Highlighting plastic pollution, challenges in Pakistan
Plastics are synthetic or semi-synthetic materials made from a wide variety of polymers that can be moulded easily into a shape while soft and then set into a rigid or slightly elastic form. The adaptability plus a wide range of beneficial properties such as being lightweight, durable and flexible, along with cheap production processes has led to widespread adoption in contemporary society.
The success and dominance of plastics resulted in widespread environmental problems due to their slow decomposition rate in natural ecosystems. In order to combat the plastic waste, the world governments and non-governmental organisations began to adopt recycling strategies to assuage environmental concerns while continuing to generate mass production of plastic. Most plastic produced has not been reused as it is either being captured in landfills or persisting in environment as plastic pollution. It can be found in all world’s major water bodies like the oceans, seas, lakes and rivers.
The world has a plastic problem, and it is snowballing but so is public awareness and action. Many governments and nongovernmental organisations worldwide are playing their part in reducing plastic pollution by changing their policies and imposing laws such as ban of single use plastic products and introducing modern methods of recycling plastic waste. Campaigns through mass media about the world of plastic and its prevention is also trending amid climate change and global warming threat, as according to report of Centre for International Environmental Law, plastic contribute greenhouse gases in the equivalent of 850 million tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere in 2019 and annual emissions will grow to 1.34 billion tons by 2030. (Sweeping New Report on Global Environmental Impact of Plastics Reveals Severe Damage to Climate, 2019)
On the contrary where the developed countries are somewhat successful in implementing laws and providing strategies to overcome plastic pollution, the developing countries are failing to create mass awareness and efficient methods to tackle plastic waste. Like many countries, Pakistan is also facing the problem of plastic pollution. More than 3.3 million tons of plastic are wasted each year in Pakistan and most of it ends in landfills, unmanaged dumps or strewn about land and water bodies across the country. (Gul, 2020)
In Pakistan the minority elite has more leverage over resources thus are less concerned about the consequences of the waste they produce annually. On the other hand, middle class is only concerned about getting rid of plastic waste from their immediate surroundings whereas the lower class is not bothered at all. Lack of education and awareness in Pakistan as well as the poor waste management and law enforcement agencies are one of the factors of plastic pollution. No efficient substitute is available for the consumers at present. Moreover, it is difficult to convince the people to adopt new habits such use of cloth or paper bags, metal straws and minimal use of single use plastic products. Old method of burning plastic waste is still practiced in the country and adds to the pollution overall in the world of plastic. Poor implementation of laws against usage of plastic bags is one of the main causes of its spread. Awareness and attention are required for people who are uneducated. Moreover, alternative strategies and effective implementation of laws can lower plastic pollution. (Joseph, Kumar, Majgi, Kumar, & Prahalad, 2016)
In urban areas, plastic is a threat due to over use of its products as it can survive in the environment for hundreds of years without decomposing. It is used in packaging, construction, transportation, electrical appliances, industries and many more. However, waste from municipal and industries form the major contributor of plastic pollution. In Pakistan 6% of waste consist of plastic and it is discarded in landfills. Urban areas of Pakistan, for example Lahore is a metropolitan city and a centre for industrialisation. The water bodies surrounding Lahore are filled with plastic specifically river Chenab. Lack of waste management, proper sewerage system and recycling facilities is the major cause of plastic pollution in urban areas. (Irfan, Qadir, Mumtaz, & Ahmad, 2020)
Perception about world of plastic
Various brands of Pakistan have taken the initiative of introducing cloth bag or seed bag to combat plastic pollution and it also raises awareness. Pakistan is lacking behind when it comes to recycling and it’s planning. Urban areas have poor waste management system whereas in rural areas it is nonexistent. Over the years, paper and plastic are utilised more than iron and glass due to its low cost, thus leading to its waste and pollution, highlighting that Pakistan is becoming a throw-away society due to increased wealth. If proper recycling industries are set up in Pakistan it will not only create job opportunities but also increase the revenue. (Batool, Chaudhry, & Majeed, 2008)
In 2019 Pakistan’s government took the initiative of banning single use plastic bags to ensure environmental sustainability. Moreover, some institutions moved one step further and changed their lifestyles by eliminating plastic products like plastic bottles and plastic packaged food as much as possible and promoting plastic recycling. The World Bank in Pakistan suggested the idea of 3P’s that is People Practice and Policy to combat plastic pollution. (Javed & Khaliq, 2019)
Pakistan has been fighting plastic pollution for over ten years now. During this time various policies on ban of single use plastic bags have been imposed such as those in 2006 and 2009 by Sindh government both of which has failed miserably due to poor implementation of law and providing any substitute. In 2014 the ban was imposed again but government failed to publicise it effectively as many people were unaware of it. Moreover, shopkeepers used fake stamps suggesting their bags were biodegradable but police lacked the necessary equipment to test it in the first place. If the government plans to ban the plastic industry, it has no plans of compensating the workers. The problem of Pakistan is not plastic pollution but waste management and recycling. (Hadid, 2019)
In South Asia, economic advancements and changing lifestyles of people is resulting in rapid increase in plastic pollution. In Pakistan, plastic is cheap, readily available, durable, resistant and is widely used. Products of plastic that are disposable and of low cost are discarded without any hesitation among which plastic bags is the primary component and adds to 45.72% of total plastic waste. Rag pickers pick up the valuable plastic waste for scavengers and get paid for a stipulated amount of 15 to 20 rupees per month. As long as people of big cities manage the waste from their homes by paying the waste management authorities, concerning for the waste in landfill is least of their concern, whereas people in rural areas manage their waste independently. (Ahmed, Mehmood, Noor, & Bahadar, 2020)
It has been concluded that plastic pollution is as threatening as climate change and global warming. It is a worldwide problem and the world has very little time to prevent it otherwise it will take the form of an uncontrollable risk. The accumulation of plastic and severity of the problem will exponentially increase with the increase of global plastic production and consumption thus, the world needs to change its consumption methods. The inclusion of recycling, litter prevention and illegal dumping are some of the reasons of plastic litter. The growing concern about plastic pollution, and the building momentum, has already led to a ground-breaking, global agreement. Banning single plastic products or just plastic bags is not enough. An immediate substitute is the need of time for which global community must join hands in creation of eco-friendly plastic replacement that has similar advantages.
Moreover, people perception regarding plastic and its pollution is out of keeping with the world’s present condition. Their habits and demand for plastic, without thinking about the long-lasting impacts it could have on the environment, are irrational. Awareness campaigns against plastic has profound impact on the literate community mostly whereas, people who are underprivileged do not necessarily care about the environment around them. Countries like Pakistan are lacking strong law enforcement agencies and proper polices to combat issues like plastic pollution. People lack the sense of responsibility and the absence of waste management system, active administrations and recycling industries lead to the problem of heaping plastic waste.