Islamabad - Polythene bags are causing incalculable damage to the land, air and water of Pakistan, being churned out and used perhaps in their billions across the country, refusing to wither away even in thousand years unless consigned to flames.

The nation needs to draw battle lines against this virtual “enemy” to root it out of existence, say analysts. But, a concerted effort on “war-footing” is lacking to take on this challenge.

The mind boggles at the figure of 55-billion a year production of polythene or plastic bags by nearly 8,000 factories located in Lahore, Karachi and other cities. This figure is clearly and unambiguously mentioned in a document provided by the Environmental Protection Agency of Pakistan (EPA-Pak). Separately, a New York Times report once claimed that polythene bags will linger on, unless set on fire at great peril to clean air, for even one thousand years. Third world countries like Pakistan, with its ubiquitous use of plastic bags, are especially vulnerable to this stigma which can attach to earth, air and water alike.

EPA-Pak Director, Ziaul Islam prescribes “Oxo-Biodegradable” technology as the viable substitute to the widespread use of polytene bags for carrying light- weight shopping.

Ziaul Islam puts the estimates of the longevity of a Polythene bag at 100 years or so- still a high figure even if one ignores the New York Times report.

According to the EPA-Pak official, carelessly thrown-away polythene bags make their way to bodies of water, such as streams and nullahs, wrapping around marine creature. Sea creatures even sometime swallow plastic bags because they resemble jellyfish. “The plastic bags may make the animal suffocate or starve to death”, he said while talking to APP.

The heaps of disused polythene bags give the cities and towns in third world countries a grimy, filthy look. The citizens need to cultivate habits of carefully consigning these bags to proper dustbins while the authorities concerned must also show more efficiency and sense of responsibility in collecting and disposing of these bags along with other garbage.

However, a CDA official, Ramzan Sajid, angrily dismissed the generally-held belief that collection and disposal of these bags was part of the civic body’s duty of garbage-removal.

According to a report by Pak-EPA in 2004 on plastic bags, 55 billion bags were being manufactured and consumed annually in the country with an annual growth rate of 15 %.

The annual average consumption of plastic bags was estimated at 397 bags per person, i.e. 1 bag per head per day. By this count of 2004, the production of plastic bags will have reached the figure of 112 billion by year 2015.

The report observed that more than 8000 plastic bag units were operating in different parts of the country, majority of which were in Lahore (6,000), Karachi (1,200), Peshawar (300) and Faisalabad (230). About 200,000 people were directly and 600,000 people indirectly associated with this business.

The National Assembly of Pakistan had also passed a Resolution on April 22, 2008, that the government should take steps to ban use of plastic shopping bags and instead bring in use the degradable shopping bags.

Ziaul Islam said, “If we talk about the ban on plastic bags it is not the solution, in fact, use of oxo-biodegradable bag technology is the solution which can dispose of within 6 months. Many countries have introduced this technology and it is simple which neither needs alteration in machinery nor in the process.”