Karachi - In the year 2014 when Pakistan obtained GSP Plus status, the government had contributed heavily to environment degradation by using 64 million polypropylene bags (equivalent to 3.520 billion polyethylene bags) for wheat and grain storage.

Muhammad Younus, Secretary Pakistan Jute Mills Association (PJMA), pointed out that by doing so the government would show its commitment towards making progress on 27 international conventions it has signed as a prerequisite of obtaining GSP Plus status. After obtaining GSP Plus status, the government is bound to take steps to reduce the carbon footprints by replacing hazardous products with environment friendly substitutes like immediately replacing polypropylene bags with jute bags in all food grains including wheat, he added.

It is pertinent to note that polypropylene is a man-made fiber and bye-product of oil refineries. ‘Polypropylene bag powder is known to contain deadly elements such as lead, cadmium, chromium, copper, nickel and zinc. The antioxidants in the fabric are known to have caused skin irritation in certain elements,’ he explained. “Polypropylene and plastic products get oxidized very fast, therefore, antioxidants are added to it, which can cause skin irritation. Antimony trioxides used as stabilizing and flame proofing agent is carcinogenic” said Tahir Ahmad, a biochemist.  He added that the inhalation of the high nickel concentration can cause acute and sub-acute poisoning. Nickel dust and aerosols of nickel metal, nickel oxide and others are carcinogenic. Antimony dioxide used as the stabilizing and flame proofing agent in PP is also carcinogenic.

He added that it is strange that the government on the one hand claims to protect our environment but on the other hand significantly contributes to the environment degradation through using polypropylene bags for wheat storage. Experts regretted that the government agencies continue to ignore the guidelines of United Nations regarding wheat storage despite the fact that following them it can help increase the exports of wheat substantially. This massive purchase and usage of polypropylene bags is adding to the environmental pollution in the country, said another researcher.  It is worth mentioning here that unlike jute bags which are manufactured as per specified Pakistan Standards, the polypropylene bags used for wheat packing are not specified by the Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority (PSQCA) rather there exists no Pakistan Standard specification for plastic bags as it is not considered a suitable packaging and storage medium.