The resultant dip in the usage of polythene bags due to the Lahore High Court’s infamous ban has been replaced with a renewed reliance on them by both Rawalpindi’s traders and consumers alike.
This upsurge in usage of plastic bags in the federal capital’s twin is in contrast with the government’s efforts to reduce reliance on plastic. Shahid Zaidi, spokesman for the district administration, acknowledging the problem, told the Express Tribune that because of the COVID super-spreader and dengue wave implementation of the ban had been relaxed. “However, we have started issuing warnings again,” Zaidi added swiftly.
Even if bigger commercial entities have stopped the use of polythene bags, the problem is exacerbated by smaller traders, corner shops, stall owners, and the like. “A crackdown on small shopkeepers is also being launched soon and heavy fines will be imposed on those found in violation,” Zaidi claimed without indicating when soon was. Zaidi believes that getting to the source of production was crucial in curbing plastic use. “List of places selling and making bags has been prepared and we will make an effort to stop the sale and manufacture of polythene bags,” he said, highlighting the administration’s plans.
Placing the onus on Rawalpindi’s residents, Zaidi said that citizens themselves should avoid the practice. However, Hanif Khattak, a resident of the city, while talking to the Express Tribune, said that it was not practically possible to carry a reusable bag all the time. “Sometimes I am on the way home from the office and have to make a stop to buy groceries. In such situations, the use of plastic bags becomes inevitable,” he said.
Read Polythene bags resurface in federal capital
Apart from the practicality perspective, some are deterred by the cost of reusable bags. Yasir Ali, who was out and about to shop for food items in the city, said that bigger shops and bakeries charge Rs 50 for a bag. “Why should I pay Rs 50 for a bag when I just bought items worth only Rs 200?” Ali inquired.
He suggested that if the city was interested in curbing the use of polythene bags, eco-friendly or reusable cloth bags should be provided for free by shopkeepers.
Fayyaz Mehmood, manager of a large grocery outlet, said that the majority of shoppers did not mind paying the additional Rs 30 to 50 charge for an eco-friendly bag. “It is true though that some do not want to pay for the bags, so whoever objects we tell them to carry their items however they can,” Mehmood said, indicating that carrying the items in hand was the only choice consumers were left with.
Something should be done about plastic bags sooner rather than later, a spokesperson of the Solid Waste Management Company in Rawalpindi, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told the Express Tribune. “When we clean rainwater drains and manholes, these polythene bags are the main cause of the water blockade,” he informed.
Amin Baig, Senior Research Officer at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Rawalpindi, seconding the district administration’s stance, said that the EPA realized the problem and was going to conduct an operation against the nuisance of plastic bags. However, Baig too failed to provide a timeline on when action would be taken.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 7th, 2021.