Despite its pollution woes, Punjab has failed to curtail dependency on plastic
Given the province’s struggles with controlling pollution, one would imagine that a province wide polythene bag is strictly enforced but that is not the case in Punjab, where consumers and retailers both cannot seem to end their reliance on plastic shopping bags.
Back in August of 2020, the Lahore High Court imposed a complete ban on the use of plastic bags in the province; however, two years later the Punjab government has failed to implement the orders, even in Lahore, which has struggled with a pollution problem over the past few decades. Since the orders have not been implemented, according to officials of the Lahore Waste Management Company (LWMC), which is responsible for the city’s sanitation, all small and large sewage drains are constantly clogged due to plastic bag waste.
“Tons of plastic bags and plastic waste are removed from the drains every week but to no avail,” an official of the LWMC said, adding that Lahore’s plastic usage problem was severe. However, it takes two to tango and it does not seem like retailers and consumers, in Lahore, support the ban either.
Abdul Rahman, a vegetable and fruit retailer in Gulberg, when quizzed as to why he was using plastic bags despite the ban, said that his customers rarely brought bags of their own, so he had little choice. “For the ban to work, customers should carry their own reusable or cloth bags but no one makes that effort,” Rahman remarked. Ayesha Munir, who was busy running errands in the same market, was of the view that bringing a bag from home felt like an uphill task.
“It is also challenging to wash the fabric bag over and over.” Munir suggested that just like bigger departmental stores and bakeries, small retailers should also give their own fabric bags and just charge extra money for them. “If this is implemented by all retailers, then no one will use plastic bags,” she opined.
Loss of livelihoods
On the other hand, Senior Vice President of Pakistan Plastic Manufacturing Association, Raja Umar Nawaz, believes that an end to plastic bags means the loss of livelihood for many. “At present there are around 8,000 small and big units across Punjab which manufacture polythene bags.
Nearly 1 million people are employed in them. A complete ban means that these families will lose their bread and butter,” said Nawaz. When asked about the negative impact on the environment, Nawaz said that it was not just plastic bags that were causing pollution but other factors as well, which the government had failed to control. “The Sindh government has reduced the thickness of polythene bags to 40 microns.
Apart from this, oxo-biodegradable has been declared as a mandatory component in the production of plastic bags and they have put a blanket ban on production of small size bags,” informed Nawaz, adding that these were practical ways to reduce the environmental hazard from plastic bags instead of an outright ban. However, Punjab’s Environment Protection Agency (EPA) is not sold on the idea of using oxo-biodegradable material in the production of plastic bags.
According to the EPA’s Director, Naseem-ur-Rehman, the department has been researching oxo-biodegradable materials for several years, but has yet to come to a conclusion on whether the material is beneficial or harmful to human health.
The officials further said that it is not clear yet whether the use of oxo-biodegradable material will help the plastic dissolve quickly and absorb into the soil. “Furthermore, it must also be ascertained as to what material will be decomposed in the soil and whether its elements will become part of the crops and food. If any authentic study report comes out in this regard, the EPA will allow its use,” Rehman explained while talking to The Express Tribune.