Lack of political will delays ban on plastic shopping bags

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Photo By News Lens Pakistan / Wisal Yousafzai

Peshawar: Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s provincial assembly has failed to take up a resolution against the use of polythene’s shopping bags, despite the lapse of seven months.
Pakistan People’s Party Parliamentary leader in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Provincial Assembly Nighat Orakzai submitted a resolution in the assembly secretariat seeking a ban on plastic shopping bags in KP.

The resolution has been submitted seven months back, but the Speaker KP Assembly has so far not given a go-ahead to table the resolution in the Assembly.

Orakzai considers plastic bags the main source of pollution in the province. She argues that people in our country burn waste in the open, which normally includes plastic bags. The chemicals released from the burned trash are injurious to the health of the people, causing cancer.

“I am rallying all the opposition parties in the KP Assembly on this issue, and shall soon launch a joint protest if my voice against the use of plastic bags is not heard,” says Orakzai

The Water and Sanitation Services Peshawar Chief Engineer Muhammad, Naeem Khan, shares Orakzai’s views and wants the government to take a final step in this regard.

He says the drainage problem in Peshawar is the result of plastic bags thrown in the nullahs. When rainwater meets the choked drainage, it leads to stagnated water that becomes a fertile breeding ground for diseases.

The government has been planning to introduce biodegradable bags in Hayatabad, Peshawar, on experimental basis, but so far, there has been no progress in this regard.

Dr Muhammad Bashir Khan, Director General Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) KP says banning non-degradable plastic materials is not as easy as it looks. Unless we separate plastic shopping bags from other plastic products, the issue will never be resolved.

The Sindh High Court’s 1996 decision to form a commission to ban plastic material, including plastic shopping bags was struck down by the Islamabad Law Division because the commission report would have affected the entire plastic industry.

“We cannot ban plastic products because of the pervasiveness of the commodity into our lives. We need to define plastic products and plastic shopping bags differently, says Bashir.

He further says in 2003 the Mayor of Peshawar Ghulam Ali imposed ban on the use of black plastic shopping bags. “The ban is still in place and we don’t see black plastic shopping bags in use anymore,” says Bashir

He informs the News Lens Pakistan that the KP government has recruited consultants in April this year to develop rules of business for the upcoming Environment Protection Law for KP. The consultant will finish their work in two months time after which the bill will be tabled in the KP assembly.

He says the new environment protection bill for KP will look into all the possible variations of plastic bags being used in the market such as those used for packing eatables like snacks such as Samosas (A triangular pastry containing spiced vegetables or meat.) and Chewera (a vernacular snack that includes nuts and rice flakes). Not only shopping bags but also plastic wrappers and packing material are a matter of concern for the environment.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chamber of Commerce and Industries President, Faud Ishaq says, “The business community is in favour of putting a ban on the use of plastic shopping bags.

Plastic shopping bags are affecting our sewerage system. The government should solve this problem permanently and replace the existing bags with biodegradable ones.”

He suggests the government to give interest-free loan to help manufacturers convert their existing plants into producing biodegradable shopping bags. These loans should also be provided for the setting up of new biodegradable shopping bags manufacturing plants.

About 200,000 people directly and 600,000 people indirectly are associated with the plastic shopping bag business.

According to a survey conducted by EPA in 2010, the annual average consumption of plastic bags is estimated at 397 bags per person. The report concludes that if this trend continues the consumption of plastic bag will reach 112 billion in 2015. The report observes that more than 8,000 plastic bag production units are operating in different parts of the country majority of which are in Lahore (6,000), Karachi (1,200), Peshawar (300) and Faisalabad (230).

Dr Shahida Zakir chairperson of the Environmental Sciences Department of the University of Peshawar says the plastic shopping bags do not only harm human beings, they are also threatening for marine life.

Zafar Iqbal Khattak, CEO Movement for Social Action, Human Right & Leadership, an NGO working for the human rights in Nowshera, KP tells the News Lens Pakistan that his organization has been pressing upon subsequent governments to ban plastic shopping bags in KP but to no avail. It seems, he says, the government fears the manufacturers’ reaction and the prospect of rendering thousands of people jobless.

“The government has to choose between the lesser and the greater evil,” says Khattak

Talking to the News Lens Pakistan the Advisor to the Chief Minister KP on Environment Fazal Ilahi says Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government in KP takes environmental issues very seriously.

About plastic shopping bags, he says, they are also a nuisance to the crops. At times, these bags when thrown in rivers and lakes block the flow of water to the agricultural lands, affecting the quality of the harvest.

When this scribe asked him about the resolution, submitted by Nighat Orakzai in the KP assembly secretariat, seeking ban on plastic shopping bags he said: “This assembly will consider every suggestion whether it comes from the ruling or the opposition party if it brings positive change to the environment and the lives of the people of the province.”

However, he says, he has so far not seen the resolution but will discuss the matter with the speaker.

“If we find the resolution effective, the assembly will definitely take it up and allow it to be moved in the assembly,” says Fazal Illahi.

Senior Minister for Local Government and Rural Development KP Inayatullah Khan, talking to the News Lens Pakistan says the provincial government will also try its best to pass a resolution, banning the plastic shopping bags. Adding a word of caution, however, he says, we should first look for an alternative.

He says passing laws or even making a new law has never been an issue in Pakistan. The main issue lies in the implementation of laws.

“We have been lacking political will to enforce laws because of vested interests,” says Inayatullah Khan.

He ended his conversation saying that unless we create awareness among the people about the hazards of plastic shopping bags the government will only be struggling with imposing laws.

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