ISLAMABAD: The number of shopping bags produced in Pakistan has increased from 10 million in 199 to 55 billion in 2018, the Senate Standing Committee on Climate Change was told on Monday.
Adviser to the Prime Minister on Climate Change Malik Amin Aslam also told senators that the use of plastic bags is a serious concern for the country because they pollute rivers and negatively impact human health.
He said the Indus River is the second-most polluted river in the world because of plastic bags. Plastic contamination of food and water affects people’s health, he said, and every Pakistan is consuming plastic equivalent to the size of a credit card.
Mr Aslam also said that using polythene bags will be banned in Islamabad from Aug 14, and the provinces will be informed of the policy so they can legislate for themselves.
Ministry should form committee to find solution to plastic bag industry shutdown, unemployment, climate change committee chair says
As an alternative to plastic bags, he said the government is working to adopt the Kenyan model of making shopping bags from plants which will be biodegradable.
He said that in addition to plastic bags, bags used for potato chips are also a pollutant. He said that the government has asked manufacturers of such bags to collect and recycle them, or they too will be banned in the capital.
In response to a question, Minister of State for Climate Change Zartaj Gul said the ban on plastic bags is only for Islamabad. The subject of the environment has been transferred to the provinces under the 18th Amendment, and they will decide whether to ban plastic bags in their regions.
Ms Gul said the federal government’s jurisdiction is limited to the capital, adding that the provinces will be informed of the policy and “will also adopt the policy of the federal government but they should make legislation of their own”.
When asked about the effect on manufacturers, who say that 8,000 industrial units will be closed and a million workers unemployed, she said the ban will not shut down the industry and leave people unemployed but will create a new industry.
“An alternate source will be developed soon. Paper, cloth and jute bags will increase employment for women in home-based industry,” she said.
Representatives of plastic bag manufacturers were also at the meeting, and told senators that increasing the thickness of polythene bags from 15 to 50 microns will reduce their use and end pollution.
They said bags that are 10-12 microns thick cost 25 paisas to produce, while 50 micron thick bags cost Rs3.5 per piece and will reduce use, as people will reuse such bags many times and will not dispose of them out in the open.
They also claimed that more trees will be cut down to make paper bags as an alternative for plastic bags.
Climate change ministry officials challenged the figures of industry and workers, saying there was no registration of plastic bag manufacturers and representatives had shared different figures from those presented before the committee.
Committee chair Senator Sitara Ayaz said the ministry shouldform a technical committee to find a solution to the industry shutdown and the loss of employment for workers, while introducing alternatives to plastic shopping bags.
Climate change officials told the committee that seven months of deliberation and negotiation were held with all the stakeholders, mainly the plastic bags association, recycling association and academia. They said experts and scientists guided the ministry on legislation to ban plastic bags.
Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency Director General Farzana Altaf Shah said Islamabad has a population of 2m, and three to six bags are used per person every day.
She said there are seven environment protection agencies across the country, and meetings will be held on plastic bag alternatives and harm to the environment in order to regulate plastic bags in all the provinces.
The committee also discussed wrapping luggage in plastic at airports, but Aviation Division officials said wrapping luggage in plastic is not mandatory except for pilgrims travelling under the Road to Makkah programme.
Published in Dawn, August 6th, 2019