Pakistan: A dumping ground of used plastics materials


It is a matter of concern for any country which gets reduced to a dumping ground for used materials and discarded articles. Pakistan, being a very relevant example, where the mounting ratio of importing, used or recycled plastic items, has become a constant threat to the health of the citizens.
At present, there are hundreds of importers and buyers in Pakistan who are trading different used plastic items and materials. Definitely these types of used items are economically cheap and very cost effective, especially for the average buyer in the Pakistani market. But, the overall hazards resulting due to the unrestrained and uncontrolled usages of these used plastic items outweigh the so-called benefits and advantages.
Sipping water from a used pet bottle would not be an ideal option for any health-conscious individual living in any part of the world, but there are a number of traders in Pakistan rejoicing the economic benefits offered by the treasured rubbish, that is discarded by the more developed countries of the world.
Starting from CPU casings to monitors, from CDs and DVDs to keyboards, dustbins, milk jugs, lawn chairs, other furniture, etc; imported plastic waste in Pakistan is being used to manufacture products that are commonly used on a daily basis, including soft drink and shampoo bottles, buckets, credit cards, disposable latex gloves and syringes, shoe soles, trash bags, etc.
Heavier consumption of imported plastic waste into making of everyday products can result in various medical and environmental concerns because this plastic waste is toxic in nature, and hazardous to human health in many ways. For example, products made from coloured plastics entail higher amounts of pigments composed of highly-toxic heavy metals like lead, cobalt, chromium, cadmium, selenium, and copper.
Regular use of used plastic bottles may even cause cancer as used plastic bottles harbor various kinds of bacteria. A majority of used plastics being imported to Pakistan contain polycarbonate plastics, which are harmful and dangerous. Bisphenol-A (BPA), a widely-used chemical in baby bottles and hard-plastic drinking bottles, has reported to be one of the major causes of birth defects and infertility in later stages, along with diabetes and cardiovascular diseases as well.
Used plastics which are further utilised in our local industries in the manufacturing of various medical devices and accessories are equally harmful and dangerous. Commonly known as vinyl, PVC plastic is used in many medical devices, examples including IV bags, disposable gloves, curtains and flooring, etc, and results in a large number of health risks and environmental concerns.
In Pakistan, there are more than 800 manufacturing units that buy used syringes and discarded plastic bags for a measly price of Rs20 per kilogram, and after reprocessing, these factories sell it to the other local distributors and suppliers for up to Rs120 per kilogram. There are more than 400 plastic recycling and crushing units working in Karachi alone. These factories usually import all kinds of discarded plastics from UAE, which are then crushed and transformed into granules, and washed with many different toxic chemicals. These granules are sold at very cheap rates in the local wholesale markets. A large number of small factories, mostly operational in slum areas, purchase these plastic materials to manufacture a range of plastic products.
Most of the used plastics being imported to Pakistan are collected from the dumpsites, and chemicals from these plastics cause soil and water pollution, destroying crops and the natural habitats of fish and other marine life. Furthermore, used plastic items being sold in Pakistan are made with unknown composition of polymer and additives which results in unexpected chemical degradation.
Most of the plastic waste is being imported into Pakistan from UAE, US, Canada, Germany, Japan, China and other developed countries, plastic waste coming from UAE is 400 times cheaper since western countries dump their all plastic waste and rubbish in UAE, from where it makes its way to Pakistan. While international standards of waste management underscore the three R’s — reduce, reuse and recycle, Pakistanis tend to follow their own philosophy revolving around the three R’s which are rupees, revenues, and returns. Concerned health and environment departments should take notice of such import of used plastics into the country, and this should be brought to an immediate halt due to the harmful effects to the health of the consumers and the environment. Uncontrolled import of used plastics into this country also affects the local plastic manufacturers who are producing various plastic-based products and devices according to international safety standards and are abiding by globally-certified manufacturing laws and regulations.