Soon, carrying a plastic bag in Pakistan could cost more than a month or two of groceries for the entire family. Following a ban – announced by the government last week, and effective April 1 – anyone who uses polythene bags will be prosecuted under the nation’s Environmental Protection Act. If found in violation of the law, Pakistanis may be penalized with fines ranging from Rs. 100,000 (US$1,000) to Rs. 1 million (US$10,225), along with the possibility of imprisonment.
Pakistan’s Ministry of Climate Change has announced that in 60 days, the use of traditional polythene plastic bags will be illegal in the Islamabad Capital Territory. Instead, biodegradable and “hygienic” bags will be introduced for commercial and domestic use.
Specifically, the Pakistan government did not ban plastic across the board; it required that all disposable plastic (not just shopping bags) be made oxo-biodegradable. This way, if it gets out into the open environment, it will degrade and then biodegrade much more quickly than old-fashioned plastic, leaving no harmful residues.
The legislation prohibits not only the manufacture of conventional and bio-based disposable PE, PP or PS products in Pakistan, but it also prevents them from being imported into Pakistan. This means that all companies exporting disposable plastic products to Pakistan made from or packaged in PE, PP, or PS must make them in the future with oxo-biodegradable technology from a supplier approved by the Pakistan government.
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“This will fulfill a long-standing demand of environmentalists and health-conscious citizens—especially of the capital and across the country as a whole,” Minister for Climate Change Rana Farooq Saeed Khan commented at a news conference on January 31.
“Finally, we have achieved another milestone to protect country’s environment and human health,” the minister said, noting that “it is astonishing that Pakistan’s people use 55 billion polythene bags every year ,with 8,000 industrial units busy in preparing this extremely hazardous product that result in numerous diseases including the killing disease of cancer.”
A study conducted in 2004 revealed that, at that time, every Pakistani used the equivalent of one polythene bag daily, and that estimated annual production and use of polythene bags in the country would vault to 112 billion bags annually by 2015. “This product was introduced in Pakistan in late 1980s and our people used it for all purposes,” the minister said. “It had not only been degrading our environment but also affecting human health [and thereby] costing [the] national kitty the losses of billions annually,” he added.
Answering a question about monitoring and implementation of the decision at provincial level, the minister said, he will write to the chief ministers and chief secretaries to follow the suit. A testing machine is also being donated to the ministry by the Oxo-Biodegradable Plastics Association of the United Kingdom for testing the material of the finished bags.
The association commented, “Pakistan has a population exceeding 180 million, and this legislation will protect their environment for future generations from the accumulation of plastic waste, which can lie or float around for decades. It will cause no loss of jobs in the plastics industry and will allow the people of Pakistan to continue to use plastic for very many everyday purposes.”
Michael Laurier, CEO of London-based Symphony Environmental Technologies plc, a specialist in advanced plastic technologies, stated, "This legislation is an important step forward for Pakistan in protecting its cities, lands, waterways and coasts from the blight of plastic pollution, because it is not possible to collect or control all of the plastic, which would otherwise lie or float around in the environment for decades.”
Laurier said that Symphony would benefit from the increased business. "We are anticipating substantially increased demand for our oxo-biodegradable additive, d2w, following the new legislation and a free testing service will be offered in Symphony's laboratories, and also in Pakistan using Symphony's unique d2detector. This is a sophisticated portable device which can tell within 60 seconds whether a plastic product is oxo-biodegradable and which additives it contains (see video). One d2detector has been shipped to Pakistan for use in enforcing the legislation, and orders for d2w have already been received. With manufacturing facilities for d2w in five countries, Symphony is well placed to supply, service and support this enormous market."
The minister added this decision and promotion of degradable polythene bags will also help increase Pakistan’s exports, “as many countries have demanded numerous occasions to pack our goods in oxo-biodegradable bags.” When asked about any effect on the present industry, the minister said that a number of organizations, such as Karachi-based Dawn Bread and KFC Pakistan, are already using the bags.
Pakistan is the latest country in the Middle-East, Africa and Asia to adopt oxo-biodegradable plastic. The Government of the United Arab Emirates legislated to require oxo-biodegradability of plastic carrier-bags, effective January 1, 2012. Furthermore, in January 2013, this range of products will be extended under the law to include almost all disposable plastic products made from polyethylene, polypropylene, or polystyrene.
Edited by Allison Boccamazzo