OUR world is not reusable nor can it be made perishable. As the plastic tide spins out of control, World Environment Day, being observed this year with a focus on plastic pollution, is a requisite to stem it. An alarming level of plastic — 8m to 10m tonnes — spills into the oceans each year, becoming a devastating rogue wave for the ecosystem. Take the North Pacific Ocean where a mass of litter comprising common trash, belongings and fishing equipment is known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. There isn’t much comfort for life above water either: UNEP sounded the alarm last month when it stated that, considering the invisible “microplastic fragments” plaguing the highest peaks and the ocean floors, single-use plastics and disposable consumption must drop to half as the next few years are precarious. These were identified in “blood, breast milk and placentae” — foreboding signs of a noxious marine and animal feed and food chain. The report also pronounced plastic as the source of 19pc of global greenhouse emissions by 2040; it presented a ‘reuse, recycle and diversify’ approach for used materials to meet the diminution target.
The same month, climate ministers at the G7 summit vowed to halt surplus plastic pollution in their nations by 2040. However, the most significant development that can set the path to recovery was in Paris — some 200 countries came together and assented to negotiate an international treaty which plugs the plastic crunch, similar to the Paris Agreement on climate change. The charge of mapping an agenda to lessen global plastic excess fell squarely on the shoulders of UN affiliates. Likely to be settled by the end of 2024, the accord should translate into a powerful, stringent plastic policy with legal teeth, resolute on restoring the globe. Closer to home, Bangladesh and Afghanistan have banned single-use plastic fare. But Pakistan and India’s undertaking to phase out expendable plastic has sunk.
Pakistan’s pollution laws — Section 11 of PEPA forbids the discharge of effluents, waste and air pollutants — are met with oblivion. And resistance from retailers and consumers defeated the government’s SRO to ban plastic bags in 2020. In April, the climate change ministry disclosed that the production level of plastic waste was 3m tonnes and, according to UNEP, only 3pc is recycled. If unaddressed, this will stand at 12m tonnes by 2040. A World Bank survey in 2022 claimed 10,000 tonnes of macro-plastics flow through the Indus into the sea annually. Meanwhile, untreated sewage and solid refuse continue to ravage Karachi’s marine ecology. The fatal threat of toxic plastic, which makes flora, fauna and humans sick, must emerge as a rebel yell for environmentalists and media. Also, without a habit revolution, a plastic ban is just the tip of a rapidly dissolving iceberg.
Published in Dawn, June 5th, 2023