ISLAMABAD: Inger Andersen, who is the executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on Wednesday, said Pakistan was the second largest domestic market for plastic with limited recycling potential of 18pc and only 3pc plastic was recycled in Pakistan.

She was speaking at a lecture on ‘Environmental Governance in Addressing Plastic Pollution and the Role of CSOs’ here at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI).

Ms Andersen said each year 400 million tonnes of plastic products were generated out of which 300 million tonnes ended up in the global waste basket recklessly, creating a hazard for the environment.

“UNEP is not anti-plastic but anti-plastic in environment. Once plastic is part of the economy, it should be kept in cycle rather than being used once and then disposed of where it ends up in landfills, marine and water bodies as well as in low-lying urban vicinities,” she said.

Inger Andersen says 400m tonnes of plastic products generated each year, out of which 300m tonnes end up in global waste basket

Highlighting the extensive infiltration of plastic in peoples’ lives and the entire value-chain, the UNEP official said: “We must be part of the solution and must have a shared responsibility particularly not only in using plastic packaging for goods but also at different stages during transit.”

She said that it was the responsibility of brands and consumers to reduce, reuse, recycle and refuse by rethinking packaging and how it was delivered to consumers. She called upon the civil society to play its role in advocating the issue, generating scientific data, and creating awareness to reduce plastic waste in the environment.

“As we make strides in this regard, we must think of garbage collectors, especially young children and how they must not be left behind and should be provided alternative, safe, decent livelihoods and sustainable incomes,” she added.

Stressing the need for stringent legislation to reduce waste and improve recycling, she said that even if plastic was mechanically or chemically recycled, it must be considered that it does not come without cost and chemical recycling, particularly with a huge carbon footprint.

Responding to a question, she said that stringent regulations, awareness on content and chemistry of plastic and incentivising were critical to reduce plastic waste. “As many as 36 countries in Africa have banned single use plastics and public awareness is very high deterring the use of plastics there,” she said, adding that strict public enforcement would catalyse action from the private sector to increase recycling and discourage the use of virgin plastics. She said that when the cost of plastic use for businesses increases, the private sector would find and mobilise resources for themselves.

To another question, she responded that 65pc of global plastic waste came in single use while only 35pc was recycled and this must be increased. The trans-boundary dumping of waste through illegal means was still a pertinent issue, which needs an increase in vigilance and requires solutions to address the plastic challenge rather than pushing it to different locations, she concluded.

Retired ambassador Shafqat Kakakhel, in his welcome remarks, said out of the total 9 billion tonnes of plastic waste produced since the 1950s, 7 billion tonnes was still circulating in various forms in landfills, dumps and aquatic bodies, making it one of the most pertinent cotemporary challenges.

Mr Kakakhel said that currently UNEP was spearheading momentous initiatives for preventing further increase and potentially ruling back hazardous plastic pollution as a consequence of the industrial revolution.

Lauding the efforts of UNEP and World Environment Assembly, he called for initiating inter-governmental negotiations for developing a legally binding instrument for plastic pollution particularly the pollution of marine environment by 2024. Pakistan was also confronted with industrial revolution and despite drives in major cities to control and minimise the use of micro and macro-plastics, so far, no remarkable progress has been achieved, he said.

Published in Dawn, February 2nd, 2023

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