According to the UNEP, 3.3 million tons of plastic waste is produced in Pakistan each year. 250 million tons of garbage consists of plastic bottles, pet bottles and food scraps (WWF).
As Pakistan has the highest percentage of mismanaged plastic waste in the South Asia; consequently, most plastic waste ends up in the landfills, dumping sites and water bodies thus causing serious concerns to the environment and human health.
Pakistan’s broken plastic system
One of the major reasons leading to massive plastic mismanagement in Pakistan is that plastic waste is an enormous behavioural challenge. The current behavioral patterns indicate that people prefer plastic products as they are freely available (complementary) but also cheaper.
Moreover, the mentality of people revolves around the idea that pollution management is government’s responsibility, individual efforts are not effective, success means buying more stuff and waste bins are unhygienic to be kept inside the households.
This irresponsible and ill behavioral lifestyle of a vastly growing population indicates a lack of understanding of the long-term consequences of plastic pollution as well as lack of intrinsic motivation to overcome the pollution challenges in the country.
Furthermore, structural ineffectiveness is another critical barrier to the plastic waste management in Pakistan. Regulations and policies such as ban on plastic products are not inclusive (top-bottom approaches) and lose their long-term credibility as they do not explicitly monitor and penalize non-compliances but also do not provide efficient alternatives designed through stakeholder engagement.
Waste producers and litterers including general public are not held accountable for their actions. The current incompetent waste management system adds to the scale of the challenge. The system is not aligned with the circular economy model and lacks waste segregation as well as 6Rs of sustainability (rethink, refuse, reduce, reuse, repair and recycle) solutions.
Pakistan has a largest network of waste pickers who play a crucial role in collecting garbage from around the cities. However, these waste pickers are part of the informal economy and are not integrated to a formal system of waste collection.
This leaves tons of waste collected by these informal waste pickers unmonitored, most of which ends up in the landfills or burning sites, ultimately leaking to the ecosystems. Pakistan’s current plastic system is broken.
It indicates that regulation does not encourage small plastic recycling plants on business sites or waste collection sites. Significantly, plastic producing and consuming businesses and corporates are not held accountable for their plastic polluting value chains.
Plastic has been a ubiquitous commodity in every aspect of human lives due to the increasing industrial scale adoption in construction, healthcare, domestic materials, packaging, manufacturing and many other sectors.
According to the OECD global plastic outlook, the annual plastic production globally has reached 460 Mt in 2019 compared to 234 Mt in 2000 and plastic waste reached 353 Mt in 2019 compared to 156 Mt in 2000. Out of this proportion, only 9% was recycled, 19% was incinerated while 20% ended up in the sanitary landfills.
The remaining 22% was disposed of in dumpsites, burned in open pits or leaked to the environment. Moreover, mismanaged plastic is the main source of plastic leakage to the environment. For instance, in 2019, around 22Mt of plastic materials were leaked to the environment.
The vast majority includes macro-plastics, most of which cause persistent plastic pollution due to inadequate collection and disposal techniques.
Consequently, the relentless increase in plastic production and consumption has posed massive persistent risks to the environment and human health by polluting ecosystems due to landfilling, dumping and incineration and open burning. Plastics have a high carbon footprint and emit 3.4% of global GHG emissions. Research indicates that plastic pollution turns soil infertile, contaminates groundwater and heavily disturbs marine life as plastics persist in the aquatic ecosystems for decades and are consumed by marine species.
Micro-plastics enter human body through inhalation and consumption of contaminated water and food which poses serious health hazards such as endocrine disruption and cancer.
Right policy interventions at the right time have successfully curbed plastic pollution to significant levels. The Philippines, for instance, has a Plastic Monitoring Task Force (WMTF), that monitors compliances to the waste management ordinances in the country.
This effective monitoring has penalized and shut down establishments for consistent non-compliances. Australia has a National Plastics Plan (2021), which focuses on strong government-industry partnership to phase out plastics, has set recycling targets for 2025 and focuses on including individuals to reach national plastic reduction targets through information dissemination, consistent curbside collection and container deposit schemes.
Moreover, Mexico’s ample federal, state and municipal regulations along with external investments recovered 50% tons of PET bottles in 2015 to recycle with PET recycling plants.
The rising legal pressure held hotels accountable to comply with the environmental regulations by reducing plastic use to a significant level.
Other groundbreaking government initiatives include ban against all single-use plastics in coastal hotels and restaurants by the Bangladesh’s High Court, plastic-recycling innovation through plastic roads building in India and Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) programs in the United States to put responsibility of packaging waste on companies.
These EPR programs aim to shift cardboard, plastic containers and non-recyclable packaging recycling and disposal costs to the manufacturers.
(To be continued on Sunday)
Copyright Business Recorder, 2023
PUBLIC SECTOR EXPERIENCE: He has served as Member Energy of the Planning Commission of Pakistan & has also been an advisor at: Ministry of Finance Ministry of Petroleum Ministry of Water & Power
PRIVATE SECTOR EXPERIENCE: He has held senior management positions with various energy sector entities and has worked with the World Bank, USAID and DFID since 1988. Mr. Shahid Sattar joined All Pakistan Textile Mills Association in 2017 and holds the office of Executive Director and Secretary General of APTMA.
He has many international publications and has been regularly writing articles in Pakistani newspapers on the industry and economic issues which can be viewed in Articles & Blogs Section of this website.