CHITRAL: From the pristine rivers of the Hindu Kush to the slums of Islamabad, Pakistan is being suffocated by plastic due to lack of public awareness, government inertia, and poor waste management.
Plastic bags are a big part of the problem: the nation uses about 55 billion of them every year, according to the Pakistan Plastic Manufacturers Association.
Beaches flooded with plastic debris and dying marine life entangled in bags have shocked other countries to action: about 120 have implemented some form of single-use plastic ban.
Pakistan is among them but struggles with law enforcement. There is no coherent national policy and regional efforts often do not take into account the importance of educational outreach, and many in rural areas claim not to be aware of the damage that single-use plastic can cause.
The 42-year-old man comes from the mountainous district of Chitral, which banned the use of such bags for the first time two years ago, but with little effect.
“Once at home, I throw them away … I know it’s not good, but we don’t have bins in my neighborhood,” he adds.
Instead, these wastes dirty hillsides and roads. It also obstructs the currents that flow into the Indus River, which is now the second most polluted river with plastic in the world, just behind the Yangtze River in China, according to a study by the German Helmholtz Environmental Research Center.
Plastics flood the coast of the Arabian Sea, where the sewers of the vast port city of Karachi dump their waste.
According to the United Nations, single-use plastic bags kill up to one million birds, hundreds of thousands of marine mammals and turtles, along with “countless” fish each year.
And yet, in Pakistan, authorities say the amount of plastic used increases by 15 percent every year.
Recycling options are limited and waste disposal is often unfortunately poorly managed, even in the capital, trash is often simply burned in the street.