Pakistani citizens left holding the bag

Published: Monday 15 August 1994

GREEN connotations of a different kind have left several Pakistani citizens aghast at a recent decision by the Sindh provincial government to ban the manufacture and sale of polythene bags made of recycled plastic. Officials claim the decision was taken on environmental considerations because the disposal of these plastic bags had become a major problem. They also warned that lawbreakers will be fined heavily and imprisoned.

However, many of Karachi's citizens feel they have been left holding the hot potato. Hundreds of thousands of them carry their daily shopping in these polythene bags as they go about their routines. The popular need for the bags ensures the sale of 400 million bags annually. Assured by this figure, a functionary of the fledgling representative body of bag manufacturers waxed eloquent on plastic being a way of life in and other urban centres of Sindh.

The lawmakers were unimpressed. In the fashion of the civic officials of Hamlyn confounded by rats before the Pied Piper played his airs, the real-life administrators in Sindh complained of plastic bags covering bylanes, clogging drains and sewers and littering open spaces in the cities. But since no helpful wind blew their problem away, the Sindh government sought desperate solutions. It takes a particularly dark view of black plastic bags because their material is contaminated by carcinogenic chemicals due to repeated recycling.

Bag manufacturers claim they are totally taken aback by the sudden, supposedly environmentalist zeal of the government telling them to shut shop or face the consequences, which, though not as personally painful as during late General Zia Ul-Haq's regime, are nonetheless taxing. They have also protested that thousands of workers in small recycling businesses will be put out of jobs.

But loath as the Italian team was at this year's World Cup to pay by penalties and more skilled at scoring their point, the manufacturers have hinted they may yet overcome the official opposition. Some of them have already begun to assert that the rules of any game in Pakistan can be fixed through petty bribes and that the repression of plastic will not last for long. Familiar to many developing countries, the story is only remindful that any measure to conserve the environment is doomed if it rubs people the wrong way.

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