Plastic is convenient and cheap, thus is widely used around the world without realizing the fact that it adversely affects wildlife, wildlife habitat, and humans. It is feared that plastic’s excessive use could deluge oceans. When plastic is burnt in open air it releases toxic chemicals and pollutes the environment which can cause serious illnesses.
According to Plastics Europe, a trade association which represents plastic manufacturers in the European plastics industry, 335 million metric tons of plastic was produced in 2016 alone.
A byproduct of oil and gas, plastic may have its uses but it does not decompose on its own. Depending on the type of plastic, it may take anywhere between 100 and 600 years to decompose, which means every product of plastic will ultimately add to the waste for centuries to come.
It is virtually impossible to recycle the heaps of discarded plastic every day, so it find its way to landfills, large burners or in the seas.
Erik van Sebille’s research article revealed that almost eight million metric ton of plastic is being thrown in the oceans annually, which is like dumping a truck full of waste every minute of the day.
Interestingly, a new study of Dr. Christian Schmidt of Germany, found almost 95% of the plastic which is polluting oceans comes from only 10 rivers and Pakistan’s Indus River is one of those.
According to the researchers, 88% of this volume is the result of sheer mismanagement. Pakistan Plastic Manufacturers Association reported that the per capita use of plastic in Pakistan is 5.5 kg, moreover, the country imports 1.07 metric ton of polymers every year.
Karachi, being the largest city of the country, consumes a large chunk of locally manufactured plastic products. However, even with the constant increase in the usage and production of plastic, authorities seem to be at a loss when it comes to waste management.
There is a sizeable plastic manufacturing industry in Karachi. “The plastic Industry in Karachi is huge, with private firms producing it on various volumes,” says Ahsan Khan, a representative of Pakistan Plastic Manufacturers Association, the body is affiliated with the Director General of Trade Organizations and is working to expand the industry in the country. “However, a large majority of these manufacturers are not registered with the government,” he lamented.
The government of Pakistan only allows the manufacture and use of oxo-biodegradable shopping bags, which are usually above 30 microns. The shopping bags of 30 micros are thicker, they do not fly with air pressure and are also reusable. However, there is no implementation on these sanctions from the authorities as bags without D2W, a substance that sets a pre-programmed life of plastic and starts naturally decomposing, are openly used everywhere in Pakistan, including Karachi.
“Manufacturers are selling shoppers with a biodegradable stamp on them, though it is fake and there is no inquiry against them,” Khan added.
These non-biodegradable shoppers are nearly impossible to recycle and they do not decompose. As a result, they become a threat to the environment. A significant chunk of this plastic ends up in rivers and oceans through different channels, which adversely affects the marine life.
A World Economic Forum’s report states that by 2050, the amount of plastic will exceed the number of marine life in the sea in terms of weight. Fish and other sea creatures consume this plastic and are then eaten by human, thus becoming part of the food cycle and cancerous for people.
“There have been much talk about birds and fish dying because of consuming plastic, similarly, there must be fish and crabs eating plastic, which we dine on and the particles transfer to our body, because it does not decompose, it is one of the reasons for cancer becoming so common,” says Toseef Pasha, an environmentalist.
There are two other ways of disposing plastic waste – either you burn it to ashes or you bury it in the ground. The amount of plastic which is being produced and added to waste is too much to effectively dispose of in this manner. Besides, both methods are unsafe for the environment as well as living organisms.
“When plastic wastage is dumped in landfills along with other discarded materials, it creates a chemical [leachate], which leaks down to water reservoirs in the rocks. The contaminated water is consumed by animal, plants and humans, which again end up in the food cycle,” explains Ahmed Shabbar, who has been researching the subject with the intent to set up a recycling plant. On the other hand, burning plastic is a common practice in Karachi and is disastrous for the environment.
“Toxic gases are released upon burning plastic, so it cannot be a viable option to handle this problem,” he adds.
“See the environment of the city, there is no rain, there is scorching heat throughout the year, winters hardly arrive. Our food is contaminated, our water is toxic, we have been eating, breathing, seeing pollution and plastic has a huge role in this dilemma,” laments Shabbar.
There are plastic recyclers working in Karachi, but they are unaware of the affects it is causing on the environment or on public health. All they know and do is to crush and melt all the plastic from which they can produce more plastic.
“The recyclers in localities like Shershah are interested in crushing plastic, melting it, washing it and then producing grains for further manufacturing,” mentioned Zeeshan Khan, who is an engineer having experience of working in plastic manufacturing firms and is currently associated with the Ministry of Industries.
There are two major problems in what they are doing in the name of recycling. The first and foremost issue is, they do not differentiate between the recyclable and non-recyclable products. Secondly, they tend to melt plastic in open burners, which cause air pollution.
“Recyclers in Karachi mix hospital waste, such as used syringes, gloves and other harmful objects with other plastic. No matter how much you wash or heat them, there is always some toxic particles attached to them, if you reproduce any food packaging material from these, it will be harmful,” Khan added.
So the question remains – how to deal with this plastic monster?
“First, the government has to step in, which has been almost ignorant of this massive problem. The government should run campaigns to create awareness regarding the cons of using this eco-unfriendly products,” Khan suggested. It is the people, who can make a significant difference, otherwise the devil is almost impossible to stop.
“We have already been crushed by these mountains of plastics, there are researches going on, hopefully they will come up with a solution, but unfortunately, we have gotten late, we need drastic measures, we do not have 50 or 100 years to take down this problem,” Pasha stated.
Karachi has become a city too big for its own good, so do the problems of the city. Karachiites will have to come to the basics to tackle this plastic pollution. It is the citizens of Karachi, who need to step up and get aware of the issue. Boycotting plastic bags is one of the solutions, it will be tough for them, but it will help the cause slowly and gradually.
“Take the bag of cloth, use bowls to buy things like yogurt, get a bottle when you purchase milk. It sounds old-fashioned, it sounds a bit tough, but you have to go some extra miles to win against plastic, tolerate the inconvenience and think about our future generations,” emphasized Pasha.
On the other hand, Pakistan Plastic Manufacturers Association is in talks with the Minister of Climate Change, Zartaj Gul, regarding the pollution caused by their production. They are looking to bring in laws that can help the industry grow safely and at the same time mitigate the environmental problem. They are hopeful to convince government to introduce harsher penalties for those flouting the law when it comes to the manufacture and sale of plastics.