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The problem of solid waste management in the financial hub of Pakistan is no secret. The Pakistan government estimates that 87,000 tonnes of solid waste is generated per week in Karachi alone.

The saying ‘one man's trash is another man's treasure’ could not be truer, as 30% of this waste is recyclable, and can be utilised for economic gain.

Yet, the waste that is powering cities in many parts of the world ends up polluting Karachi’s land and waterbodies from Seaview beach to the Marina Club to the Nehr-e-Khayam and beyond. This comprises of medical waste, chemical waste, food waste and plastic waste that are all disposed off together in the same locations.

The concept of a circular economy can easily be realised through the adoption of sustainable practices such as segregating waste at source.

Inorganic waste such as plastic bottles should be integrated into a circular economy of production, collection and recycling and transformed into raw materials for industries such as construction and plastic production. Organic waste such as vegetable peels and leftover food can be composted to use as fertiliser or used for energy production.

Corporate social responsibility to reduce waste

Globally, there is a trend to put the burden of responsibility on the manufacturer.

By conceptualising the lifecycle of the product from raw material sourcing to end use, products can be designed for reuse. Corporations must also move from an era of being sustainability profitable to profitably sustainable by innovating business models that thrive on circularity as opposed to linearity.

As a young person concerned about climate change and the environment, one can not help but wonder how we could change our own waste disposal habits — as individuals and as corporations

Furthermore, industries that employ the use of toxic materials have a social responsibility to dispose off this waste in a manner consistent with local regulations but they are frequently found guilty of negligence.

Hospitals are meant to provide well-being to those who pay them for their clinical services, but contribute to health-deterioration of those who don’t — hospital waste often ends up being dumped on the streets exposing pedestrians to potentially fatal diseases.

Businesses based in the manufacturing industries producing toxic waste must go beyond regulatory requirement and hold themselves to greater ethical standards and prevent the toxic waste being dumped in densely-populated neighbourhoods.

Furthermore, consumer-orientated businesses such as restaurants have evolved and options for delivery have increased packaging use in Pakistan.

While restaurants primarily deal with organic waste, their takeaway packages usually contain a higher average weight of inorganic as compared to organic waste. Although restaurants do have a responsibility to cut down the amount of packaging used per delivery, the responsibility for its proper segregated disposal is that of the consumer.

Where does greater responsibility for waste disposal fall?

In a survey conducted to understand prevalent consumer attitudes towards waste management amongst Karachi’s youth, it was identified that 70% of the respondents did not recycle waste in any capacity, while 75% did not engage in waste segregation. 80% of the respondents, aged 17-24, considered themselves more climate-aware than the adults around them yet, due to a lack of awareness, struggled to adopt and maintain climate-friendly habits. 50% of respondents identified they purchase at least one soft drink daily.

Both materials primarily used in soft drink packaging, namely aluminum and PET, are easily recyclable but make their way to either Deh Pass Gondal and Deh Jam Chakro landfills or end up on the city streets.

The most common suggestion our respondents had for a climate revolution was to reduce the use of plastic. However, it is not plastic that is the enemy — it is poor disposal and specifically single-use plastics.

According to multiple studies, the production of plastic has a much lower carbon footprint than alternatives such as glass and metal. Secondly, plastic has a versatility in use; transportation of glass produces more carbon emissions from the vehicles that carry them due to their weight and bulk.

A greater effort needs to be made to reduce the use of single-use plastics and for its proper disposal.

Approximately 76% of respondents believe that awareness was the most important aspect of a consumer-led climate revolution and we couldn’t agree more. Spreading awareness can come in the form of conversations with domestic staff about the reality of climate change, learning from the elderly about the changes in weather patterns they have observed in their lifetime or simply by re-posting and forwarding intellectual material on social media sites.

As a young person concerned about climate change and the environment, one can not help but wonder how we could change our own waste disposal habits — as individuals and as corporations.

Producers need to take steps to produce a good or service with as low a carbon footprint as possible and consumers need to consume responsibly in a manner consistent with advice from environmental experts.

Consumers should take the initiative to learn more about the final destination of their waste, along with adopting a more proactive approach towards community-driven sustainability.

However, the duty to curb climate crisis needs to move from ‘whose responsibility’ to ‘how to effectively take responsibility’, and this will require the youth, being most climate-aware, to come forward and show responsible behaviour.

The article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Business Recorder or its owners

Hasan Rizwan Diwan

The writer is an A-level Student at the Karachi Grammar School, and currently serves as General Secretary of the UN-affiliated Pakistan Climate Action Society

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