular economy, taking into consideration three major market shifts: ‘Reuse,’ ‘Recycle’ and ‘Reorient & Diversify.’ The report focuses on systemic change involves adjustments or transformation in policies, practices, power dynamics, social norms and mindset. The report foresees US$1.3 trillion in savings – considering investment, operations and management costs and recycling revenues.

Innovative steps can help our society to move forward in the direction of the ‘reuse, recycle and diversify’ option. An interesting initiative in this regard was taken by the Capital Development Authority (CDA) teaming up with Coca-Cola and TeamUp to re-carpet a one-kilometer patch on Ataturk Avenue in Islamabad. The project was completed with Rs. 21 million funding by using almost 10 tons of plastic waste. Another social impact business example is a Peshawar-based youth-led entrepreneurship project named The Kabari: taking the country’s old plastic collection and recycling model online. This model is based on collection of plastic from the home through existing recycled businesses.

Steps in this regard should be taken by the government and society at large. Firm policies and implementation by the government are required. Political parties need to consider that environmental questions as a key point in the parties’ manifestos would be another gauge to measure political will on the issue. Business models need to be introduced and duly supported by the government to adopt a circular economy in a systemic way. Society at large will have to be supportive in terms of revving up our cultural eco-friendly sustainable alternatives to the plastic and support the local options and market. This could begin with steps as simple as organising fun creative activities for children, which help them to learn how to creatively reuse plastic. Teaching young people about alternatives to single-use plastic bags would be a great milestone in this regard.