Cabinet approves hazardous waste management policy

Published June 29, 2022
Minister for Climate Change Senator Sherry Rehman addresses a press conference in Islamabad on Tuesday. — Photo courtesy: PID
Minister for Climate Change Senator Sherry Rehman addresses a press conference in Islamabad on Tuesday. — Photo courtesy: PID

ISLAMABAD: The federal cabinet on Tuesday approved the National Hazardous Waste Management Policy 2022 with consensus which will be passed on to provinces and implemented at the federal level for international compliance.

At a briefing, Minister for Climate Change Senator Sherry Rehman said: “Before Pakistan becomes a dumping ground for our own and the world’s hazardous waste, the government has gone ahead and made a detailed national policy to manage hazardous waste. In line with our sustainable climate goals of protecting public health and the environment from the devastating impacts of chemicals and hazardous waste materials and ensuring that our imports of such waste is tested for contaminants as well as managed instead of acting as a dumping ground for hazardous waste materials, we will be putting in place a policy for managing hazardous waste that works along scientific lines for the communities most affected by waste pollution.”

The minister said the cabinet had approved the strengthening of classification, transparency, institutional frameworks, a national action plan and more stringent governance infrastructure for regulation of hazardous waste in the country and its international borders.

Arguing that mismanagement of hazardous waste materials had become a serious challenge for Pakistan, the minister said: “Our country has been importing all kinds of bundled waste from different parts of the world with an average annual tonnage of 80,000. To tackle this, we have devised a long-overdue policy. We need to get serious about managing our waste, separating it, and tracking it, instead of the unscientific and unregulated manner it has been handled over the years. The collection, treatment and disposal of waste material have been causing significant harm to human health and the environment.”

The minister said her office had completed consultations with the provinces and Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan as mostly this policy would be up to them to implement. She said it was crucial to start managing hazardous waste as a united front with federal and provincial governments working together to protect environment and people, particularly vulnerable communities at risk.

She argued that hazardous wastes were dangerous materials that could be toxic, ignitable, corrosive, reactive and could take the form of solids, liquids, sludge and contained gasses, generated primarily by chemical production, manufacturing, and other industrial activities.

“Examples include asbestos, hospital waste, electronics including computers, TVs, cell phone batteries, mercury-containing wastes such as thermometers, fluorescent lighting, switches, pesticides, cleaning and polishing chemicals, motor oils, kerosene, petrol, aerosols, propane cylinders, solvent-based paints. The UN has also listed plastics as hazardous waste now, voting to control the international trade in illegal dumping in developing countries. Countries that export their plastic and other hazardous waste must now obtain written permits before moving their waste. These often contain imported plastic scraps with higher amounts of contamination residuals, pest dumps, germs, and infections,” Ms Rehman said.

Talking about the health hazards caused by such waste, she said studies suggested that illegal or poor waste management was the most important worldwide cause of contamination of soil and groundwater.

Ms Rehman said a specialised directorate for managing hazardous waste would be established in the ministry to implement all the relevant provisions of the policy approved by the cabinet.

She said it was also important for the country to be compliant with the Basel, Stockholm, Rotterdam and Minamata conventions. The ministry would be working closely with industry and other relevant institutions to bring down the scale of the damage hazardous chemicals and wastes cause to public health and the environment.

The National Hazardous Waste Management Policy promotes a life cycle approach to manage hazardous waste from its generation to disposal in a manner that does not harm the environment, she said.

“Moreover, as Pakistan shifts toward an industrial-driven economy, there is a higher likelihood of dumping of hazardous waste and poor management. Without a proper channel, awareness, or a policy in place, Pakistan will face a hazardous waste problem that will be too difficult to control,” she added.

Published in Dawn, June 29th, 2022

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