Dr. Sadia Ilyas

Metals are of the 24x7 indispensable requirements in human life. In absence of metals, the country cannot think about its infrastructural growth and self-reliance on the economic front as well. This is also true for us and responsible for the slow infrastructural growth of Pakistan. Unfortunately, in the last 70 years of timeframe, the country’s demands for metals could not be fulfilled at the rate it was required to do. On contrary to this, the scenario for metals production and demand is totally different in the neighbouring countries and it directly reflects on their growth story. It is a fact that although we have several mineral deposits, either they are unaccounted and/or, yet to be exploited. Therefore, this is a time to take the wake-up call. The entire world, including those, have the ample primary reserves of valuable and critical metals, is moving for the circular economy. Having no barrier for the primary reserves of minerals by the recycling of secondary and/or, end-of-life or say, waste materials at the end of the non-producing country is one of the prime advantages of the circular economy. By moving towards it, Pakistan can really do well to mitigate the supply-risk of essential metals in the infrastructure development of the country.

Not only the economic but also at the societal-front, the move can help a lot to us. The generation of industrial, electrical and electronic waste and household waste containing the metal body, wires, handles, goods etc. other than the municipal waste in huge volume is globally recognised problem. Even after the Basel convention, the trans-boundary movement from developed countries to Pakistan did not stop. Pakistan has become the favourite destination for their waste dumping. Which is not a good sign in a long-term, if not properly handled. The situation in Karachi and nearby dumping and dismantling areas for such wastes are the prominent examples, where the public health condition has been severely affected and the condition of soil and water is also going to be adverse. It is a matter of grave concern in the country where approximately 5 million annual deaths are alone due to the waste-related diseases.

For a country struggling on the economic front to be self-reliance and up-gradation of infrastructure facilities to provide the people a better life, it is the high time to take a call on changing its waste to the wealth. The global transition from waste disposal to the circular economy guided waste management can also be experienced in Pakistan. Even the leaders like the European Union, Japan, and the United States are serious about their limited resources and step-by-step introducing the ethos of the circular economy. For an example of metal recycling, approximately 8.2 Mt of aluminium and its alloy were produced in the year 2000 as the recycled product that was accounted for 33% of the total primary production of aluminium. It was 93% in the US, 59% in France, and 89% in Germany, while 186-folds higher in Japan than the primary production of aluminium. If calculated in terms of energy saving, each ton of primary aluminium consumes 213 x 106 kJ (17 x 103 kWh electricity) energy, which is only 5.48 x 106 kJ if recovered by recycling. The huge saving in energy successfully cut down the production cost of aluminium. It also reduces the water consumption by 10.5 t for each ton of aluminium production and controls the 92% emission of CO2 to the environment. In totality, the circular economy will be profitable if we combined it with the relatively cheap labour cost in the country. This change in the scenario can be of greater extent when the circular economy for the other base metals essentially used in infrastructure development like iron, steel, copper, and zinc will be included in practice to boost the main economy of the country.

Henceforth, the efficient measures associated with circular economics for metal recycling from the waste materials are needed to be taken. It includes, certainly not limited to, the taxation for waste generation, penalty for landfill disposal of metal-bearing waste, extended producer responsibility including the payback projects for treating the hazardous metals, levy on primary raw materials, taxation on specific products like those generating the hazardous metal-bearing waste during manufacturing process, and subsidy for formal recycling of metals etc. Nevertheless, the most distinctive transition needs to be changed is that waste or, end-of-life metals are not regarded to be as a ‘‘waste’’ any more but taken as a potential “resource” in the country.


The writer is a Ph.D, Assistant Professor of the Mineral and Material Chemistry Lab it the Department of Chemistry at the University of Agriculture Faisalabad, Pakistan.