Hazardous waste

Published July 4, 2022

GIVEN we have not yet developed streamlined systems for managing locally produced hazardous waste, we are inviting disaster by becoming a dumping ground for global hazardous waste. A parliamentary committee on climate change was informed on Thursday that massive amounts of such material was being imported from a number of countries, including the UK, Iran, UAE and Saudi Arabia among others. Last year, the UK alone dispatched 40,000 tonnes of waste to Pakistan, while Iran and the UAE accounted for 25,000 and 20,000 tonnes, respectively. As explained in the meeting, the recycling industry across the country extracted metals such as gold, copper and aluminium from the imported waste. The economic benefits of developing countries importing waste from developed nations are lost when the practice is not properly regulated. Indeed, many environmentalists criticise the international waste trade for reinforcing inequality on a global scale.

Pakistan itself generates 30m tonnes of municipal solid waste annually. Of this, 10pc to 14pc is categorised as hazardous waste, which includes hospital waste, e-waste and pesticides. Our surface and groundwater resources are already under threat from climate change and unsustainable industrial and agricultural practices. The lack of comprehensive legislation and an unscientific approach towards recycling — including inappropriate handling and disposal of hazardous waste — is exacerbating the issue, and posing risks to human health through diversified channels. There are various ways of recycling hazardous waste. These include reclamation, which entails processing a material to salvage a reusable product; combustion for energy recovery that involves burning the hazardous waste as a fuel or using it as an ingredient to create fuel; etc. However, such recycling requires significant safeguards to be in place if the process itself is not to pose risks. That is also an area where properly implemented regulations come in. But there is a lot of ground to cover before we can arrive at that level of competency. Consider that in 2019, 624 containers carrying all manner of waste were dumped along the country’s coastline, with the private party that imported it unable to be traced. It is vital that the government devise policies and related implementation mechanisms to effectively collect and manage waste as well as rationalise the import of hazardous waste. Last week, the federal cabinet approved the National Waste Management Policy 2022 which aims to do precisely that. In this endeavour, the provinces, particularly their environment protection agencies, have a critical role to play.

Published in Dawn, July 4th, 2022

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