ISLAMABAD: Islamabad is failing to become a model city as single use plastic bags are back in use.

After three months of awareness campaigns, the government had placed a ban on the use of plastic bags in August last year. The ban was followed by raids by Pakistan Environment Protection Agency (Pak-EPA) and civic administration across the city on shopkeepers, general stores and malls. Fines were imposed on those violating the ban.However, the restrictions seem to have relaxed, and plastic bags are back in use as if they are legal to use in the capital city. While some corner shops, kiosks and hawkers packed fruits and vegetables that too secretly fearing penalties, every store big and small in markets, malls and weekly bazaars is packing groceries and items of daily use in single use plastic bags.

“Pak-EPA is way too understaffed to enforce the ban especially without the district administration that seems to have forgotten the issue. Although the ban was a significant image building initiative by a government that claims to be champions of the cause in fighting climate change, it is now more focused on planting trees,” a senior official told Dawn.

The official also said once the vendors who would decline customers’ request to pack items in plastic bags and encouraged them to bring cotton bags along are now selling goods in plastic bags.

“Also the awareness campaigns seemed to have paid off. Citizens had taken to carrying their own cotton bags everywhere. It had become a standard practice to carry bags in their cars. May be that campaign needs to be restarted through text messages and advertisements,” the official added.Oxy-biodegradable plastic bags are also still in significant use.

These bags cause more harm to humans and the environment than a single use plastic bag. After reacting with the elements such as air and sunlight, oxy-biodegradable bags break down and disintegrate into tiny pieces that can be inhaled. These are extremely hazardous for marine life.

However, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Climate Change, Mohammad Saleem, said the government was still committed to enforcing the ban and penalising shopkeepers for violations.

“Pak-EPA has a huge mandate including focusing rising air pollution but it is understaffed. Still it takes action wherever law is violated,” he said.

When contacted, Deputy Commissioner Islamabad Hamza Shafqaat said his officers were enforcing the law whereever and whenever the ban on plastic bags was violated.

“Across various markaz, our teams continue conducting raids to check use of plastic bags. Not once has the government let it slide wherever use of plastic bags has been reported,” the DC added.

Published in Dawn, January 3rd, 2021

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