Ban on use of plastic bags leaves retailers, customers clueless in Islamabad

Special Ban on use of plastic bags leaves retailers, customers clueless in Islamabad
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Pakistani authorities banned single-use plastic bags in the federal capital from August 14. (Photo Courtesy – Zartaj Gul / Twitter)
Special Ban on use of plastic bags leaves retailers, customers clueless in Islamabad
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In this file photo, joint teams of Ministry of Climate Change, Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency, and Islamabad Capital Territory carries out a crackdown against plastic bag sellers, retailers & users in Islamabad, on Aug. 20, 2019. (Photo courtesy: Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency)
Updated 22 August 2019

Ban on use of plastic bags leaves retailers, customers clueless in Islamabad

Ban on use of plastic bags leaves retailers, customers clueless in Islamabad
  • Traders, retailers, and consumers voice concern demanding alternative of plastic shopping bags
  • Authorities banned single-use plastic bags in the federal capital from August 14

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s decision to ban single-use plastic has met with hurdles of its own ranging from confusion in the federal capital in the absence of alternatives to huge wave of unemployment expected from the plastic manufacturing industry.
Ranked number seven on the index of climate change, the country banned single-use plastic bags in the federal capital from August 14 as part of the government’s plans to make the country greener.
However, an altercation between Pakistan’s Environment Protection Agency (EPA) and Islamabad’s most frequented eatery, Savour Foods, this week caught media attention and the incident’s video widely shared on social media has highlighted the challenges of the freshly introduced single-use plastic bag ban law enforced from last week introduced by the Ministry of Climate Change.
“We want Pakistan to be plastic-free because it is a burden on our environment,” Zartaj Gul, State Minister for Climate Change said last week in an exclusive interview to Arab News adding that Pakistan wanted to demonstrate to the world that it was “contributing to green initiatives.”
Pakistan is the 128th country to stop the use of the non-biodegradable material made from various type of polymers that are harmful to the environments and has been running awareness campaigns much ahead of imposing the ban but not all have adopted and accepted the new law in the capital.
Savour Foods, well known for its tasty Pulao (rice) with chicken and a local variety of shaami kabab accompanied with yogurt and salad serving thousands daily in house and take away which heavily uses plastic bags for its food reacted to EPA enforcement team’s attempt to confiscate the plastic bags from their premises during rush hour.
The EPA officials were pushed out by the restaurant staff resulting in authorities taking strict action, arresting staff members, sealing the restaurant and imposing a hefty fine.
On Wednesday, the eatery’s management submitted unconditional apology and replaced the plastic bags with environment friendly ones assuring to “comply to the rules and regulations of climate change [ministry],” according to Muhammad Naeem, the chief executive of Savor Foods.
The EPA spokesman, Naseem-ur-Rehman Shah who has petitioned for years in the country’s courts to ban use of plastic bags told Arab News that the agency has taken notice of the backlash from businesses and industries on its pilot program in Islamabad and EPA has decided to share its plan with the federal cabinet for further awareness campaigns before authorities can fully enforce the ban.
“Islamabad has implemented the law and ignorance of that law is no excuse,” Rehman said.
“We are determined to wipe out the use of [plastic] shopping bags because of its impact on the environment. But plastic manufacturing industry is the second largest with 600,000 workers that will go jobless and we have to take that inconsideration as well,” he added.
“Our proposed plan summary to the parliament is to have plastic manufactures to produce thicker bags for multi-use purpose before these bags can be phased out. We are willing to give the industry two years to change their business model and pay off their loans borrowed from financial institutions during this period.”
The traders’ union of Islamabad on Wednesday protested EPA’s harsh measures to enforce the ban slapping fines and conducting city wide raids to confiscate plastic bags given by retailers to consumers. Rehman said EPA had expected “agitation” from traders, but authorities will take them in to confidence after the plan is approved by the government.
The ban has sparked a debate with residents and retailers voicing their concerns, both equally facing problems while welcoming the ban, trying to respect the law, but finding no alternative readily available across markets to carry goods.
Grocery store owner, Naseem Khattak told Arab News that customers argue demanding shopping bags at his store which he has removed.
“I can’t afford to give a fine of Rs. 5000 by authorities for breaking the law. My sale has dropped because I am being forced to sell items without an affordable carrying bag to replace the banned plastic (bag) so customers carry items out of my store in their hands,” Khattak said.
Most shopkeepers have resorted to giving thin paper bags to the customers with no handles, incapable of holding more than two small items and a tendency to rip easily. Smaller shops which have incurred loss replacing the plastic bags were charging customers for paper bags.
Most customers on the streets of Islamabad slam the government for not handing down an alternative measure to the retailers to introduce a uniform change.
“Some of the retailers in the market are giving flimsy paper bags that can’t hold purchased goods. The government should introduce bag material and design that retailers need to adopt as replacement of the plastic bags because we can’t continue carrying our grocery shopping in hands,” said one of the shoppers Sania Sadaf, adding that “this is not practical.”