Picking plastic, one click at a time

Improper plastic disposal practices are harming the environment. A mobile phone app might offer a solution

Picking plastic, one click at a time


nder the ‘beat plastic pollution’ theme for this year’s World Environment Day, it is important for all of us to understand how we can actively contribute to this cause. In order to reduce plastic pollution, we, in our individual and collective capacities, must consciously change our behaviours and shift towards effective recycling practices.

Before we get to understand plastic recycling, let’s discuss two major categorisations of plastic waste. Plastic waste generated during an industrial process is referred to as post-industrial plastic whereas plastic waste that is collected and recycled after it has been used by individual consumers is referred to as post-consumer plastic waste.

Post consumer plastic recycling in Pakistan is mostly informal and unregulated. Thousands of rag pickers, mostly children, scavenge through streets, corner bins and landfills and collect plastic and other recyclables. These rag pickers are trained to pick only high value recyclables from the waste, the main objective being to aggregate high value plastic that can be skimmed for quick profits. They tear the waste carrying plastic bags and extract the high value recyclables, leaving behind organic waste, polyethylene (LDPE & HDPE) shopping bags and other low value recyclable/ non-recyclable items on the site. In this remnant waste, plastic is the only constituent, which is not easily biodegraded. It stays in the environment for hundreds of years creating havoc – choking gutter lines and polluting water bodies. Plastic waste in waterbodies also lowers the aesthetic appeal of coastal areas, beaches, and spaces alongside rivers. Through continuous exposure to sunlight as well as mechanical forces, plastic waste reduces to micro- and nano-plastics that are a poison for our ecosystem. Micro-plastics and nano-plastics are almost impossible to recover and release additives and toxins, thereby polluting water, disrupting food chains and degrading natural habitats.

The app offers a pickup mechanism where all plastic waste is collected as segregated waste at convenience as a home-service. The rider comes and collects it free of charge from households. This is then brought to our premises, where our trained team sorts it out as different grades of plastics.

Plastic recycling is picking pace globally, with green funds being formed and public private partnerships coming into action to curtail this widespread problem. It is crucial for corporates and companies to realise their social responsibility and roles in driving this transition towards plastic recycling. An effective recycling framework can be developed and successfully implemented when the three major stakeholders (producers, consumers and recyclers) own the agenda and facilitate the process. Having set targets mandating utilisation of recyclate in plastic packaging is a great starting point. It should be complemented with policy shifts to incentivise the recycling practices.

The import of waste and its recycling is alarming in a country like ours, where heaps of mismanaged waste are left at dumping sites and landfills, harming the environment while waste continues to flow and internal waste continues to remain unmanaged.

Having established how improper practices of plastic disposal are harming the environment, let’s focus on solutions to aggregate plastic waste formally. This is precisely what Pick My Plastic offers. This is an easy-to-use app available on the Apple Appstore and Google Play. Through this initiative, consumers who generate plastic waste are given a platform where plastic is collected directly from households. The app offers a pickup mechanism where all plastic waste is collected as segregated waste at convenience as a home-service. The rider comes and collects it free of charge from households. This is then brought to our premises, where a trained team sorts it into different grades of plastics. Plastic has many grades, mentioned on the bottles, containers and other items. Each plastic grade needs to be recycled separately.

Through PickMyPlastic, the aggregated waste is cleaner as compared to the one picked from open dumpsites and landfills and gives complete traceability of collection. The idea is to collect all kinds of plastics and reward the waste generators for their contribution through an in-app incentive programme.

We are encouraging all companies that contribute to plastic waste generation in the environment to partner with us and encourage formal plastic take-backs. We need to end plastic pollution and live on a healthy planet. By doing so we can leave a better planet for our children than we have today.

The writer has been associated with the local tech industry for 18 years. She is a co-founder of PickMyPlastic

Picking plastic, one click at a time