No more polythene bags in Capital from April 1

ISLAMABAD: Ministry of Climate Change on Thursday announced to ban the use of traditional polythene bags in Islamabad Capital Territory and introduce biodegradable and hygienic bags for commercial and domestic use. “Use of existing polythene bags will be stopped from April 1. This will fulfill a longstanding demand of environmentalists and health conscious citizens especially of the capital and across the country as a whole,” Minister for Climate Change Rana Farooq Saeed Khan informed a news conference.

“The ministry was working on the project since long and finally we have achieved another milestone to protect country’s environment and human health,” the minister said. He said the decision will be implemented diligently and those violating it shall be tried under the Environmental Protection Act through Environmental tribunals which may penalize the violators a fine from Rs. 100,000 to Rs. 1 million and the imprisonment. Over the years the use of polythene bags has been posing serious environmental and health hazards in the country. It is astonishing that Pakistan’s people use 55 billion polythene bags every year with 8000 industrial units busy in preparing this extremely hazardous product that result in numerous diseases including the killing disease of cancer.

A study conducted in 2004 revealed that every Pakistani uses 1 polythene bag daily with the growth of 15% as the experts envisaged that production and use of polythene bags in the country will jump to 112 billion by 2015. “This product was introduced in Pakistan in late 80s and our people used it for all purposes even packing the dibbles and other health related goods,” the minister said.

“It had not only been degrading our environment but also affecting human health costing national kitty the losses of billions annually”. Answering a question about monitoring and implementation of the decision at provincial level, the minister said, he will write to the Chief Ministers and Chief Secretaries to follow the suit. A testing machine is also being donated to the Ministry by Oxo-Biodegradable Organization of the United Kingdom for testing the material of the finished bags.

The minister said this decision and promotion of degradable polythene bags will also help increase our exports as many countries have demanded numerous occasions to pack our goods in Oxo-biodegradable bags. When asked about any effect on present industry, the minister said, they have already been taken into confidence and number of organizations like ICI, Dawn Bread, MENU and KFC are already using these bags.

“The industry will not suffer; they will continue producing it with the same plants and material. What they will have to do is to add just one percent additive to make the present polythene bags Oxo-biodegradable,” he added. Rana Farooq said a two pronged strategy is being evolved to make the effort a success including `awareness raising campaign (Say No to Plastic Bags)’ and `introducing new technologies.’ The ministry also announced prohibition of non-degradable Plastic Products (Manufacture, Sale and Usage) Regulations, 2013 that prohibits manufacturing, import, sale and use of non-degradable plastic bags and other plastic products in the limits of Islamabad Capital Territory that will be effective from April.  “This landmark step taken by the Ministry of Climate Change will have long term benefits to control spread of waste plastic bags and enable exporters to comply with the environment-friendly packaging demanded in the international market,” the minister said.

Many countries in Asia, Europe and America have successfully controlled plastic waste by introducing oxo-biodegradable plastic technology.

Plastic bags made with this technology if left in open air or water absorb oxygen; gradually weakens internal bond of plastic material there by allowing biological degradation to take place. Finally the bag will vanish leaving behind humus (a non-toxic product). The plastics have extensive usage in packaging of food, beverages, cigarette, leather, textile, electrical/mechanical machinery and components. Now, it is also being used in agriculture as mulches and in forestry for saplings, the minister stated.

“If use of non-degradable plastic continues, it will create havoc due to poor waste collection in the country,” and sought cooperation from all stakeholders to make this effort success, he added.