Fight against plastic waste: “Dubai Can”, but what about Pakistan?

As part of a mission to reduce plastic waste, the Dubai Can initiative includes, among other things, water stations installed in high-traffic areas such as parks, the beach and shopping malls to encourage individuals to use refillable water bottles instead of plastic ones. The city will now also crack down on plastic bags.

Some 40 water stations have already been set up, with a plan to reach 50 by the end of the year. The idea is to “create a culture of conscious living by raising awareness of plastic alternatives and sustainability issues” and contribute to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Companies like Dell, Emaar, Nakheel and Talabat have also voluntarily adopted the Dubai Can strategy, which includes installing water filters or bottleless dispensers in offices, encouraging staff to use water canisters rechargeable and the use of official social media and marketing channels to publicize the post.

They are also asked to track the impact of their efforts, such as the amount of CO2 emissions that have been reduced – this is all part of the larger goal of making efforts against climate change.

“Everyone can be part of Dubai Can and this city-wide movement to protect the environment,” said a spokesperson for the initiative.

And the need is dire: 8.3 billion tons of plastic were produced in the UAE in 2019 and it is estimated that each UAE inhabitant uses 450 plastic water bottles on average each year, resulting in an annual consumption of more of 4 billion plastic bottles.

According to reports, the program was able to prevent at least a quarter of a million bottles from ending up in the landfill.

Going forward, Dubai will also introduce a fee for single-use plastic bags from July 1 in hopes of banning them altogether in two years. But while Dubai is making progress towards tangible goals and results, Pakistan is lagging behind. Pakistan, also committed to the UN SDGs, tried to ban plastic bags, but this was not implemented in any concrete way. Hania Imran, an 18-year-old climate activist from Pakistan, says the country’s plastic pollution crisis is a huge problem. “In this country, 3.9 million tonnes of plastic were created in 2020 alone. 70% of that was not recycled,” Imran told Business Recorder.

“Plastic is in what we eat and what we breathe. We all have plastic microparticles in us. They even exist inside unborn babies, the long-term effects of which are still unknown. It literally kills us.

Another climate activist, Noor ul Huda Daudpota, who calls herself a climate communicator and leads a “low-waste life”, said: “Every minute we throw a garbage truck worth of plastic into the ocean – it will take us 50-60 years to fix the problem if we do something about single-use plastic now.

“We inhale a micro plastic credit card every week.”

While praising Dubai’s efforts, Imran said Pakistan can follow suit, but any initiative must be consistent.

Giving the example of plastic bags being banned in Islamabad, she said for a while that they had disappeared in the capital and people had started using reusable bags.

But now “plastic bags are back”. It should be noted that Pakistan uses between 55 and 112 billion plastic bags every year.

“We need government and business to step in and act, just like Dubai. Pakistan can take similar steps – it just needs to be consistent and engage society and young people. “Together we can find solutions and you will see the change,” said Imran, who said he wanted to be part of the National Assembly to bring about “real change”.

Hitting the private sector, however, Imran said: “Companies that create plastic say it’s okay to keep doing it because it’s recycled, but the truth is the majority of plastic isn’t recycled. .

“It’s a very difficult thing to do. We need lasting solutions.

Meanwhile, Daudpota said recycling is not the answer.

“It’s about completely stopping using single-use plastic. This is the only way to fix this problem. »

She explained that when plastic is recycled, its quality is degraded, which means that virgin plastic has to be added to it. So any recycled product is actually only about 30% recycled plastic, while the rest is virgin plastic.

On top of that, she said the carbon emissions from plastic recycling are also very high.

Daudpota believes there are no campaigns in Pakistan that are making a real difference and hopes to see programs similar to Dubai Can in schools and offices across the country.

While the private sector in Pakistan has taken some action, more is needed, campaigners say. Last year, Coca-Cola worked with the Capital Development Authority and the National Incubation Center to create Pakistan’s first plastic road in Islamabad. This route used around 10 tons of collected plastic bottles. The idea was to create a scalable plastic solution that could serve as a model for nationwide practice.

Aquafina, owned by rival Coke Pepsico, has introduced the country’s first ‘reverse vending machine’ – people deposit plastic bottles and in return receive Rs 100 worth of KFC vouchers per bottle.

Last year, PepsiCo and plastic maker Novatex signed a memorandum of understanding to work together to scale up the collection of plastic bottle usage in Pakistan and commercialize the use of manufactured bottles. from recycled plastics. But is it enough? Imran believes that businesses “must do more and must do better” and that every citizen must hold them accountable, before “we run out of time”.

“Plastic isn’t going anywhere, and we can’t stop talking about it,” she said.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

Bryce K. Locke