World Environment Day 2023: Urgent call to beat plastic pollution

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Today (Monday), the world observes World Environment Day, the United Nations’ annual event dedicated to raising global awareness and action for the environment. With the theme of “Beat Plastic Pollution” for this year, the focus is on finding urgent solutions to combat the escalating issue of plastic pollution.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), over 400 million tonnes of plastic are produced worldwide every year, with half of it designed for single-use purposes. Shockingly, less than 10 percent of plastic is recycled, and an estimated 19 to 23 million tonnes end up in lakes, rivers, and seas annually.

Recognizing the severity of plastic pollution, Pakistan has established the National Plastic Action Partnership, aiming to develop a platform for effective plastic waste management. A key outcome of this initiative is the creation and implementation of a circular economy framework to reduce plastic waste and pollution.

The country has encouraged industries and companies to take responsibility for collecting and recycling their plastic waste in an environmentally safe manner, following the principles of polluter pay and extended producer responsibility.

Pakistan itself is not immune to the challenges posed by plastic pollution. In 2020, the country generated 3.9 million tonnes of plastic waste, of which over 65 percent was mismanaged. Plastics account for around 18 percent of the municipal solid waste produced in Pakistan. Shockingly, only three percent of the plastic used by the manufacturing industry in the country is made from recycled material, as highlighted by UNEP.

The United Nations Environment Programme is committed to collaborating with Pakistan in addressing the issue of plastic pollution. UNEP Executive Director Inger Anderson has affirmed support for Pakistan in developing its National Adaptation Plan. The organization also fully supports the government’s ‘Living Indus Initiative’, which aims to restore the ecological health of the Indus River within Pakistan. This initiative includes efforts to reduce plastic waste and establish Zero Plastic Waste Cities along the Indus River.

As World Environment Day celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif emphasizes Pakistan’s unwavering commitment to combat plastic pollution. The government has taken several steps to promote sustainable resource usage and is actively working on the Plastics Prohibition Regulation 2023 for the Islamabad Capital Territory. This comprehensive regulation will establish a framework and timeline for phasing out single-use plastics and set an example by reducing and ultimately banning their use within the federal government.

Federal Minister for Climate Change and Environmental Coordination Senator Sherry Rehman calls for global action, as plastic production is projected to triple by 2060 if the current “business-as-usual” approach continues. She highlights Pakistan’s dedication to promoting a sustainable circular economy for plastics by reducing waste, consumption, and encouraging reuse, recycling, and material recovery. The minister emphasizes the need for incentive-driven approaches to encourage consumers to change their plastic consumption habits.