Banning the Use of Plastic Bags

Banning the Use of Plastic Bags

Banning the Use of Plastic Bags

Though belated, the policy requires full implementation

Hassaan Bin Zubair

Plastic bags are one of the main causes of marine pollution, and the focus on plastic bag reduction is ongoing. Currently, the worldwide annual production of plastic is reported to have escalated to almost 300 million tones and it will keep increasing swiftly if it goes unchecked. The UN found that in cities around the world, about five trillion plastic bags used each year equaled nearly 10 million plastic bags per minute. Most of plastic waste clogs drains, inundating streets and roads with sewage and breeding serious diseases.


We have become used to plastic bags to carry our stuff around. They’re cheap and handy and readily available. But, while plastic has many valuable uses, we have become addicted to single-use or disposable plastic — with severe environmental consequences. The UN has found that in cities around the world, about five trillion plastic bags used each year equaled nearly 10 million plastic bags per minute. Most of plastic waste clogs drains, inundating streets and roads with sewage and breeding serious diseases. That’s why many countries around the world are banning the use of plastic bags.

Growing use of Plastic bags

In the developing countries like Pakistan, the plastic packaging sector is growing industrial segment. The increased trade and commercial activity in consumer and industrial sectors, changing lifestyle, increased population and growth in retail business has created a great demand for supply of plastic bags as most of the consumer sector use plastic bags while delivering their products to the customer.

According to a survey, as many as 12 million plastic bags were used in Pakistan between 1990 and 1991 and this use rose to 43 billion in 2005 and up to 55 billion in 2007. Data collected by the Ministry of Climate Change confirms that the use of plastic bags is rising at the rate of 15 per cent annually. There are at least 8,021 plastic bag production units in the country with the average daily production capacity of these units ranging between 250kg and 500 kg. An estimated 160,000 people in the country are directly and 600,000 people are indirectly dependent on the polythene bag business. Statistics published during March, 2019 revealed that Pakistan stands second in the row of plastic industry in South Asia.

Environmental Hazards

https___sーPolythene bags have a surprisingly significant environmental impact for something so seemingly innocuous. These bags do not readily break down in the environment, requiring 20 to 1,000 years to decompose. One of the perturbing facts stemming from this is that plastic bags kill the wild and marine life. Once a dead animal (due to ingestion of a polythene bag) decomposes into the ground, the bag is released back into the environment more or less intact. Burning of plastic bags further adds to pollution in the air in the form of dioxins and furans. Plastic bags are also a breeding home for mosquitoes which cause malaria and dengue.

Why a growing danger?

The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) revealed that up to 5 trillion plastic bags are consumed each year. These bags typically end up in landfills or the ocean. More than 100,000 marine mammals get entangled in plastic bags and die yearly. On average, a plastic bag has only a 12-minute lifespan. Most bags wind up languishing in landfills, where they can remain for up to 1,000 years.

Disposed of improperly, they can clog waterways, choke marine life and provide a breeding ground for malaria-carrying mosquitoes. When dumped in landfills, they can take centuries to decompose. Large-scale production and use of plastic bags, has led to ever-enlarging environmental management challenges encompassing storage, use and safe disposal. The unmanaged disposal of plastics into the soil and aquatic habitats has distressed scientists, public health professionals and marine biologists.

Global War on Plastic bags

There’s a global battle going on against single-use plastics, particularly when it comes to the once-ubiquitous plastic bag.

A new report by UN Environment and World Resources Institute (WRI) suggest that at least 127 countries have adopted some form of legislation to regulate plastic bags. These policies range from outright bans in the Marshall Islands to progressive phase-outs in places like Moldova and Uzbekistan to laws in Romania and Vietnam that incentivize the use of reusable bags.

More than 90 states in the world have banned the use of plastic bags and another 36 regulate them with levies and fees.

Very few countries regulate the entire lifecycle of plastic bags from manufacturing and production, use and distribution, to trade and disposal. Only 55 countries comprehensively restrict the retail distribution of plastic bags, in tandem with restrictions on manufacturing, production and imports. The rest include loopholes that could fail to curb overall plastic pollution. For example, China bans plastic bag imports and mandates that retailers charge consumers for plastic shopping bags, but does not explicitly restrict their production or exportation. Ecuador, El Salvador and Guyana only regulate the disposal of plastic bags, but not their importation, production and retail use. Eighty-nine countries we reviewed opted for partial bans or restrictions on plastic bans instead of full bans. Partial bans may include requirements on bags’ thickness or composition. A range of thicknesses and biodegradability requirements are regulated. For example, France, India, Italy, Madagascar and several other countries don’t have an outright ban on all plastic bags, but they do ban or tax plastic bags that are fewer than 50 microns in thickness.

Manufacture volume limits, arguably one of the most effective means of limiting plastics from entering the market, are the least utilized regulatory mechanism. Only one country in the world, Cape Verde, includes an explicit production limit.

Twenty-five of the 91 countries that have plastic bag bans include exemptions, and many have multiple exemptions. Cambodia, for instance, exempts from its ban the importation of small volumes, fewer than 100 kilograms of plastic bags for non-commercial purposes.

Fourteen African countries have explicit exemptions in their plastic bag bans. Exemptions may relate to certain activities or products. The most common exemptions include handling and transport of perishable and fresh food items, carrying small retail items, use for scientific or medical research, and garbage or waste storage and disposal. Other exemptions can include plastic bags for export, national security, airport and duty-free bags or agricultural uses. Governments oftentimes fail to provide subsidies for reusable bags. They also fail to require recycled content to be used in plastic or biodegradable bags.

Only 16 countries had rules regarding the use of reusable bags or plastic alternatives, such as bags made from plant-based materials. At least 25 countries with bans have exemptions for perishable foods or medicines. Bans are mainly widespread in Africa. This is partly because relatively low-waste collection and recycling rates make the problem of waste plastic more visible.

EPR Strategy

However, there are some countries pushing beyond existing regulations to pursue new and exciting approaches. They’re attempting to shift the responsibility for plastic pollution from consumers and the government to the companies that produce plastic. Australia and India, for instance, enacted laws requiring Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), a policy approach where producers must be responsible for the clean-up or recycling of their products. EPR encompasses management of the potential impacts of a product in all stages of production, distribution, use, collection, re-use, recycling, reprocessing and disposal. As plastic production has doubled in the last 20 years and is expected to continue to increase, the world urgently needs to reduce its use of single-use plastic bags.

Animals-grazing-on-plastics-bagsSituation in Pakistan

Each time someone in Pakistan runs out to the store for a carton of milk, a half-pound of loose sugar or an after-school snack, it comes in a flimsy plastic bag that usually gets thrown away. If all those bags are added up, officials estimate, they total 55 billion a year. Easily torn and too weak to use again, they end up clogging city drains and sewers, piled up in vacant lots and parks, ingested by grazing goats and dogs foraging for food, and polluting canals and streams.

According to the ministry of climate change in Pakistan, the use of plastic bags is rising at the rate of 15 percent yearly, and as a local media house had presently states, as many as 12 million plastic bags were used in the country between 1990 and 1991 and this consumption had surged to 43 billion during 2005 and up to 55 billion during 2007.

Government Policies

Historically, the government of Sindh had imposed a ban on the manufacturing, sale, purchase and use of polythene bags during 1994. Punjab followed suit in 1995 while Balochistan levied a complete ban on polythene bags in 2001. Islamabad had also banned the use and sale of plastic bags during 2013 but the previous government had failed in implementing a decision that would have declined a lot of health hazards and drain blockages by now.

Recently, as a step towards curbing plastic pollution, State Minister for Climate Change Zartaj Gul has announced a blanket ban on the sale and purchase of polythene shopping bags in different cities of Pakistan effective August 14 onwards. Biodegradable shopping bags are being introduced as an alternative which begs the question as to how long before we will actually see implementation of this ban.


The decision to ban plastic bags is the right step for protecting our environment. But we need to re-examine the strategy to implement this policy. In the past, there were no significant steps taken to implement this policy. If some steps were taken, they failed to achieve the required results. The current policy includes a ban on only plastic bags normally used for groceries; ignoring other plastic materials such as packing materials, plastic bags used for collecting trash and plastic bottles, which must also be included in the policy.

Though the government has announced to distribute 100,000 biodegradable bags in the capital and is doing in various ministries, it’s not a permanent solution. The government should provide an alternative to manufacturers of plastic bags in the form of expertise and subsidies to produce biodegradable plastic bags to fill this gap, produced by this ban. At the initial stage of policy implementation, the government can provide subsidy to big grocery stores to introduce a policy of 0.50% discount on the overall cost of shopping if a customer brings biodegradable bag or cloth bag from home.

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