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Importantly, in the EU’s Circular Economy Action Plan, plastic is one of the priority areas of this circular economy model.

The action plan proposes “smarter separate collection and certification schemes for collectors and sorters to divert recyclable plastics away from the landfills and incineration into recycling”. This strategy lays foundations to a new plastic economy where plastic products undergo the Rs of sustainability such as reuse, recycle and repair to develop more sustainable products (European Commission).

Plastic pollution and the textile industry

Plastics have emerged as critical materials in the textile manufacturing. Each year, 342 million barrels of petroleum is used by the fashion industry to produce plastic-based fibres which are responsible for 73% of microfiber pollution in the Arctic waters.

Our planet is choking on plastic

Even more worrying is that a tiny proportion of these fabrics are recycled (0.06% of all textile waste is recycled globally) while majority, that is not collected separately, ends up in mixed waste.

The mounting focus on plastic fibres for textile manufacturing has made textile industry the third largest contributor to plastic waste generation.

While understanding the detrimental environmental and human health impacts of synthetic textiles, it is crucial to consider the entire life cycle, as micro-plastics shed from these textiles throughout their life cycle; from manufacturing, through use, washing and their final disposal (European Environment Agency).

Sustainability has gained a massive recognition from states, brands and manufacturers globally. Customers are considering mindful purchasing and they want to know the textile footprint.

However, making sustainability a new normal not only requires enormous behavioral and mindset shifts but also robust resource allocation and a strong commitment to avoid fossil-fuel based virgin plastics.

Integrating sustainability in every aspect of operations will shift the primary focus to the circular economy models of recycling textile waste rather than manufacturing new textiles. For countries with textile business models reliant on new manufacturing, this sustainability shift will be an utter turnabout to reimagine and recreate the existing textile value chains.

Regrettably, no explicit research and evidence is present on the rising plastic pollution (micro-plastics) from the textile value chain in Pakistan.

While the industry is increasingly focusing on manufacturing more textiles, as it is Pakistan’s largest export sector and the backbone of the region’s economy, the resulting micro- and macro-level consequences of micro-plastics and plastic-based fibres on environment and human health are neglected.

With the increasing consumption and demand of textiles both globally and within the country, more post-consumer textile waste is entering the dumping sites and landfills thus posing existential threats to the region’s ecosystem.

Conclusion

Plastic production and waste generation is more than ever now. Fortunately, the global community has shown committed efforts to overcome this challenge through mandatory compliance requirements from both consumers and producers such as ISO 14001 (Environment Management System) and Oeko Tex.

This is crucial because according to the OECD, stringent policy implementation and global efforts could reduce plastic waste by a third and almost completely eliminate its leakage to the environment.

In case of Pakistan, overcoming plastic pollution requires collective efforts from the state, private sector and the general public to make the country sustainable and climate resilient, rather than the incompetent and weak enforcements such as the recent ban on single-use plastics in Islamabad.

Recommendations

1- A national Plastic Monitoring Taskforce must be established to maintain a national database on plastic production and consumption as well as to regulate plastic waste mismanagement, non-compliances and littering

2- This taskforce should also introduce a national complaints and feedback mechanism to regulate non-compliances and record stakeholders’’ concerns

3- Regulations such as ban on plastics must be formulated through stakeholder engagement and provide alternatives for the end users

4- A comprehensive circular economy model for waste segregation at the source, reuse, repair and recycling must be designed and stringently implemented

5- Strict penalties and fines for manufacturers and consumers as well as litterers must be imposed in case of waste mismanagement

6- Bold Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) protocols should be designed to hold manufactures accountable to manage and recycle their plastic waste with taxes and penalties for non-compliances

7- Informal waste pickers must be brought under the umbrella of a formal waste collection, segregation and recycling system

8- Incentives should be provided to encourage plastic recycling plants as well as household-level recycling, reduce and reuse techniques

9- The existing waste dumping sites should be identified and managed to avoid plastic leakage to the ecosystems

10- A formal curriculum and awareness campaigns on the long-term consequences of plastic pollution should be implemented

Recommendations for the industry

1- For the industry to comply with the international conventions on environment and join collective national efforts to counter impacts of plastic pollution, it must conduct life cycle and impact assessments of the entire value chain pertaining plastic usage and leakage This includes assessment at the sourcing, during manufacturing and at the final destination (landfill and/or dumping sites);

2- Fibres for manufacturing should be opted such that the sustainability performance of the entire value chain is higher;

3- Collaboration with academia should be strengthened to promote research on advanced technology such as washing machines with filters to control micro-plastic emissions from the ETPs;

4- Industries should align their business models with the principles of textile circularity to promote product reuse and recycling and less dumping and incineration;

5- Plastic bags for the cotton picking in the textile industry must be discouraged and alternatives such as cotton bags should be used

6- Fertilizer bags/packaging should be made from biodegradable material instead of plastics;

7- Textile companies must participate in and promote CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) initiatives such as awareness campaigns and cleanliness drives and allocate incentives to encourage waste segregation and collection; and

8- Manufacturers must take the responsibility of their plastic use and leakage and establish small recycling plants at their facilities to recycle plastic.

(Concluded. This was the last part of a two-part series of articles)

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

Author Image

Shahid Sattar

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.

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