The thoughtless use of disposable items continues to escalate at an alarming pace and now, as one supposedly hygienic, labour saving or ‘low cost’, usually plastic ‘development’ chases hard on the heels of another, it appears that the world and everyone in it has gone utterly insane.

The completely unsustainable use of toxic plastic bags is, as anyone with even the slightest modicum of sense should know, a prime example of humanity’s total disrespect for the natural world on which all life ultimately depends. Irrespective of weight and colour, plastic bags – these are often used on top of already existing plastic packaging of one form or another - have long been part and parcel, the latter quite literally, of everyday life since they were introduced over 50 years ago, but never have they been so taken for granted as right now. That, in an age when people are considered to be getting more environmentally aware and taking more care of their health, simply does not make sense.

A shopping trip, be this to the local bazaar, a supermarket or whatever, results in a staggering accumulation of plastic bags with, ridiculously, one plastic bag per item often being the case, plus, yet another plastic carrier bag being used to transport these smaller packages home where, of course, all are, as purchases are unpacked and put away, tossed into the garbage can that, in most cases, is lined with yet another plastic bag specially designed for the purpose.

When full to bursting point, this garbage bag is then either disposed of in a designated garbage ‘skip’ if such a thing happens to exist in the locality or haphazardly dumped wherever happens to be a convenient place for the dumper and where, this being Pakistan in which grinding poverty is the basis of life for well over half of the population and rising, the garbage bag will be broken open and sifted through for useable, saleable, edible or otherwise recyclable items of any kind with, as is only to be expected, plastic bags so unearthed being left to blow any which way the wind takes them.

In so-called ‘developed’ countries a number of steps have been taken to reduce reliance on plastic bags and cut the toxic waste so generated with, for example, some European supermarket chains no longer issuing plastic carrier bags, but insisting that customers produce their own or, preferably, endlessly reusable shopping bags made out of cloth, canvas or some other durable material. However, this trend is unlikely to take off in Pakistan any time soon as, like with so many other trends, the population has a terrible habit of going all-out to not just simply ape Western ideas, but to ape them to the ultimate excess.

Public perception appears to be that when handed a plastic bag you simply take it and think nothing about either its toxicity, be this potential or otherwise, or that the odds are it will end up blocking water supply or drainage systems and then, when ‘rescued’, will further contribute to the rabid pollution of the soil, of water, of wildlife et al and such thoughts certainly do not enter the minds of the shop attendants, who, despite the fact that plastic bags are not free, merrily dish them out like there is no tomorrow, which - if this ridiculous trend is allowed to continue unabated - there very soon won’t be.

Various provincial attempts at banning the use of black plastic bags, of reducing the thickness and durability of the same and even of replacing ‘regular’ plastic bags – these can take hundreds of years to rot down continually leaching toxins into the earth or water as they do so – with more rapidly ‘biodegradable’ ones, is not the answer to what is clearly a global catastrophe and has been for many years.

Likewise, replacing plastic bags with paper ones is not a sustainable move either as, unless this paper is made from that shockingly underrated plant called ‘hemp’, the cost in yet even more loss of trees would be astronomical.

The answer though is there and, for the doubters, there is more than one way to tackle what is an extremely worrying issue. Educating people, both adults and children alike, to strictly reduce and ultimately end their reliance on plastic bags is an obvious way to begin and could, as long as they also learn of all the health and environmental hazards associated with their use, go a long way towards resolving the issue. Shopkeepers too should be encouraged to stop handing plastic bags out at will - a not so difficult step, as they are the ones who actually purchase the things in the first place and would thus be saving money that, small as the daily amount may be, when considered on an annual basis, is a large amount.

It is also important that manufactures of all and any items that are first packed and then marketed in plastic bags search for alternative options and that, if they see no acceptable solution in the immediate future, that they, at the very least, redesign packaging so that a lesser amount of toxic plastic is used as, let’s face it, so many manufacturers attempt to visually delude customers into believing that they are purchasing something larger than it actually is through what they consider to be cleverly designed plastic packaging when, if an item is really needed – all too often this is not the case – people will purchase it anyway quite irrespective of the amount of plastic it is disguised with.

The buying, consuming public though are the ones who really must learn and accept that plastic, in whatever form, is bad for human and planetary health and is a toxic substance to be avoided if life on earth - indeed the earth itself - is going to continue to exist.

    The writer has authored a book titled “The Gun Tree:  One Woman’s War” and lives in Bhurban.