ISLAMABAD, Dec 30: The Pakistan Environment Protection Agency (Pak-EPA) is instituting a ban on production and sale of plastic bags in the Islamabad capital territory.

“The regulation has been vetted by the law division and awaits approval from the Ministry of Climate Change. After that, it will come into force,” said Asif Shuja, the director general of Pak-EPA.

He added that after implementation of the ban, the manufacturers would be given three months to replace non-degradable plastic items - bags, glasses and bottles - with biodegradable ones.

In 1993, the Cabinet Division enforced a countrywide ban on black plastic bags made from recycled (harmful) materials, including hospital waste.

The new regulation will prohibit import, manufacturing, stockpiling, trade, supply, distribution, sale and use of any non-degradable plastic product.

The Pak-EPA chief said work on the new regulation began in 2009 when the National Assembly unanimously passed a resolution to ban plastic bags and promote biodegradable ones.

This was followed by several meetings among ministries concerned that decided to promote biodegradable plastic products like in other countries without affecting the local industry. There are over 8,000 manufacturers of plastic bags in the country, mostly located in Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar.

According to a survey conducted by Pak-Epa in 2010, plastic bags were introduced in Pakistan in 1982. These bags quickly became popular because of low cost, easy selling, different colours and convenience.

As many as 12 billion plastic bags were used n Pakistan in 1990-91. In 2005-06, the consumption rose to 43 billion and in 2007-08 up to 55 billion. With 15 per cent growth annually in production of plastic bags, the estimated use of plastic bags in the country by 2014-15 would be 112 billion.

According to the environment watchdog, several options were considered, including banning plastic bags across the board such as in Bangladesh or introducing plastic bags made from starch like in Japan.

“The first was not possible because people cannot do without shopping bags. The second option would require a technology change. Photo-degradable bags (that decomposed after reacting with the ultraviolet rays from the sun) were also rejected,” said Mr Shuja.

After that, he added, the government decided to introduce oxo-biodegradable bags. He explained that the oxo-biodegradable bags degraded after reactions with oxygen and ultraviolet rays from the sun within three months (that could be shortened or extended).

The oxo-biodegradable bags do not require technology change but a mixture of small quantity of Olifin-based additive (petroleum waste product). The price would increase by five per cent or Rs3 to Rs4 on Rs85 per kilogramme of plastic bags.

“We have also requested the government to remove the six per cent duty on import of the additive to encourage its use and practice,” said the Pak-Epa chief. He explained how the biodegradable bags were already in the markets and negotiations with other manufacturers were underway to completely replace non-degradable plastics, including water bottles etc.

He gave the example of a bread that was already coming packed in environment-friendly bags and the chain of super markets that were selling bags made from cloth besides disposable glasses.

He said plastic was an environmental hazard because it was one of the few modern chemical materials that could last many years in the soil.

Similar bans were placed by local governments in the past few years in Karachi and Punjab that permitted manufacturing of plastic bags of certain thickness. Balochistan was the only province that completely banned the use of plastic bags.

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