When Leo Hendrik Baekeland invented the first fully synthetic plastic in 1907, he probably didn’t realize the impact his invention was going to have on the planet and its inhabitants. The chemical structure of most plastics renders them resistant to many natural processes of degradation and as a result, they are slow to degrade. Normally, plastic items can take up to 1,000 years to decompose in landfills. The plastic we use in our daily lives can take 10-1000 years to decompose.

Plastic pollution can afflict land, waterways and oceans. It is estimated that 1.1 to 8.8 million metric tons of plastic waste enters the ocean from coastal communities each year. Living organisms, particularly marine animals, can be harmed either by mechanical effects, such as entanglement in plastic objects or problems related to ingestion of plastic waste, or through exposure to chemicals within plastics that interfere with their physiology—a beached whale, 1,100 pounds, found in the Philippines died with 88 pounds of plastic trash inside its body, an unusually large amount even by the grim standards of what is a common threat to marine wildlife.

Humans are also affected by plastic pollution through disruption of various hormonal mechanisms: Direct toxicity as in cases of lead, cadmium and mercury; Carcinogens as in case of diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP); Endocrine disruption, that causes cancer, birth defects, immune system suppression and developmental problems in children. As of 2018, about 380 million tons of plastic are produced worldwide each year. Some researchers suggest that by 2050 there could be more plastic than fish in the oceans by weight.

Pakistan is not among the top plastic waste-producing countries such as China, Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam. However, owing to rapid urbanisation, a booming population and an increase in consumerism, we are dumping an alarming amount of plastic waste into our land and rivers leading to the Arabian Sea. A conservative estimate by the Environmental Protection Agency suggests that around 55 billion disposable plastic bags are used by Pakistanis in a year.

It is the responsibility of the State of Pakistan to overcome the plastic usage nuisance. Strictly ban the usage of non-biodegradable polyethene plastic bags. Switch industries to Oxo-biodegradable plastic for all commercial purposes. Stringent policies of the government should be implemented like imposing heavy taxes on plastic packaging and jailing the violators along with a heavy fine. The government needs to draft a clear stance on making alternatives available for the people.

ZAHID ALI ZOHRI,

Gilgit-Baltistan, May 9.