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July 12, 2020

Plastic bag clampdown out of steam during pandemic


July 12, 2020

Islamabad : The single-use plastic bags have re-emerged in the federal capital despite ban showing the environment has taken a back seat to the coronavirus emergency.

The administration had banned the use of bags made from polyethylene in Islamabad on August 14 over extremely slow decomposition and choking of drainage and announced Rs100,000 to Rs500,000 fine for plastic bag manufacturers and wholesalers each, Rs10,000 to Rs 50,000 for shopkeepers each and Rs5,000 for shoppers each.

The ban’s enforcement was strict for initial months forcing both shopkeepers and customers to use paper and cloth bags for fear of penalty.

However, the outbreak of novel coronavirus in late February took a heavy toll on the environmental initiative.

Plastic bags made a comeback on the market as small shops, big stores and eateries with a few exceptions began giving away goods to visitors in eco-unfriendly bags.

Experts insist that the fight against coronavirus has taken priority over the enforcement of the hard-won plastic bag ban.

“I think that the focus of the authorities on how to contain COVID-19 and protect livelihoods has switched the attention away from the plastic bag issue. The [bag] crackdown has run out of steam,” Maryam Shabbir Abbasi, an environmentalist at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute, told 'The News'.

She said the environmental regulator, Pak-EPA, vigorously checked ban violations before the coronavirus spread but that was no more the case.

The expert also wondered why the regulator had stopped releasing the air pollution statistics on its official Twitter handle.

She also felt that the Pak-EPA was doing nothing about the proper disposal of the COVID-19-related infectious waste.

Environmentalists claim that the plastic industry is using the coronavirus scare to promote single-use polythene bags though studies have revealed that the virus survives on plastic surfaces for one to three days, while the reusable bags can be sanitised to prevent the spread of infection.

They fear that if the use of hazardous bags isn’t checked without delay, the people will take time to break the habit even after the COVID-19 problem is over and thus, reversing the environmental gains made after the ban’s enforcement.

When contacted, Pak-EPA head Farzana Altaf Shah denied a shift in focus from plastic bag clampdown to the COVID-19 prevention and control.

She, however, agreed that the ban’s enforcement had slowed down during the pandemic and attributed it to the coronavirus-induced lockdowns and her all three field officers and some assistant commissioners of the district administration isolating themselves in their homes after testing positive for coronavirus.

Ms Shah was quick to add that the regulator had resumed the strict checking of plastic bags in markets and was handing down heavy fines to ban violators without discrimination.