LAHORE: Having imposed a rather belated blanket ban on the use of polythene shopping bags in Islamabad with effect from August 14 this year, despite being littered and polluted by one of the world’s highest concentration of non-recyclable waste, Pakistan will finally enter the ever-growing club of countries that are taking the threat of plastic pollution seriously. Pakistan often wakes up late on many issues.
According to a latest United Nations report, by July 2018, some 127 countries had already implemented some type of policy regulating plastic bags, but not before they had wreaked havoc on the planet in a number of ways.
These global efforts for curbing plastic pollution were aimed at reducing the harm that plastic does to marine ecosystems and wildlife. The amount of plastic in the ocean could triple in the next decade.
It is imperative to note that the Sindh government had imposed a ban on the manufacturing, sale, purchase and use of polythene bags in 1994. Punjab followed suit in 1995 while Balochistan levied a complete ban on polythene bags in 2001. Islamabad had also banned the use and sale of plastic bags in 2013 but former Nawaz’s government had failed in implementing a decision that would have reduced a lot of health hazards and drain blockages by now.
Affecting humans, besides killing the wild and marine life throughout the world, as research conducted by the Jang Group and Geo Television Network shows, these plastic bags do not readily break down in the environment, requiring 20 to 1,000 years to decompose. Data collected by the ministry of climate change shows that the use of plastic bags is rising at the rate of 15 percent annually, and as a local media house had recently reported, as many as 12 million plastic bags were used in Pakistan between 1990 and 1991 and this consumption had surged to 43 billion in 2005 and up to 55 billion in 2007. The backlash against use of hazardous plastic bags had gained immense momentum worldwide a few years ago.
In 2002, Bangladesh became the first country in the world to ban thinner plastic bags after they were found to have choked the drainage system during devastating floods. Other countries including South Africa, Rwanda, China, Taiwan, Macedonia, Australia and Italy followed suit. In 2017, Kenya was lauded for imposing the world harshest plastic bag ban in the world.
On July 20 this year, Panama became the latest to ban single-use plastic bags. Plastic-bag waste reached such high levels in China that citizens coined the term “white pollution”. The country adopted a full ban in 2008. In 2018, the city of Montreal had banned single-use plastic bags.
On August 18, 2018, New Zealand said it would ban single-use plastic shopping bags next year. Retailers would be given six months to phase out the bags or face fines of up to NZ$100,000. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had viewed: “New Zealand currently uses over 750 million single-use plastic bags per year, which is equivalent to about 150 per person. A mountain of bags ends up polluting our precious coastal and marine environments and cause serious harm to all kinds of marine life”.
By February 2019, plastic bans had spread in India from Tamil Nadu to the state of Maharashtra, as the world’s second largest country took on a glut of plastic waste by targeting single-use items.
On February 8, 2019, the “National Geographic” had reported: “Last June, as India hosted the United Nations’ World Environment Day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced its intention to eliminate single-use plastic by 2022. Modi’s crusade builds on efforts to ban certain single-use plastics that began in 2009, when the state of Himachal Pradesh in northern India became the first to ban plastic shopping bags.
New Delhi, India’s capital city, adopted a more expansive ban that included bags, cutlery, cups, and plates in 2017. By the beginning of this year, local governments in more than half of India’s 29 states and 7 territories had crafted legislation taking aim at single-use plastic. Bans on thin plastic shopping bags are the most common regulations. State government officials are also working to reduce the manufacturing of plastic by shutting down factories and preventing import of plastic products”.
In 1994, Denmark was the first European country to begin charging a tax on them. Following the introduction of the tax, usage dropped from around 800 million to approximately 400 million bags per year. Ireland, which began charging customers for plastic bags in 2002, saw a 90 percent reduction in usage and litter after the tax was put into effect.
Recently, the European Union has said that it wants to see an 80 percent drop in plastic bag use by 2019, which means that all European countries will need to be on board. Other countries that currently have measures in place include: England, Italy, Wales, Germany and Scotland etc.
Meanwhile, the July 24, 2019 edition of globally-subscribed magazine “The Economist” had stated: “More than 90 countries in the world have banned the use of plastic bags and another 36 regulate them with levies and fees. At least 25 countries with bans — including Panama — have exemptions for perishable foods or medicines. Bans are particularly widespread in Africa. This is partly because relatively low-waste collection and recycling rates make the problem of waste plastic more visible, partly because Africa exports very little plastic and lacks a strong industry lobby. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), up to 5 trillion plastic bags are consumed each year. Disposed of improperly, they can clog waterways, choke marine life and provide a breeding ground for malaria-carrying mosquitoes. When dumped in landfills, they can take centuries to decompose”.
The journal had added: “Plastic pollution is hard to miss, but its effects are small compared with global warming or biodiversity loss. The alternatives to plastic are pretty rubbish, too. For a cotton bag to generate less greenhouse-gas emissions than a throwaway plastic one, it has to be used 131 times”.
In the United States, the places that have banned plastic bags and straws so far include New York, where state lawmakers have approved a state-wide plastic bag ban that will go into effect in March 2020. When the ban goes into effect on March 1, 2020, New York will become one of three US states, along with California and Hawaii that do not allow these bags.
On April 3 of this year, the “Business Insider”, an American financial and business news website had maintained: “In some countries, people face jail term for using plastic bags. Shoppers use 500 billion single-use plastic bags worldwide every year. These bags typically end up in landfills or the ocean. More than 100,000 marine mammals get entangled in plastic bags and die annually. On average, a plastic bag has only a 12-minute lifespan. Most bags wind up languishing in landfills, where they can remain for up to 1,000 years. Some make their way into the ocean. Another type of single-use plastic — straws — is also being phased out in some places. In the US, 500 million straws are used daily. But California has banned restaurants from serving customers plastic straws unless they ask, and Seattle has axed them as well. About 8 million tons of plastic enters the ocean every year on average, though the maximum amount could be closer to 14 million tons. Operating international editions in the UK, Australia, China, Germany, France, South Africa, India, Italy, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Netherlands, Northern Europe, Poland, Spain and Singapore, this New York-based website had further stated: “Plastic bags that wind up in the ocean entangle and kill roughly one lakh marine animals each year. Recently, a pregnant sperm whale washed up dead on the shores of Sardinia with nearly 50 pounds of plastic in the stomach. Less than a month earlier, another dead whale was found to have ingested 88 pounds of plastic”.
Polyethylene, which is commonly used to make plastic bags was created accidentally in a chemical plant in a small British town during 1933 and was secretly used by the British military in World War II. By 1979, plastic bags were controlling 80 percent of the bag market in Europe. Plastic bags were later introduced in the US with companies marketing the new product as superior to ordinarily paper bags.
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