WHILE plastic waste poses a major threat to the environment and human health, and authorities have over the years launched numerous efforts to curtail the production and sale of single-use plastic products, lack of implementation has rendered these attempts ineffective. This is due to the fact that there is no coordinated strategy to deal with the problem, and propose sustainable alternatives to the public as well as vendors. The Sindh administration has once again announced a ban on the manufacturing, sale and use of plastic bags. Efforts in the province to do away with single-use plastic bags, known colloquially as ‘shoppers’, go back to at least 2006; every so often the administration announces its resolve to wage war on plastic bags, only for the issue to be forgotten after a few manufacturing premises are raided, and a few vendors fined. Efforts to ban plastic bags have also been made in Islamabad as well as in other places, but have largely been unsuccessful.
To be sure, the threat posed by single-use plastics is significant. They choke our drains, end up in our rivers and seas and make their way into the water we drink and the food we eat via microplastics. Therefore, a national strategy to reduce, and one day eliminate, single-use plastics is essential. Simply slapping bans is not enough. Sustained public awareness campaigns need to be carried out educating citizens about the dangers single-use plastics pose. People should be encouraged to use cloth bags instead, and their manufacturing needs to be encouraged. In fact, the manufacturers of plastic bags — who complain that they will be left without livelihoods if the ban on plastic is enforced — should be assisted by the state to shift to the production of more environment-friendly materials. Moreover, Pakistan has a serious solid waste management problem; as per UN figures, plastic consists of nearly 9pc of municipal solid waste. It makes sense then to recycle waste. While developed countries may be decades ahead of us in waste management and recycling practices, India has also announced a plan to do away with single-use plastics, and some of its states, such as Tamil Nadu, have shown decent results in the effort to reduce plastic usage. In Sindh’s case, the federal minister for climate change should ensure her party, which rules the province, enforces the ban, while a national plan to fight plastic pollution is the need of the times.
Published in Dawn, August 5th, 2022