The plastics industry is one of the frontrunners in the business sectors of Pakistan, clocking a growth rate in excesses of 15% per year. There are however, rampant violations of laws and regulations taking place within the plastics industry that need to be addressed urgently by the relevant authorities especially when it comes to the processing, manufacturing and recycling of hazardous plastic materials in the country. Negligence in this regard puts not only the environment, but also the lives of citizens at stake. Local plastics manufacturers use the imported plastic scraps and waste to produce finished plastic goods and articles for sale to and use for end consumers in the country.
The plastic scraps used for manufacturing are in no way tested for contaminants before being cleared for manufacturing. It is a clear and blatant violation of the import policy order put in place by the government. Furthermore, it violates the Basel Convention that draws out the scope of end-of-life plastic products which contain contaminants and constituents that fall under Hazard Class 6 & 9 of the Convention and are to be sent back to the country from where said plastic waste was imported from.
The most worrying fact is that in the year 2017, plastic scraps imports jumped over a staggering 200% to 46,992 mt compared to 13,682 mt in 2016. Several countries like the UK, Belgium, Canada, Germany and Saudi Arabia regularly export this scrap to Pakistan. Imported plastic scrap contains higher amounts of contamination residuals, pest dumps, germs and infections, pesticides and food particles among many other harmful chemicals and additives. Many countries including China, have totally banned such imports.
According to the Import Policy Order 2015 of Pakistan, it states that the waste parings and scrap of plastics that are imported by local manufacturers for their use are subject to the condition that a certificate from the relevant government agency of the exporting country be furnished to Pakistan’s custom authorities, clearing the plastic scraps as non-hazardous and that they comply with the provisions of the Basel Convention. To strictly execute the said policy, however, the role of customs authorities and environmental inspection agencies stands very crucial as it is a matter of health and environment for the masses. If these plastic imports go unchecked the hazardous plastic scrap would cause very serious diseases and infect humans.
The import policy is comprehensive and provides clear guidelines about effective regulation of hazardous plastic imports but lack of proper enforcement raises a number of red flags. Despite the aforementioned comprehensive import policies, local plastics manufacturers in Pakistan are heavily producing those plastics and plastics-based items for both domestic and industrial consumptions that contain higher amounts of several hazardous elements and components. That is because the hazardous products are being released without detailed pre-shipment laboratory analysis in violation of the laws of the country.
The unabated import of hazardous plastic scrap, due to lack of proper implementation of laws, has increasingly become a source of concern for the local industry and EPA in Pakistan. Such a lax regulation mechanism virtually nullifies the very reason the import policy was put into place by the Ministry of Commerce followed by the order passed in the Lahore High Court in 2015. Countries like China, India and Malaysia have outright banned the import of such hazardous PVC materials and every consignment coming into their countries is tested on different levels by relevant authorities before being released into the country. China was considered the biggest importer of garbage, but after it announced that it will halt the import of such waste, there has been a considerable increase in the imports of plastic waste in Pakistan.
The regulatory authorities need to ensure strict enforcement of this policy so that, the import of this hazardous material can be stopped and our nation can be saved from the use of this hazardous PVC scrap material which is being used amongst the masses, before it is too late.