KARACHI: In the absence of an alternative, the city administration with the support of provincial authorities and law enforcement agencies is set to undertake a gigantic task by fully enforcing an eight-year-old ban on all plastic bags in Karachi after Ashura, it emerged on Sunday.
The authorities believe that widespread use of plastic bags — a more than a billion pieces of such products are used each year in the country — after becoming an environmental hazard has now started taking a heavy toll on the city’s infrastructure, sewerage system and municipal services.
Last week the Sindh government had announced initiating a stringent action against manufacture, sale and use of all plastic bags across the province.
As the government is ready to initiate the action, the question arises about the effectiveness of the new move as the ban was already in place since 2014 hardly affecting the production, sale and use of the plastic bags.
Industry source says 10bn shoppers used in Karachi annually and it is not known what other product would replace them
“It is true that the ban has been there since 2014,” said Karachi Administrator and Sindh government spokesman Barrister Murtaza Wahab.
“But the problem is that the city or district administration cannot enforce that curb with certain resources. This time the move is different because we have taken everyone onboard, including the provincial government, the police and other relevant authorities. So after Ashura, we hope that a notification will be issued that will lead to enforcement of the ban,” he said.
However, a question remains about the outcome of the fresh move which would deprive Karachiites of plastic bag which has become an essential daily use item.
Intrinsic to city lifestyle
The widespread use of plastic bags, mainly in urban setting, is also supporting certain industries to grow.
“The industry estimates and even government institutions suggest that 55 billion shopping [plastic] bags are used annually in Pakistan,” said an industry source citing the data compiled by the Pakistan Plastic Manufacturers Association (PPMA).
“Being the largest city in terms of area and population, Karachi tops among others where 9-10 billion plastic bags are used every year. This is a huge number. I am not sure what other product would replace them in such a large quantity. These are not just bags, they have become our lifestyle,” he added.
Despite that argument, which mostly relies on huge numbers of plastic bags production and widespread use in the society, experts discourage the use of plastic and suggest more technological and innovative ways to gradually come out of this “environmental hazard” in a more productive way.
Recycling of plastic
Dr Saud Hashmi, who’s the chairman of the department of polymer and petrochemical at the NED University of Engineering Technology, has recently launched an initiative at the varsity campus to make it plastic free.
“We have initiated this project in collaboration with a multinational [fast-moving consumer goods],” he said. “The objective is to set an example through an innovative way on the basis of technology to convert or recycle them.”
He said: “The same recycling process at least allows us to melt this polythene material into household commodities. So I believe before banning anything completely, make its use a little difficult or expensive. So the people may switch to healthier trends to avoid financial burden.”
He was in agreement with the thought that using only thicker plastic bags, weighing a minimum of 60 microns, would continue to add to the problem which the city was currently facing.
He suggested that the only environment-friendly, workable and cheap replacement of plastic bag was the use of cloth shopping bag.
From the platform of his university, Dr Hashmi also cited various initiatives and research projects which were going on that helped convert the plastic product into useful items.
Plastic chocking drains
The city administration on the other hand sounds more determined against the use of plastic bags after the relief efforts following the recent rains led to the fact that the drainage system of Karachi was mostly choked due to thousands of tonnes of plastic bags found in nullahs.
“One can’t imagine how challenging it has become to restore our drainage system,” said Karachi administrator Wahab. “Despite spending huge money, deploying enhanced workforce and using every available machine, these bags fail every effort.”
“So it’s no more about thicker or some modified kind of plastic bag. We are going for a complete ban on this product. This is in the interest of everyone,” he said.
Published in Dawn, August 8th, 2022