No more plastic bags in capital

February 01, 2013


ISLAMABAD, Jan 31: The Pakistan Environment Protection Agency (Pak-Epa) on Thursday notified a regulation prohibiting manufacturing, import, sale and use of non-biodegradable plastic bags and other plastic products in the Islamabad capital territory from April 1.

Approved by the Ministry of Climate Change and after obtaining consent from the Law and Justice Division, the Prohibition of Non-biodegradable Plastic Products (Manufacture, Sale and Usage) Regulations 2013 was announced at a press conference here.

“This landmark step taken by our ministry will help control spread of waste plastic bags (choking drains and polluting landscape) and enable exporters to comply with the environment-friendly packaging demanded in the international market,” said Minister for Climate Change Rana Mohammad Farooq Saeed Khan.

The minister said the technology to manufacture biodegradable properties in plastic was simple. “A small quantity of olefin (oil) based additive (1 to 3 per cent) is mixed with the raw material to develop the biodegradable properties. Bags made with this technology if left in the open air or water absorb oxygen gradually weakening internal bond of plastic material thereby allowing biological degradation to take place,” said the minister.

Asif Shuja, the director general of Pak-Epa, explained that plastic bag was introduced in the USA in 1977. By 1982, plastic bags gained popularity and came to Pakistan.

“The technology was so cheap that people installed the machinery in homes to make the bags. Because of the throwaway culture in Pakistan, the disposal of plastic bags became a concern,” said Mr Shuja, explaining how the Cabinet Division had banned plastic bags in 1993.

Following directions from the Pakistan Environmental Protection Council (head by the prime minister) in 2004, Pak-Epa conducted a study that showed that in the early 1990s as many as 12 billion plastic bags a year were produced in Pakistan. By the years 2007-08, the production went higher than 55 billion per year. And the projected projection of plastic bags by 2014-15 stood at 112 billion a year. Today 200,000 people directly and 600,000 indirectly are involved in the production of plastic bags in more than 8,000 manufacturing units spread across the country, mostly Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar.

Although the regulation is Islamabad specific and there are no plastic factories within the limits of the capital, the minister explained that provinces had been on board to convince the manufacturers in their respective provinces to introduce oxo-biodegradable bags.

“We will take all provinces, where plastic products are manufactured, on board to help implement the ban on the production of non-biodegradable items to conserve environment,” said the minister. However, some environmentalists wondered why a particular foreign brand that made oxy-biodegradable bags was being promoted.

The oxo-biodegradable bags on display in the room where the press conference was held had three months life span. After that, reaction with either oxygen or sunlight would decompose the bags into ash like humus.

However, some of the bags available with Dawn since January 2012 and another since June 2012 are still as strong as brand new.

Nonetheless, the Pak-Epa director general explained that different multinational companies and users were approached to promote oxo-biodegradable plastic bags in the country.

“Lahore and Karachi chambers of commerce have held workshops on biodegradable plastics to create awareness among entrepreneurs,” said Mr Shuja, explaining how the government had also abolished the duty on the import of olefin to encourage the technology.