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Plastic Shopping Bags and Pakistan

Plastic bags, Environment, Yasir CheemaUsed plastic shoppers are notorious for choking sewer, open drainage system, spoiling sanitation and creating an overall unaesthetic view of the environment. The practice of burning them on street sides at dumpsites produces dioxins and furans responsible for producing severe diseases. Plastic bags take much longer to degrade (not biodegrade) than paper bags. Under the best circumstances, high-density polyethylene will take more than 20 years to degrade. The manufacturers of the plastic bags oppose the ban on plastic bags, arguing that, employment of thousands of persons depends upon such cottage industries, which manufacture polyethylene bags. The ban will render many people jobless.

Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency (Pak-EPA) had conducted a national survey which revealed that 55 billion plastic shopping bags are being used each year in Pakistan. The use of plastic bags is on the rise at the rate of 15% per annum. There are about 8021 production units in the country with an average production capacity of 250-500 kg per day, and a majority of them are the cottage industry. Approximately, 1,60,000 people are directly, and 600,000 people are indirectly dependent on this sector.

Pak-EPA has examined that different countries have addressed the plastic bags issues in the following ways:
i. A complete ban on manufacturing and use of plastic bags.
ii. Increasing price of bags by a levy of additional taxes or cost.
iii. Promoting the use of paper and cotton bags.
iv. Increasing thickness of the bags.
v. Banning, manufacturing of non-degradable plastic bags and introduction of degradable plastic bags

Govt has concluded that banning of plastic bags across the board would not be a viable solution as these bags have become a part of our daily life. It would be difficult to get such an order implemented. We have an example of Balochistan province, where an ordinance to ban all kind of plastic bags was in force but Govt failed to implement it due to non-cooperation of manufacturers and consumers.
The solution to controlling plastic bags issue could be tackled through a combination of the following measures:
i. Banning manufacturing, selling and usage of non-degradable plastic bags in the country.
ii. Increasing thickness of degradable bags to 30 microns.
iii. Promoting the use of cotton bags through an awareness campaign.
iv. Rationalizing the tariff in favour of manufacturing of paper bags and concession on the import of automatic paper bag machinery.

Degradable plastic bags are classified into the following categories:
i. Oxy-degradable
ii. Photo-degradable and
iii. Bio-degradable.

Out of all the above three types, oxy-degradable is the best option as these bags get disintegrated in the presence of oxygen, whether through the atmosphere or from the water. In other words, these bags get destroyed in the presence of air and water.

Actions Taken by PAK-EPA:
For plastic bags Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency (Pak-EPA), with the approval of the Ministry of Climate Change and after vetting by Ministry of Law and Justice notified S.R.O No 5(KE)/2013 “Prohibition of Non-degradable Plastic Products (manufacture, import, sale and usage) regulation 2013, which prohibits the usage of plastic products in the limit of Islamabad Capital Territory, effective from 1st April 2013 and further amended in September 2015.

Under the above regulations no person shall import, manufacture, stockpile, trade, supply, distribute, sell or use any scheduled plastic product
which is non-degradable. The regulations also provide that no pro-degradant additive shall be sold, distributed or imported by any company or manufacturer of any scheduled plastic product without registration with Pak-EPA. To facilitate implementation of the regulation, four companies have so far been registered with Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency (Pak-EPA).

Due to this reason many major stores in Islamabad like Utility Stores, Metro cash & carry, Tehzeeb Bakers, Rahat Bakers, Mc Donalds and Shaheen
Chemist etc. are now using environment-friendly plastic shopping bags on the directions of Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency. The other small shopkeepers in ICT have also been contacted by Pak-EPA to use only bio-degradable shopping bags. Furthermore, Pak-EPA is making efforts to implement the Regulations in its true letter and spirit.

Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency had held a meeting on 2nd April 2015 with Pakistan Business Council. Resultantly, Pakistan-EPA has brought some changes/ modifications in the prohibition of said Regulations and excluded following from the schedule of amended S.R.O 96(KE)/2015, dated October 6th, 2015:
1. Bread bags and food packaging, including frozen food packaging.
2. Shrink-wrap, pallet-wrap, bubble-wrap.
3. Woven plastic bags.
4. BOPP, CPP and metalised plastic films.
5. Milk and water packaging.

A meeting was held on 9th January 2017 with traders of big outlets of different markets and Traders Association of Islamabad. Following decisions were taken in the meeting for compliance:

(a) Pak-EPA shall encourage Markazi Anjuman Tajran (MAT) Islamabad to prepare and launch the awareness campaign for the prohibition of Non-biodegradable plastic products in ICT and other steps proposed by them for the said purpose.
(b) Pak-EPA shall conduct surprise visit of markets to check the status of implementation of Regulation titled, “The Prohibition of Non-Biodegradable Plastic Products (Manufacturing, Sale and Usage) Regulation 2013 and its Amendment 2015” shall take liable legal action.
(c) Trader Association of respective markets shall launch the awareness campaign in their areas, and no more use of non­degradable shall be prohibited.
(d) Markazi Anjuman Tajran shall display hoardings for information and awareness regarding the use of Oxo­biodegradable shopping bags.
(e) All markets shall display public notice of Pak-EPA in markets.

[NOTE: This information is extracted from a submission by the concerned Ministry to the Senate/Parliament of Pakistan or the Provincial assembly, as the case may be, and is edited by the author.] S272-20180123

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Yasir Cheema

Yasir Cheema is a Civil Engineer by training and currently working as Resident Engineer for Surbana Jurong Pte. Ltd. in Singapore. He writes at this portal about Governance, Public policy, Institutional development, Construction practices, and procedures.

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