Faiza Ilyas – November 26, 2019
KARACHI: Apparently clueless on how to implement its ban on plastic bags effective in official papers from Oct 1, the government decided on Monday to start monitoring border entry points to check “reported transport of harmful polythene bags into the province”.
The decision was taken at a meeting chaired by the secretary for environment, climate change and coastal development, Khan Mohammad Mahar, and attended by Sindh Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) additional director general Waqar Hussain Phulpoto, director (technical) Ashiq Langha and deputy director (technical) Waris Gabol, among others.
Sources said the secretary shared his concern over the sale, purchase and manufacture of non-degradable polythene bags and vowed that the government would forcefully implement its ban on these products and take offenders to task.
Sources said a Pakistan Plastic Manufacturers Association representative during the meeting rejected the perception that “harmful plastic bags” were being manufactured in Sindh and claimed that such bags were making their way into Sindh either from Punjab or neighbouring Iran as single-use plastic bags, which had been banned in Sindh, were widely available in those areas at cheap prices.
He, however, admitted that there were cottage industries manufacturing polythene bags in some districts of Sindh.
“The polythene bags which are banned in Sindh must not be allowed to be transported here. For this purpose, letters would be written to all relevant departments monitoring provincial borders to include banned plastic bags in their list of prohibited items,” a Sepa spokesperson quoted the secretary as saying.
The secretary, he said, also directed Sepa to carry out checks in the markets across Sindh and take action against people engaged in the business of harmful polythene bags, ensuring that the ban was implemented in letter and spirit.
Govt strategy not working
Speaking to Dawn over the government’s performance in implementing the plastic bag ban, experts said the issue of polythene bags could not be resolved effectively through half-hearted efforts and required a system of principles to guide decisions and achieve desired results.
“The most important part of this system should be a well-planned public awareness campaign that really makes a difference by creating awareness of the hazards of plastic on health and environment, which motivates people to stop/reduce using polythene bags,” said Dr Waqar Ahmed of Karachi University’s Institute of Environmental Studies.
The people, he said, should be informed that microplastics had contaminated the entire food chain, contributing to death and disease in both humans and animals.
The second step, he suggested, should be to put a price tag on polythene bags. “Right now, they are so cheap that people are not bothered at all to reuse them. But, if the government puts a heavy eco-tax on polythene bags, there would definitely be an immediate steep reduction in the sale, manufacture and use of polythene bags.”
Along with these measures, Dr Ahmed pointed out, the government should also consult academia on the cheapest but environment-friendly replacements to polythene bags.
“In my opinion, canvas bags are one of the best replacements to polythene and paper bags. The latter can’t be suggested as it would lead to deforestation that the country is deeply affected by,” he said, adding that canvas bags were made of different fibres, were durable and could be modified as needed.