Pakistan generates about 48.5 million tons of solid waste a year, which has been increasing more than 2 percent annually. Like other developing countries, Pakistan lacks waste management infrastructure, creating serious environmental problems. Most municipal waste is either burned, dumped or buried on vacant lots, threatening the health and welfare of the general population. The Government of Pakistan (GOP) estimates that 87,000 tons of solid waste is generated per day, mostly from major metropolitan areas. All major cities face enormous challenges on how to manage urban waste. Bureaucratic hurdles, lack of urban planning, inadequate waste management equipment, and low public awareness contribute to the problem.
Bushra Rizvi is a social and environmental activist. She is a member of the Citizens for a Clean Karachi (C.C.K) which is a volunteer group currently engaged in creating public awareness about the hazards of plastic, especially single-use plastic shoppers. Bushra attended NVP’s orientation session on 7th September 2019 and shared her experience with us:
“The issue of garbage has assumed epic proportions in Karachi. It is strewn all over the city and when you examine it closely you’ll find most of it comprises single-use plastics like polyethylene shopping bags. When we throw plastic shopping bags carelessly they fly in the air, choke off sewerage lines, strangle marine life when they enter the sea or rivers, give off toxic fumes when burnt on empty plots or landfills, thereby creating a hazard for all life forms. Our city is in a pollution quagmire because no-one wants to accept responsibility or take ownership of the situation, including the city’s civic authorities and its public or residents. Nobody wants to come forward to take action to fix the problem! This is where our group comes in; CCK is working to create public awareness that we, the Karachi-ites, are responsible for the problem – it’s our garbage – so we have to fix the problem and find a solution.”
To avoid this alarming condition in other cities, a ban was imposed this year in Islamabad and in Gilgit-Hunza on single-use plastic bags. We approached the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency last year and requested them to give the issue a priority and to help solve Karachi’s plastic problem.
“Having researched the subject extensively, I’m now keen to work with university students, especially engineers and biochemists, who can develop environmental friendly packaging to replace the commonly used cellophane wrap, polystyrene packs and plastic boxes so that ultimately we can rid the planet of plastic waste”
To create public awareness on a mass level, we launched our Facebook and Instagram pages where we share tips and articles with our audience on how to reduce the use of plastic in their daily life. Our page address for both Facebook and Instagram is the same; it is : //citizensforacleankhi.
We’ve conducted awareness sessions at poor, middle and elite class schools like Manzil Educational Organization, the Kiran Foundation, Karachi Grammar School etc as the problem affects all strata of our society.
Example of single-use plastic
“People sometimes ask ‘What can we do in our capacity?’ I advise them to just abandon the use of plastic : refuse to take shoppers from stores, carry your own cloth bag or tokri when out shopping , carry your own glass or steel reusable containers to bring home take-out food. This is a slow strategy but it will eventually affect demand and prompt businesses engaged in plastic manufacturing to switch over to other, non-plastic avenues for which there’s more demand. Demand and supply motivate economic and investment decisions, as we all know.
The whole world has woken up to the hazards of plastic. Many countries have pledged and put into place legislation banning plastics. The world has realized the urgency and the need to act NOW otherwise it will be an even bigger problem in the near future. Fifty years down the line, planet Earth – our only home – will be wrapped up in layers of plastic rather than fossils. Future generations will be horrified when they dig up the layers of dust that will settle on our civilization after we’re gone; they’ll wonder what kind of people we were to have so carelessly trashed our own home!
These days cancer, diabetes and lung diseases are rampant; one of the reasons for this is plastic pollution and garbage corrupting our food chain. If we test our blood, many of us will find that it contains micro plastics (very tiny particles of plastic) from contaminated food”.
Bushra, how we can solve this problem?
Our research guides us towards certain alternative options. I’d like to share them here with you:
- Inspire students to think about this problem. This environmental problem can be treated as an opportunity by young entrepreneurs to come up with ideas to launch a business that solves this issue such as alternative packaging.
- Don’t keep your expectations pinned on the government. Stand up, come out of your drawing rooms to take action for yourself and your children.
- Although we are surrounded by plastic products like mobile phones, eyewear etc., we must switch wherever possible to non-plastic materials that are derived from nature directly.
- You can use baskets made of date palm leaves or cane; keep such baskets in your car, or a wrapped up cloth bag in your motorbike’s storage space under the seat. A cloth bag is very handy and easy to carry anywhere for shopping.
- Say “No” to plastic bags when you go shopping.
- Citizens need to sacrifice the convenience provided by plastics for a much higher, long term benefit. They need to unite and build pressure on corporations engaged in plastic manufacturing and packaging, on authorities that allow them to do so and on authorities responsible for waste management/disposal and on the plastic mafia to abandon poisoning the environment.”
Read more about CCK:
CCK is focused on reduction of plastic bags at the moment but their long term goal is to work for the improvement of the environment and a positive climate change.