Written by: Mustafa Shaukat
More plastic has been produced in the last 10 years than in the 100 years prior to that. The massive production of plastic and single-use plastic has accelerated degradation of our eco-system so much that it may be one of the leading causes of global climate change.
The PTI government has taken note of the threat plastic poses to our society. In lieu of this, one major change it introduced towards achieving this end was its ban on polythene shopping bags. 12 plastic warehouses in different parts of Quetta have been sealed thanks to Quetta Metropolitan Corporation. In Karachi, Cantonment Board Clifton has announced a similar ban which is going to take effect from June 30th. Meanwhile in Islamabad, the federal capital, the ban on plastic bags is going to be enforced from 14th August.
Is plastic really as big of menace as our government perceives it to be? Yes.
Firstly because the leading cause of air pollution is power generation; this consists of coal-powered plants and extraction of gas, coal and oil. Single-use plastic bag currently use much more power to be produced than its competitors, paper and re-usable polythene bags. Minister for climate change, Zartaj Gul has dispersed cotton bags amongst media personnel, ministry officials and parliamentarians as the alternative to single-use plastic bag. This is likely to be a viable alternative due to Pakistan’s already present massive cotton and weaving industry. The presence of the cotton and its industry in Pakistan at such a large scale means that the transition from single-use plastic to cotton bags is likely to be a smoother one as there is less time-delay in the demands of consumers being met and there is less new capital from investors that will be required to whole-sale setup production for cotton bags.Cotton bags and polythene bags are likely to continue to use less overall electricity and power as due to them being re-usable, lesser units of them need to be produced in the first place, which means the carbon-foot print of the country is likely to go down. Moreover, polythene bags and cotton bags are often re-used as trash bags and for miscellaneous uses around the house which reduce the need to buy more plastic bags.
According to a study, about 8 million tons of plastics are deliberately dumped into the oceans globally.500,000 tons of micro-fiber from synthetic textileplastic enters water bodies each year. This leads to an additional annual death count of 1 million seabirds and over 100,000 marine mammals.
Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency (PEPA) reveals that 55 billion tons of plastics are used in country and expected to rise by 15 percent yearly. This is dangerous especially for Pakistan because there has historically been a lack of landfills and disposal areas for waste. Couple this with the fact that very little of plastic is ever re-used in this country and even globally only 9% of plastic being re-used; there seems to be a disaster waiting to happen.
Opposition to the ban of single-use plastic shopping bags have argued that it reduces costs for importers,whole-sale and retailers which allows them to later on expand business and provide more services to consumers from profits they make. However this short-term benefit to producers and even consumers can mean a huge problem for the country in the long-term. According to a study by noted Nations Environment Programme(UNEP), plastic water is costingThe total natural capital cost of plastic used in the consumer goods industry is estimated to be more than US$75 billion per year. The cost comes from a range of environmental impacts including those on oceans and the loss of valuable resources when plastic waste is sent to landfill rather than being recycled. The most significant upstream impact is greenhouse gas emissions released from producing plastic feedstock, which is responsible for almost a third of the total natural capital costs approximately US$13 billion per year in environmental damage to marine ecosystems. They also estimate the total natural capital cost of plastic used in the consumer goods industry is estimated to be more than US$75 billion per year. The cost comes from a range of environmental impacts including those on oceans and the loss of valuable resources when plastic waste is sent to landfill rather than being recycled. The most significant upstream impact is greenhouse gas emissions released from producing plastic feedstock, which is responsible for almost a third of the total natural capital costs
The ban has been hailed in most circles as a positive step towards reducing Pakistan’s contribution to climate change. However, in reality how this ban is going to be implemented remains to be an important question
Plastic bag bans are not a novel concept in the global landscape; numerous countries such as the USA, France and even New Delhi, India in 2017 have applied such restrictions. These countries, although different from Pakistan in some aspects of production, can still be used as a model of assessing whether such a ban will be all that it has been made-up to be.
A study done by James Cadman and colleagues in Scotland found that in indicators of energy, water, waste and litter, where 10pence tax is put on plastic and paper bags both, all 8 environmental indicators improve. This signifies the huge benefit nuanced restrictions on the consumption of plastic can have. In California, USA, a similar ban on plastic had been imposed which allowed plastic consumption to go down by 40 million pounds per year.
Mailk Amin has said that only a few registered authorities will be allowed to produce polythene bags following the ban whilst paying a fine to the government. It is important to note that this allows larger corporations to simply strike deals with the government and continue to produce massive amounts of plastic whilst paying a fine that is negligible in contrast to the profits they make.
The steps taken by our Zartaj Gul and the PTI government seem to be in good faith. It is hence of paramount important that the implementation of this ban on single-use plastic is strictly enforced to achieve the ends they’ve set out for our country.