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Features & Interviews

Polythene bags polluting environment despite govt ban

Polythene bags polluting environment despite govt ban
August 23, 2017

FAWAD ALI

PESHAWAR, August 22: The manufacturing and sale of polythene bags go unchecked in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa despite being banned by the provincial government.

The non-biodegradable plastic bags are manufactured in bulk to keep up with the rising demands of the people.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Director General Dr Muhammad Bashir Khan told Tribal News Network that the deadline to impose the ban was going to expire on September 20.

“Once the deadline expires, the law will take its course,” he declared.

The DG said there were around 24 plastic-manufacturing units in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa a few years ago. “Now this has become a cartel in the province as more factories have been set up,” he added

There is no accurate data available with the EPA to know how many plastic bags are produced daily or yearly in the province. So far no such survey has been carried out.

Experts said the plastic bag was one of the major environmental hazards that affected every aspects of our life.

“It causes fatal diseases, clogs drains, destroys marine life as well as a major cause of low crop yield,” said Dr Muhammad Akmal, Agronomist at Agriculture University Peshawar.

The plastic bags end up in rivers and agricultural land due to lack of unawareness about their proper disposal.

Dr Akmal said the bags that ended up in fields were one of the leading factors behind failure to achieve 90 percent production rate of crops in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

“Currently this ratio stands at 74 to 80 percent. Farmers are mostly unaware of its hazards as they don’t care to separate the non-biodegradable plastics from animal manure that ultimately land up at agricultural lands,” he pointed out.

When dumped, the more you plough the field the more these plastics bags go deeper.

“It blocks water filtration, prevent nutrients mobilisation in soil and affect plant germination that cause low yield,” he said.

He maintained that in the presence of these pollutants, the farmers would be unable to achieve the target of 90 percent production.

“With the passage of time, the non-biodegradable plastic bags start breaking down into smaller pieces called polymers that are highly toxic contaminating water and soil,” he explained.

Junior Research analyst at Environmental Protection Agency Dr Khaista Gul, who is a PhD in polymers, said non-degradable plastic took decades to degrade.

“It emits extremely toxic gases when you burn it openly like dioxin that is highly toxic to human health and cause cancer,” he said.

He further said that the black shopping bags were more dangerous than the white ones as these were made from recycled white plastic.

His viewpoint is also shared by a research paper titled ‘Dangerous Health effects of home burning of plastics and waste’ published by a website ‘WECF Women in Europe for a Common Future’.

The polythene bags also emit nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, volatile organic chemicals and polycyclic organic matter that pollute air and finally enter human bodies through inhalation.

According to ‘Time for Change’ website, production of one kilogram of polyethylene required equivalent of two kilogram of oil.

The burning of one kilogram of oil emits three kg carbon dioxide. One kilogram of plastic will emit six kilogram of carbon dioxide after being burned, the website publishes.

Dr Gul noted that the shopping bags also emitted polychlorinated biphenyls and dioxin that remained for a long time in environment and caused water and air pollution.

Inhaling such a highly contaminated air causes cancer, affect digestive system as well deformities in offspring.

It requires 1500 degree Celsius to burn it to avoid emission of toxic gases. The non-biodegradable plastics do not burn properly with low temperature. Dr Gul said that it split into highly poisonous particles that mixed with soil and contaminated food and soil.

The plastic bags, which are major pollutants of forests in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, prevent seeds germination after mixing with soil. The tourist spots in Hazara and Malakand divisions are littered with thousands of plastic bags every year. The plastic prevents the growth of underwater food on which marine life feed.

Banned under Environmental Act 2014

In June this year, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had decided to ban the production of non-biodegradable plastic bags in the province keeping in view the environmental hazards. The provincial government passed the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Environmental Act 2014.

The Forestry, Environment and Wildlife departments had notified the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Prohibition of Non-Biodegradable Plastic Products and Regulation of Oxo-biodegradable Plastic Products Rules 2017.

The manufacturing of non-biodegradable plastic bags was banned under section 12 of Clause 7 of the Act read as, “Impose ban through a government notification, on commencement or operation of any activity or work or mobility or transport in a particular area or premises by declaring it as environmentally sensitive or protected or prohibited for a particular time period as and when required to safeguard the natural environment, prevent and control pollution with prior approval of the government.”

The use of polythene bags was banned in 2015 after it was found that it choked sewerage lines and the city roads were flooded with rainwater. There seems no mechanism for the disposal of the plastic bags that have polluted the canals, rivers and fields.

 

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