Trading death in bulk


In Pakistan purchasing diseases is quite an easy task. In fact if you want to purchase an infection from an operation theatre of Germany or Japan all you have to do is to go to any one of the bulk traders of post consumer hazardous plastic scrap in Shahdara market and tell him to sell you HIV, Hepatitis C or Tuberculosis. The rates vary with good infections fetching from Rs 100 to 150 per kg. You might be wondering what this is all about. Day in and day out we all talk about the lack of accountability in Pakistan. The authorities that are responsible for ensuring accountability are those working in connivance with plastic scrap traders of Lahore to ensure clearance of containers carrying thousands of tones of infection into our local market. During a visit to Shahdara scrap market recently I was shocked to see huge stacks of used IV tubes and infusion bags, all medical waste up for sale to manufacturers in bulk. Upon inquiring where he had procured the medical waste the guy said, “Sahab, sab imported maal, (Sir, it’s all imported).” Life is cheap in this land of the pure. As long as the average joe capitalist get’s to make a few thousand bucks here and a few thousand bucks there. Dengue killed more than 300 people in Punjab infecting several thousand in the area. It was an epidemic, spiraling out of control. The PIC fake medicine case according to reliable sources killed more than 250 people, while stating that the authorities willingly under reported the number of casualties in the scenario.
As per Basel Convention plastic scrap is defined as hazardous if it belongs to any category contained in Annex I, and have characteristics defined in Annexure III.
Annexure I, includes
1. Clinical waste, pharmaceutical waste, waste from production formulation and use of resin latex, plasticizers , glue/adhesive etc.
2. Waste having as constituents such as Selenium, Cadmium, Antimony, etc.
Annexure III, Includes
1. Characteristics such as explosiveness, poisonous, infectious, toxic, ecotoxic etc.
News reports that have emerged over the last few weeks have been highly alarming. Leading newspapers have reported that customs authorities “have allowed a large mass of imported infectious medical waste into the country under the garb of ‘PVC plastic scrap’ in blatant violation of Pakistan’s import policy and the Basel Convention.
A visit to the local Shahdara plastic scrap market in Lahore would clear all your doubts about the presence of Hazardous plastic scrap that is being imported in large quantities from abroad. What is more disturbing is the fact that import policy of Pakistan specifically states that plastic scrap is “Importable by manufacturers only for their own use subject to the condition that they shall furnish to Customs authorities a certificate from relevant government agency of the exporting countries that the goods are not hazardous and comply with the provisions of the Basel Convention.” The Import policy further states that “it shall not be used in the production of bags for packing of foodstuff.”
Plastic scrap market of Shahdara is clustered with traders who have in connivance with the customs authorities been getting their containers released in violation of the import policy order. Besides the presence of clinical and surgical waste, “non-sterilised hazardous plastic scrap is also being crushed and sold openly in bulk” again strictly prohibited under local and international laws.
A Smeda report, “Diagnostic Study on Plastic Products” gives us some more information on how casually medical waste is being converted into usable plastic products in Pakistan. The report states, “Plastic scrap recycling has developed into an industry in Pakistan. About 400 units are engaged in recycling of plastic scrap in Punjab. The sources of collection of scrap are household waste of broken unusable plastic items, industrial plastic cans, containers etc., hospital waste such as disposable syringes, branulas etc.” The report further states, “the recycled material is used for manufacture of low cost and inferior quality products such as, household utensils, Sandals/chappals, washers and seals for water supply fittings.”
The report so casually mentioned these without even realizing that medical waste must be incinerated with the resulting smoke processed so it is not released into the atmosphere. While the Smeda report casually remarks that syringes and other medical waste is processed into producing household utensils, sandals and washers and seals for water supply fittings.
Just some of the products manufactured from the disposed medical waste of an HIV patient, a Tuberculosis or a Hepatitis patient in some country abroad. So next time you decide to make nuggets for your son there might be a chance that he would be served those in a plastic utensil that has been manufactured from any one of these disease ridden IV tubes and infusion bags, used as raw material.
Intriguingly custom documents that have been leaked, reveal that while the customs inspector in the description of the contents of the container mentions “post production plastic scrap,” he in the detailed report writes, “production pvc plastic scrap in shape of ‘infusion bags and tubing’ in pressed bails.” The medical examiner at the Lahore dry port also makes a similar claim, writing “sample comprises of one cutted dirty infusion bag, one small size piece of translucent cream colour flexible plastic tube (IV tube).” As in all things Pakistan the said container containing around 25000 tonnes of IV tubes and infusion bags was cleared by the custom authorities.
In order to control movement of such hazardous waste, our neighbouring countries have implemented stringent regulations ranging from complete ban on imports of plastic scrap to import by only Licensed Manufacturer having recycling and manufacturing setup.
Summary of regulation of few developing countries are given below
1. China: Vinyl Chloride Polymer scrap waste and processed scrap waste is in the restricted list.
2. Sri Lanka: The Ministry of Environment to consider the import of plastic scrap on case to case basis.
3. India: The Requirement of license to import the plastic scrap after furnishing details of recycling and manufacturing setup.
Unfortunately while other countries have imposed strict regulations governing the import of hazardous plastic waste, the import of such products in our country is going unchecked, with customs authorities blatantly violating laws to facilitate traders who aren’t even allowed to import such material in the first place. Customs officials have reportedly claimed in leading newspapers, “The custom officials were discharging their duties in accordance with Import Policy and Basel Convention, besides rules and regulations of their own department.” Well, this sure isn’t happening in accordance with either the import policy or the Basel convention, maybe the Custom officials make their own import policy and conventions based on the amount of the ‘green jinnah’ being bribed with.
As to the traders, they continue to happily operate as authorities sleep and ponder over when the next consignment of hazardous plastic waste would enter Pakistani territory where they would then be able to fill in their wallets while selling their conscience for just a few extra bucks. As for you, you’ll just get to taste the latest disease for just a few hundred bucks. How about that?


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