Earth Day’s battle cry: Saving the planet from plastic pollution

By Sara Danial

The world is facing a plastic pollution crisis of monumental proportions. Plastic has infiltrated every aspect of modern life, from bottles to bags, straws to packaging, becoming an integral part of our daily routines. Yet, its convenience comes at an immense cost to the environment. The United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) reports that approximately 1 million plastic bottles are sold every minute worldwide, and about 5 trillion plastic bags are used annually. These staggering figures underscore the urgent need to address our reliance on single-use plastics.

Pakistan, for instance, grapples with the highest percentage of mismanaged plastic waste in South Asia. According to the UNEP, the country generates 3.3 million tonnes of plastic waste annually. Additionally, approximately 250 million tonnes of garbage comprise plastic bottles, PET bottles, and food scraps.

In this critical battle, foodpanda Pakistan and Philip Morris (Pakistan) Limited along with other industry leaders, are spearheading initiatives to combat this pervasive problem. By implementing innovative and eco-friendly packaging solutions, such as reusable alternatives and biodegradable materials, foodpanda is championing sustainability efforts within its operations. “As we celebrate Earth Day this year, there needs to be continued focus to reduce plastic usage,” said Hassan Arshad, Director Policy and Communications. “At foodpanda Pakistan, we are deeply aware of the crisis of plastic pollution and its devastating impact on our environment. This is why we are taking proactive steps to minimize our carbon footprint and combat plastic waste. We prioritize several initiatives, including the usage of recyclable/reusable bags at pandamart and promotion of sustainable product features such as ‘No Cutlery’ options for food deliveries, making significant strides in reducing plastic usage. We are also proactively working with selected vendor partners nationwide to reduce plastic usage on our platform. Together, we aim to make a real difference, one meal at a time.”

Among the overlooked contributors to microplastic pollution are cigarette butts, which are the most abundant form of plastic waste globally. With approximately 4.5 trillion individual cigarette butts polluting our environment every year worldwide, their impact cannot be ignored. Once discarded, they break down into microplastics, adding to the already significant burden of microplastic pollution in our soil, waterways, and marine ecosystems.

Addressing this pressing challenge requires innovative solutions and collective action. Tobacco organizations like Philip Morris (Pakistan) Limited recognize the need for a paradigm shift in addressing environmental sustainability. “The journey towards a sustainable future is integral in our commitment to reducing our environmental footprint and negative impact on the planet and society,” said Andleeb Uroos Ahmed, Head of Communications, Philip Morris (Pakistan) Limited. “We aim to reduce cigarette butt littering by encouraging behavior change through impactful awareness campaigns for disposing of cigarette butts properly. Philip Morris International also invests in R&D and continuously works towards replacing cigarette filters with plastic free alternatives.

Moreover, by introducing better alternatives to conventional cigarettes such as smoke-free products, we aim to reduce the environmental footprint of smoking and contribute to a sustainable future.”

Coca-Cola Pakistan has also set ambitious targets to tackle environmental concerns and promote sustainability, aiming to collect and recycle a bottle or can for each one sold by 2030. Building on their progress, in 2022, 61% of the equivalent bottles and cans introduced into the market were collected and refilled or recycled. One such pioneering endeavor took place in Islamabad in 2021, resulting in the creation of Pakistan’s first plastic road on Ataturk Avenue. This groundbreaking project utilized approximately ten tonnes of plastic bottles, demonstrating a scalable solution for repurposing plastic waste in high-value production.

Pakistan State Oil (PSO) has also joined the efforts with the introduction of PSO ECO STREET, a sustainable plastic road initiative that transformed approximately 49,428 sq ft of conventional road surrounding PSO House in Clifton, Karachi, using 5,000 kg of recycled plastic waste primarily sourced from lubricant bottles and cans collected at PSO’s Lubricant Manufacturing Terminal (LMT).

Meanwhile, in 2020 in Karachi, the Network of Organizations Working with People with Disabilities Pakistan (NOWPDP) launched a recycling facility. Operated on the principles of reduce, reuse, and revive, the facility creates an ecosystem for an end-to-end waste management solution. Run entirely by persons with disabilities, it plays a crucial role in streamlining waste management efforts and promoting environmental sustainability in the city.

Therefore, as we commemorate Earth Day 2024 with the theme ‘Planet vs
Plastics,’ it serves as a stark reminder of the urgent need to address the root causes of plastic pollution and embrace sustainable practices. Collaboration among individuals, businesses, and policymakers is essential to implement solutions that reduce plastic consumption, promote recycling, and waste management, and support the development of biodegradable alternatives.

Sara Danial is a freelance writer with a keen interest in climate change and action

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