Imagine, you dine fish at a desi hotel. As you witness the skinning of fish before your eyes, you find traces of plastic in its intestine. Won’t you, for a fraction of second, recall all those previous times when you had dined fish but you didn’t bother see it deboning before your eyes? It is horrific because what goes around, comes around. The plastic we dump in the river becomes a source of death for small fishes while big fishes digest traces of plastic bags. This plastic returns to us in marine food we eat that induces mutation and leads to cells related diseases.

An article published by the US National Center of Biotechnology Information suggests that the chemicals in plastics not only contain toxins but they could also lead to different forms of cancers. These chemicals also wreak havoc on our hormones and can lead to a range of other negative effects, including birth defects. Unfortunately, it is not that we are just polluting the water with plastics, we are contaminating our own stomachs, one way or another.

Pakistan uses 55 billion plastic bags every year and its overall plastic use has been growing by 15 percent each year. The more gloomy part is the growing efforts to recycle can’t address this massive quantity. No matter how many recycling factories we set up; how many recycling businesses we develop; it simply can’t keep up with the amount of plastic that we are producing.

The Minister for Climate Change has recently kick-started a campaign on plastic ban in Islamabad. A similar campaign is also underway in KPK as tourism industry has attained remarkable momentum after peace returns to the valley. Minister for Tourism KPK can be seen on multiple occasions requesting the general public not to leave plastic trash once they depart from those mesmerizing places.

Knowing all that, the point to ponder is whether government is sincere and prudent in curbing plastic pollution? And to what lengths? The real issue is of implementation of the policies. In the past, such campaigns were launched with zeal and zest yet no significant results were drawn out.

There are three general reasons that policies don’t yield significant results. First, short term implementation plan is devised to commence the idea only to meet the national or international protocols. The broader vision and resources usually lack. For instance, three years ago, Punjab government banned soft drinks in educational institutes to mitigate their unhygienic effects on students’ health. This move was welcomed by parents. I, myself witnessed the soft drinks went disappear from many universities. After a year or two – due to heedlessness and no alternatives – soft drinks returned to educational institutes. Another instance is of restrict sale of cigarettes in five kilometer radius of educational institute. Due to lack of concrete implementation, the sale of cigarette is again rampant near educational institutes.

Second, either accountability is not made or even if do so, results and reports never pop up publicly. It tarnishes accountability and doesn’t help in improvement for next cycles. A perfect example is of ban on plastic that was also imposed in previous governments but the progress report of measures taken was never surfaced.

Third, no alternate options are rendered to those who get affected by the policy. So, a resistance is developed against the policy. Few of my friends from Islamabad told me they went to market and came to know that plastic bags aren’t available in the market anymore and they felt happy about it. However, no alternative (paper or cloth bag) were provided to shopkeepers by government. The success of policies depends on its regular evaluation after the implementation. Hunza has also been declared the first zero-plastic district of Pakistan but some of the residents complain that plastic bags will return again to Hunza if no alternative is provided to shopkeepers.

Plastic is not only deteriorating the ecosystem in Pakistan but it has become a global issue. Zero Mika was introduced in Morocco to devise policies on plastic ban. World Economic Forum reported after a study that by 2050, there will be more plastic in world’s oceans than fishes. It is heartening that a new report from UN Environment and the World Resource Institute found that at least 127 countries have adopted some form of legislation to regulate plastic bags as of July 2018. These policies range from outright bans to progressive phase-outs.

After a bit of hemming and hawing, the government has decided to curb plastic pollution but in order to implement the ban in true sense, the strategy should be three-pronged. First, manufacturing of plastic should be strictly monitored and its violation be dealt with punishments. Second, alternate options must be provided to retailers and users. Biodegradable and thermo-sensitive bags to be introduced in market. Polyethylene terephthalate plastics can be replaced with high-density polyethylene. Third, a robust and well-aimed awareness campaign to be launched in educational institutes. A succinct and mandatory eco-conscious subject must also be added in the curriculum of schools, colleges and universities. It will make our children understand the profound importance of protecting our environment. Apart, government must also encourage and facilitate entrepreneurs to find alternatives of plastic bags.

Since major responsibility lies with incumbent government, the citizens also need to mend their behavior towards stupendous use of plastic. This fight against plastic pollution will be a litmus test of our collective national psyche. After all, it is not only about our own healthy life but it pertains to marine life as well.

The writer is a lecturer at Superior University Lahore. He is also a youth correspondent to Commonwealth in Pakistan. He can be reached at iamsohaib22@gmail.com

Plastic is not only deteriorating the ecosystem in Pakistan but it has become a global issue.