Hunza is the first to impose a ban on plastic bags, followed by Islamabad and some other parts of the country – in collaboration with multinational companies agreeing to collect and segregate the waste
Some good news is coming out of the beautiful mountainous valley of Hunza, located in Gilgit-Baltistan. It has become the first plastic-free district of Pakistan.
Hunza, a popular tourist destination, attracts more than a million tourists every year. But, this influx of traffic has also begun to pollute the area. A survey conducted by the Karakoram Area Development Organisation showed that about 70,000 plastic bags were used and discarded monthly prior to the launching of the project in the valley.
In April 2019, the provincial government banned the use, purchase, export and import of plastic bags in the Hunza district. The district council then announced its Clean Hunza Project, and as a first step, launched it with the support of the Gilgit-Baltistan Environmental Protection Agency and Karakoram Area Development Organisation. Soon after, Nestlé Pakistan joined in — with a focus on waste segregation and recycling.
“It used to be a challenge to keep the valley clean,” says Babar Sahibdin, a former deputy commissioner of Hunza. “Therefore, we started the first public-private initiative of plastic-free district. We have achieved the first objective of Clean Hunza Project with tremendous support from the local community.”
He adds, “The government has distributed 20,000 free bags. Each bag has an environment-friendly message printed on it. The district council is also supporting the local community in producing cloth and paper bags. Some 500 women and 50 disabled people have been employed for the project. The government is offering a three-year subsidy to the locals for the production of such bags.”
Clean Hunza is a pilot project, with a focus on streamlining the management and recycling of plastic waste, with a forecast of increasing waste collection to 220,000 kilogrammes by 2024.
“Nestlé Pakistan will provide a compressing and bailing unit to the district government in Hunza,” says Waqar Ahmad, head of corporate affairs of Nestlé Pakistan. “Our focus is on segregating plastic and paper packaging at the waste site. This initiative will encourage waste management of 150,000 kilogrammes of plastics annually in Phase I and collection of 50,000 kilogrammes paper packaging (used in beverage cartons) in Phase II — with an increase of 10 percent annually. The company will also distribute 10,000 reusable bags in 2020.”
Ahmed adds that the employees of Hunza Council are being trained company to use the compressing and bailing units in an effective way. “This project marks the beginning of Nestlé Pakistan’s journey to reduce the environmental impact of plastic packaging by improving the management and recycling of various kinds of plastic packaging to comply with United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.”
Hunza was the first district to impose a ban on plastic shopping bags. It was followed by the Islamabad Capital territory, where the Ministry of Climate Change, in collaboration with WaterAid Pakistan initiated a plastic-free campaign recently.
To support the government initiative, WaterAid Pakistan launched the Clean Green School Programme that focuses on action-based learning in schools on climate and environment education. “423 schools in the capital city are a part of this initiative. Over 900 school teachers and 6,000 students have been trained in being hygienic, tackling climate challenges, and encouraging replacement for plastic bags,” says Ayesha Javed, a spokesperson for WaterAid Pakistan.
“WaterAid has also designed a plastic-free campaign to raise awareness and promote solutions. Already, the campaign has attracted public attention, and most of the areas of the capital are plastic-free,” she adds.
Last year, the Sindh government invoked the Sindh Prohibition of Non-Degradable Plastic Production Products Rules, 2014, and the Sindh Environment Protection Act, 2014. The Punjab government has also announced plans to impose a ban on manufacture, sale and use of polythene bags in a phased manner.
World Wide Fund (WWF) has launched a project Tackling Plastic Pollution in Pakistan with the cooperation of Coca-Cola Pakistan. As a first step, three plastic huts have been introduced in Lahore to promote collecting and recycling of plastic bottles of beverages.
“Our company is working towards establishing local partnerships with organisations like the WWF and others to develop a post-consumption collection and recycling system of plastic in major cities,” says Fahad Qadir, the public affairs and communication director for Pakistan and Afghanistan at Coca-Cola Export Corporation.
He adds, “We have a responsibility to help solve the plastic waste problem. To do this, Coca-Cola Company is leading the industry with a bold, ambitious goal: to help collect and recycle by 2030 plastic bottle or can for every unit we sell by 2030 – regardless of where it comes from.”
Undoubtedly, the development of an effective and efficient municipal solid waste management (MSWM) system has emerged as a challenging issue for all municipalities around the world. Sardar Asif Ali Sial, an environmentalist, believes that the government alone cannot fulfill the tremendous task of establishing plastic waste management system. “To achieve the target of plastic-free cities, it must be a public-private partnership, like in the Hunza district.”