The Plastic Bag Ban: What is our responsibility?

Not many in the local Karachi government let alone the common man here, I imagine, would be fully aware of what a great controversy the global warming phenomena has caused at the world stage in more developed countries. The Wikepedia page on Global Warming Controversy has all the details but the short summary, I suppose is, that there is wide spread difference of opinion on the possible causes and effects of the recent rise in our planet’s temperature, with some people believing human factors have a definite involvement, while others, the so-called environmental skeptics, including some scientists themselves, argue that the former concerns are exaggerated.

Regardless of which side of that debate you are on, I’m sure you will, like every Karachiite like to see a greener, cleaner and healthier Karachi. Unfortunately though, such is the nature and impact of environment related issues, that any moves to improve things, or even suggestions to improve things, invariably acquire the state of a political debate. Take for instance, the recent ban imposed by the Sindh provincial government on plastic bags below 30 micron weight, which Umar wrote about yesterday as well.

plastic%20bag%20nightmare%20004.jpgThough the use of these bags themselves has no direct impact on climate change it self, their misuse, including improper disposal, leads to all sorts of environmental hazards, non-so-more severe then the hopeless situation we all witness with respect to Karachi’s ill-functioning sewerage system. The banning, while good intentioned, does nevertheless create issues similar to those raised by the opponents of the Kyoto Protocol, who argue that they do not oppose the treaty’s idea in general, but appose it because the strain it would put global economies.

Adnan Siddqui, who blogs at Adnan’s Crazy World and is a regular commentator on the Karachi Metroblog is one of those vehement critics of the plastic bag ban. Speaking on the matter during a group discussion one email he told us he too wasn’t against the ban it self, but against what he called the “sudden imposing of a law without providing any alternatives”. Plastic bag manufacturers and traders have warned the ban on all plastic bags below the 30 micron weight limit would adversely affect the polythene bag industry, which is the livelihood of 1,000 small industrialists and more than 2,000 dealers and traders in Karachi alone, adding thousands more to the already long list of jobless people in the city. This predicament, in Adnan’s view is something the government has done “nothing” about.

plastic%20bag%20nightmare%20002.jpg“I got chance to talk to one of local suppliers and he was very worried because he’s facing difficulty to find alternative job” Adnan said, adding that local shops in his area, since they had no alternatives, had resorted to giving away items to customers in their bare hands, or in other cases, such as those of butchers, by wrapping them in paper, or in the case of milk vendors, by asking their customers to bring their utensils from home. Higher quality plastic bags, those above the 30 micron weight limit, Adnan insists, are simply not available at all the shops in the city.

Supporters of the ban, including fellow metroblogger Ramla (who wrote about this issue her self here), dispute that the economic impact of the ban could be overstated by its critics, “There is very little switching costs to environmentally friendly practices these days”, she says, reminding us that “at any cost, not all plastic has been banned – only that below 30 microns weight.” The relevant law, “The Sindh Prohibition of Manufacturing, Sale and Use of Polythene Bags-2006”, is reportedly, not ‘framed and notified’ yet, but various government officials, including the City Nazim Syed Mustafa Kamal, and Sindh Minister for Environment and Alternative Energy Dr. Sagheer Ahmad, have already been warning on numerous occasions, that offenders will be punished.

While some officials higher up have themselves have admitted they’ve decided not to “deal with the offenders with an iron hand” in the initial stages, once fully imposed the law could deliver punishments ranging from a mere confiscation of the banned polyethylene bag, to heavy fines of up to Rs. 50,000 and even imprisonment for a minimum of three months to a maximum of four years in jail. And if you thought that sounded strict, let me also tell you that the ban applies to not just the manufactures and sellers but also the users of the plastic bags themselves. Yes, that means us.

plastic%20bag%20nightmare%20005.jpgWhilst switching to a plastic bag free environment could require some adjustment, it is not something that should be beyond us, as another supporter of the ban, Dr. Awab Alvi says, “The world over has learnt to live without plastic bags, I am sure we will learn the same way, yes, it seems hard but we shall learn”. It would be a bit utopian to expect the ban to solve all of Karachi’s environmental problems overnight, especially given how skeptically most bans are normally received by both the authorities who have a responsibly to enforce them, as well as ordinary citizens whose job is to abide by them, but it is still important to recognize that the ban is a step in the right direction, irrespective of what the governments’ incentive, motivation or intention may be in introducing it.

While it is a valid concern that people in the industry need to be provided alternative jobs, simply passing on the buck back to the government, on every issue, is not going to do Karachi at large any good. It may be the government job’s to ensure that alternative jobs markets, such as the paper bag and recycling industry, are opened for those facing a vacuum in the polythene industry, but it our job to make sure we respect the ban at our level. The hopeless situation the sewerage system is in now is precisely because no one cares, because every third person is willing to throw their plastic bag down an open gutter with the justification that ‘everyone else does the same’.

We need to reignite our moral consciousness and ask ourselves what our responsibility is; I’m sure there is a voice inside everyone that knows everyone else doing something wrong doesn’t make it right, we just have to listen to it. So the next time you are on your way to the shopping markets to buy something use a paper or cloth bag instead of a polythene bag. If you’re using a plastic bag, make sure it above 30 microns in weight, and if you know of shopkeepers who insist on giving you the banned variety, report them to your local Union Council Nazim. Listen to your inner self, because change starts from a single person, and that person could be you. One small step at a time, and Karachi could be a better place to live in for everyone.

16 Comments so far

  1. Teeth Maestro (unregistered) on March 22nd, 2007 @ 1:27 pm

    Brilliant article – well done

  2. UZi (unregistered) on March 22nd, 2007 @ 6:15 pm

    Awesome, AWESOME write-up!!! WAYYYY awesome! AWESOME^infinity! Wowie @ my limited vocab! :D

  3. Obi Wan Kenobi (unregistered) on March 22nd, 2007 @ 6:19 pm

    Kid, keep one thing remember that advice should be always short. I am sure that article is good (w/o even reading) but it is too long to read when you know what could be inside. I am sorry, I am just mortal. By no means, I am discouraging you but then some one has to tell you about this.

  4. Zainub (unregistered) on March 22nd, 2007 @ 6:24 pm

    I know its rather long Obi, after I finished reading the whole thing I thought the same thing, but I’m terrible at trying to edit my own stuff. I couldn’t decide which part to leave out so ended up posting everything I had written. I’ll try and keep this in mind next time.

  5. UZi (unregistered) on March 22nd, 2007 @ 6:35 pm

    none of it needs to be edited out. ek kaam karo: put in sub-headings, so people can skip portions if they want to..

  6. BoZz (unregistered) on March 22nd, 2007 @ 9:50 pm

    When you think in terms of the loss the national exchequer suffers due to these bags (cleaning drains, sewerage, roads, people hired and their salaries, man hours wasted etc.), and the agony these bags cause to people at large (over flowing and blocked sewers, stink, filth, pollution, eye sore etc.) and the destruction that they cause in the natural environment (both animals and marine life), it is ridiculous to suggest that we should ponder upon the decision to ban them outright.

    Even a country such as Rawanda banned these bags several years ago.

    The decision as taken by the government is neither sudden nor unannounced. The environmentalists have been pointing this out for a few years now. The makers of the polythene bags have also known this for a sufficient length of time. In any case time enough to change their ways.

    Polythene has a life span of ONE HUNDRED YEARS.

    It is totally juvenile and irresponsible to suggest that we wait further on this ban. What absurdity to link the loss of 3000 jobs or even ten thousand, in comparison to the numerous benefits and relief, that the ban would bring to more than 30 MILLION people and God only knows the number of animals, birds and sea creatures too.

    I advocate it is time we learn to say “stuff it” to the polythene bag and to their producers also.

  7. Adnan Siddiqi (unregistered) on March 23rd, 2007 @ 11:46 am

    Thanks zainab for converting an informal email group conversation to an article. Very well written.

  8. Adnan Siddiqi (unregistered) on March 23rd, 2007 @ 11:54 am

    The decision as taken by the government is neither sudden nor unannounced. The environmentalists have been pointing this out for a few years now.

    Crap! Same people also been whiniing for traffic pollution as well. When no alternative means have been announced by govt then it would be considered a SUDDEN implementation of a law.

    What absurdity to link the loss of 3000 jobs or even ten thousand, in comparison to the numerous benefits and relief

    Just because head of your family is not used to work for that industry? If your family members were part of the industry then i bet you would be upset at the moment.

    Talk about ground realities ,can you?

  9. MB (unregistered) on March 23rd, 2007 @ 12:46 pm

    @ZAINUB : waahhhhhhh!!!!…………. yar tukmne toh apni inning ki first ball per six maar dia…….. lash pash…
    Excellent post…….. 10/10 from me…

    Alright , so lets have a reply to all :

    I too agree to this Adnan theory: “Sudden imposing of a law without providing any alternatives

    I asked my cousin who lives at our home and often gets ghrailu samaan when I am not around about this and he told me too that the dukaandar have started giving in hand now.

    As for Awab’s comment “The world over has learnt to live without plastic bags, I am sure we will learn the same way, yes, it seems hard but we shall learn “

    I would like to ask what about the people who will loose the job, how they will learn to live?

    Then again I am with zainub when she says “the ban is a step in the right direction“. But the medicine which the patient couldn’t digest becomes itself an issue. If there are alternatives to this then fine else it’s just another blunder that our gov. is famous to make.

    Last but not least: How I am going to find out if the plastic bag I have is below 30 microns.

    @BOZZ : “What absurdity to link the loss of 3000 jobs …………….. than 30 MILLION people”

    I couldn’t have expected such a stupid comment from you bozz. I guess Adnan has given you the proper reply. You can’t be so indifferent to those poor people. Are you?
    Please take that comment back.

  10. BoZz (unregistered) on March 23rd, 2007 @ 3:07 pm

    Not in a hundred years. I wonder where stupidity lies, being indifferent to 3000 persons or 30 million plus not including the environment and all that it holds. Being indifferent to 3000 or to the whole nation!

    MB I can see your point and Adnan’s too if I look at things with tunnel vision.

    The government is not responsible to find a job for each and every citizen of this nation. In no country this is so and cannot be so.

    The government is not and cannot be held responsible for everything. It is way high time to grow up and shoulder some of the resultant responsibility as well.

    I know that this maybe a hard concept for us to digest but some where we have to start to sacrifice for the greater good. To be a little less selfish and look at the bigger picture.

  11. Adnan Siddiqi (unregistered) on March 23rd, 2007 @ 10:17 pm

    Bozz: as I said that your dad/guardian/anyone who brings money at your home don’t belong to those “3000” that’s why you are making statment on an online forum. How cruel you are! Guess if you were part of such family then you were not even able to come online to share your rants.

    The government is not and cannot be held responsible for everything

    What are the responsibilities of a govt? Providing Job is ONE of the MOST important responsibility of any govt and IF govt is unable to provide Jobs then it is govt’s core task to provide a secure System to the people who are willing to do business in a state so that those businessmen can provide jobs to needy people.

    The reality is that every govt of Pakistan failed to provide a secure infrastructure to investors and SMEs, this is the reason that inflation rate is keep getting increased in Pakistan. There is a big capacity to introduce new jobs in various sectors but people are shaky for their investments, they ain’t willing to gamble their money at all.

    Kid, start experiencing real life. It’s very different than your imaginary world.

  12. BoZz (unregistered) on March 24th, 2007 @ 1:13 am

    Janab Adnan Siddiqi maulvi sahib. Thank you for your comments. Luckily my dad or mom are not working for this trade. But seeing the ferocity of your defense it looks like yours are.

    Jobs, Secure systems, Infra structure, Inflation, Investments, Gamblings… lots of words. Looks like you are using your polythene bag to put all these in.

    That or your turban is falling in front of your eyes.

  13. Adnan Siddiqi (unregistered) on March 24th, 2007 @ 12:15 pm

    Bozz: Offcourse none of my family work but yes others Pakistanis “DO” work. You sound too stupid when you say my family is associated with the business just because I am favoring those people?

    I reacted similarly when govt imposed Pillion ban in Karachi[check the archieve of this site]. Now someone should have comeup that my family belongs to Motorbike manufacturing company

    Your attitude is cruel,selfish towards those who belong to this Industry but it seems that pakistanis liberals don’t get time to give a proper education to their kids and spend most of time in partying late night.

    As I said next time do some homework before sharing your immature rants with others.

  14. Sathish (unregistered) on March 27th, 2007 @ 12:59 pm

    What is Good in the greater public interest shall be imposed / enforced with full blow.

    Ban on such under 30 micron bags was discussed since 1st of BB regime. so call it 20 plus years issue which now came to final implementation.

    if we notice, whenever there are NULLAH cleaning along the roads or Gutter clean within the street the debris left over contain nothing but polythene bags.

    for sure they are a menace evil for society

    “demolish a mosque if it is for the greater interest of public masses” thats a Hadith in Sahi bokhari. and there are no, ifs, buts, or, in it.

    so these bags are not end of world.

    we can keep a rug sack stashed in a bike carrier or trunk of car and utilise it as & when necessary.

  15. wasiq (unregistered) on March 28th, 2007 @ 3:26 am

    Only God knows why Al-qaida loves New Yolk….. lol

    what else did i miss…??

  16. Kashif Umar Draz (unregistered) on April 1st, 2007 @ 12:07 am

    Sir!I have a question Sewerage system can be even better if u do not use plastic bag how ever if we observe the wastage in the gutter there are pampers,stones and many other things also,this is not the solution the govt has to aware the man about it.
    and one important thing that the Punjab Assembly has passed the law of using 15 micron atleast plastic bag in 2002,why is this dual law in this country.Only Sind industry suffer from this law of 30 micron it should be overall 30 micron law

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