Success of ban on plastic bags hinges on alternative sources

Updated September 10, 2019

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Around 55bn plastic bags are being used annually in Pakistan. — DawnNewsTV/File
Around 55bn plastic bags are being used annually in Pakistan. — DawnNewsTV/File

KARACHI: Although the provincial government is ready to enforce a ban on plastic bags from October, their replacement with the bags made of paper or cloth remains a big challenge for authorities, who are perhaps unaware of the fact that people in Karachi alone use over 10 billion polythene bags per year.

Any success of the campaign against plastic bags would solely depend on massive production of their alternate, officials and industry sources said.

The Sindh government announcement came earlier this month amidst much media fanfare when Chief Minister’s Law Adviser Barrister Murtaza Wahab, who also holds the portfolio of environment and climate change, had vowed that the fresh ban was different from the past ones as it was imposed across the province.

Before making it effective, he had announced, the provincial government would run a massive campaign to convince consumers as well as traders about the benefits of such a step.

But what is needed to be known for the authorities and consumers is the number of plastic bags which are going to be changed with paper of cloth made stuffs.

Around 55bn plastic bags are being used annually in Pakistan

“Our estimates and even of government institutions are that 55 billion shopping [plastic] bags are being used annually in Pakistan,” said Shoaib Munshi of the Pakistan Plastic Manufacturers Association (PPMA). “Karachi remains the largest user, where 9-10 billion plastic bags are used every year. This is a huge number. To make one billion grocery bags of papers, you need 14 million trees. The ban is not the solution we believe.”

The provincial government, however, sounded firm to implement its decision finding the plastic bags as a key source of causing pollution, garbage mess and the environmental hazards.

Before reaching the decision to ban plastic bags, the authorities claimed to have consulted experts to find justifiable reasons for the sake of a better environment.

“The decision has been taken by the provincial environment department. The provincial government has simultaneously kicked off an awareness campaign about the harms of using plastic bags and in connection with this drive, cloth-made bags have been distributed among people of Karachi to encourage their use,” he said.

But this remains to be seen that how the government executes its plan to replace such a huge quantity of plastic bags with paper of cloth made bags.

“We have proposed that we may produce [plastic bags] up to 60 microns thickness,” said Mr Munshi of the PPMA. “We have asked the government that if they are able to organise collection of all the plastic bags — big and small — from streets and garbage collection stations we are willing to buy the entire waste from them.”

Dr Kauser Ali Syed, head of the department of polymer and petrochemical at the NED University of Engineering Technology, supported the government move since he knew plastic neither disintegrated nor can it be recycled.

He was in agreement with the suggestion that manufacturing thicker plastic bags, weighing a minimum of 60 microns, could help handle the situation to a large extent.

“Currently, plastic bags of 10-20 microns are used. The 60-micron bags will be expensive that would automatically help in reducing the consumption due to higher prices. In our society, we prefer to reuse things which cost more so people will not throw them away as easily they have been doing today,” he said.

Published in Dawn, September 10th, 2019