Plastic pollution, a looming threat to humans, wildlife, aquatic creatures

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By Fakhar Alam

ISLAMABAD, Jun 23 (APP):The large-scale production and an excessive use of plastic products have created enormous environmental challenges to humans, wildlife and aquatic creatures world-wide. The experts feared that plastic waste in canals, rivers and oceans would significantly decreased production of fish and other marine species in next 30 years if its dumping continues at such alarming scale.

Every year, approximately 500 billion plastic bags were used including 50pc one time globally where about eight million tons plastic ends up in canals, rivers and oceans, which is equivalent to a truck filled with garbage every minute worldwide.

Interestingly, 60 million plastic bags was being bought per hour, and only 14pc of the total used was recycled while the rest was disposed into oceans, rivers and soils, according to UN Environment Program.

Dr Khaista Gul, senior Analyst Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Govt of KP told APP that polythene plastic bags were major contributors to plastic pollution since these bags have made their way to the market in 1960. In Pakistan where around three to five billion plastic bags were produced per year, thus contributing to nine percent plastic waste out of about 30 million tons solid waste generated in the country.

He said 6000 plastic factories were operating in the country, mostly located in the Punjab (60%) followed by Sindh (30%), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (7%) and Balochistan (3%), adding 18 registered plastic manufacture companies besides dozens others unregistered were operating in Peshawar.

“We have asked plastic companies to use one percent ‘D2W’ chemical in plastic bags an ingredient to attract bacteria to ensure its easy biodegradation within few years,” he said.

“Black polythene bags are more dangerous for humans because of their repeated usage without proper recycling, thus exposing consumers to serious ailments including intestine infections, vomiting, digestive problems and premature births,” he maintained.

Terming polythene bags major source of plastic pollution, he said, “takes 100 to 1500 years to fully decompose in soil and have drastic effects” on living creatures mostly in third world countries especially in SAARC region”

He explained, “micro plastic, which can’t be seen with naked eye, when comes in contact with heat, it is converted into smaller particles causing air pollution and become part of food cycle of human, fish, wildlife and mammals in land by putting their lives at heightening danger.”

Dr Aftab Ahmed, Assistant Director Livestock Department told APP that micro plastic particles are causing serious health risks like cancers, development issues in young children, fatigue, endocrine disruption, obesity and premature births both in humans and animals through air, water and edible items mostly fish and meat.

He said that animals and wildlife become victims of polythene bags and eventually die due to malnutrition as it badly affects their digestive system.

In addition to polluting grazing lands and tourists sites, he said non-biodegradable bags mostly find their way to open garbage dumps, landfill sites or municipal sewers, making sewage disposal systems less efficient cause flash flooding in urban areas and increase cost of utility operations.

Most of urban waste management companies are focusing on picking waste from communal bins in urban areas but overlook canals, rivers and oceans plastic waste’s disposal and once it is burnt hazardous gases like Dioxins and Furances pollute the air.

Plastic and water pollution in rivers Kabul and Swat had put populations of Mahsher and Trout fish at high risk, he said.

Deedar Ahmed, Assistant Director EPA told APP that bio-degradable bags having 50 microns size had been allowed in the market and polythene bags were banned.

“The plastic size is measured through d2 detector machine and all those bags with less than 50 micron size are being seized in markets during ongoing crackdown against polythene bags started few days ago across the province,” he said.

Taking cognizance of an increase of plastic pollution, Chief Minister KP has imposed complete ban on use and sale of non-biodegradable plastic bags on March 7 last, requesting manufacturers, wholesale dealers and retailers to deplete their stock by the end of the month.

The CM constituted a high-level committee under chairmanship of Information Minister Shaukat Yousafzai to find out an alternative solution to polythene bags. The Committee recommended biodegradable plastic bags, which is cost efficient, environment and ecosystem friendly besides quick disposability.

Following expiry of the June 2019 deadline, a grand operation was launched in Swat, Buner, Shangla, Lower and Upper Dir, Malakabd, Chitral and Bajaur tribal district by the KP Government and seized over 70 polythene bags factories including three manufactured companies in Dir Lower and two in Hayatabad Industrial Estate Peshawar under Prohibition of Non-degradable Plastic Products (Manufacturing, Sale and Usage) Rules 2016.

“The cases of companies that are violating Govt orders are being sent to Environmental Tribunal Peshawar having the power to impose fine upto Rs5million, confiscated stock or imposed Rs100,000 fine per day or send the accused behind the bars,” the EPA official said.

Deedar Ahmed said huge investment was required for installation of Waste to Energy units on the pattern of China to convert plastic waste into energy, adding at least Rs50 million would be required for setting up of a plant with a capacity to generate 5megawatt energy.

Manzoorul Haq, former Ambassador of Pakistan said plastic pollution had a global and far-reaching impact on the international, regional and local environment, ecosystems, wildlife, livestock and marine life and great responsibility rests on UN to assist under developing and developing countries especially SAARC in combating plastic pollution.

He said local industry should be encouraged to produce environment friendly biodegradable plastics besides strengthening of waste management companies in terms of finances, manpower, equipments for speedy disposal of plastic waste.

Manzoor suggested that urban councils and waste management companies should reach out to communities to sensitize them against menace of plastic pollution.

Ambassador Manzoor said users must be sensitized to understand the gravity of this looming issue for which role of media was key and urged consumers to buy and use biodegradable plastic and clothes bags and ensure its proper disposal to make the planet a peace living abode for future generation.