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ISLAMABAD: Environmentalists are now suggesting the discontinuation of Oxo biodegradable plastic bags, which have been declared disastrous to the environment, and marine life in particular.

“The United Nations Environment Programme called for an end to Oxo biodegradable plastic bags four years ago,” said an official in the Ministry of Climate Change.

Among the various types of Oxo degradable plastic bags such as the ones that disintegrate after exposure to the sun and the soil, the type that breaks down after reacting with oxygen were introduced by the Pakistan Environment Protection Agency (Pak-EPA) some eight years ago.

UN called for end to use of these bags four years ago, climate change ministry official says

It took hard work and some years to get retail chains such as Metro Cash and Carry, Shaheen Chemists and D. Watson, to mention some, to switch to biodegradable plastic bags, said the senior official from the ministry.

“But Pak-EPA did not realize that it was going from one problem into another,” he added.

He explained that Oxo degradable bags take as long as six months to a year and a half or more to break down into micro plastics.

“Because they do not completely disintegrate, pieces of plastic settle in soil impacting its fertility and crop production. Worst, these tiny pieces of plastics find their way into water channels that eventually end up in rivers and seas and become fish food, choking and killing them. It could also end up inside humans after consuming sea food,” the official said.

If not stopped, he said, Oxo degradable plastics could sometime in the future affect Pakistan’s fish exports especially to the EU, which is strict in observing environmental laws.

Ministry of Climate Change Director General Irfan Tariq conceded that the Oxo degradable bags brought into use not too long ago are an environmental hazard. There were perhaps not many options available to replace non-degradable plastic bags, he said.

“We supported UN when this issue was raised to protect our aquatic and marine environment. We will have to switch to alternate of Oxo degradable bags. The new minister for Climate Change is already aware of such issues and will take necessary measures,” Mr Tariq said.

The senior official also explained how Pakistan discouraged the use of Oxo degradable plastic bags among other countries in the South Asia Cooperative Environment Programme not too long ago.

Offering other alternatives such as recyclable plastic bags or those made from paper and cloth, another senior official in the Ministry encouraged the use of starch based plastic bags engineered to fragment and totally disintegrated within 100 days after reactions with elements in nature such as water and heat.

“Starch based degradable bags are already in use. Pakistan needs to switch to newer eco-friendly technologies, especially when risks and impacts of climate change are amongst the highest in a country like ours,” the official said.

Published in Dawn, August 20th, 2018