Issues and Challenges

Towards Zero Waste Management: Rethinking Plastic Packaging

The world is currently witnessing a major global transformation from traditional security paradigm to the non-traditional security challenges. The most significant one among these challenges is the threat to the environment and the lack of awareness among global citizens regarding plastic usage. In this context, it is comprehensible that plastic reliance, specifically in the form of plastic packaging, has resulted in massive amounts of plastic waste on land and in oceans. According to a research conducted by the Environmental Toxicology and Pharmacology Journal, plastic pollution greatly affects human health, mainly due to the consumption of nanoplastic materials, leading to serious health issues. Plastic usage is also extremely harmful for marine life and it is predicted that by 2050, there will be comparably greater amount of plastic in oceans as compared to fish and marine life. Such trends imply the significance of rethinking plastic packaging and aiming to adopt eco-friendly alternatives to protect the environment from plastic pollution and its drastic impact.
According to a recent research conducted by the Pew Charitable Trusts and SYSTEMIQ, Ltd., global plastic waste dumped into the oceans would increase to approximately 29 million metric tons per year by 2040, if the current plastic usage trends continue at the same pace. This is comparable to depositing around 110 pounds of plastic on every meter of the coastline worldwide, as per the study. 
Plastic waste in the environment may survive for hundreds of years, posing a major threat to biodiversity and humans, therefore, it is high time for individuals to realize their consumption patterns and bring changes in their behaviours by adopting eco-friendly options by rethinking plastic usage and moving towards zero waste management.
Disposable packaging consumes over 40% of overall plastic produced, making it the top market for plastic products. Some companies have been attempting to produce more sustainable varieties of plastic packaging in response to the increased awareness about the plastic waste issue. Other companies too are developing and marketing new materials that can be used to replace plastic packaging. For instance, the multinational company Unilever is working to adopt four sustainable plastic packaging ways. First is changing the plastic material of pumps on bottles to ‘black plastic’, which is easily detectable by machines for recycling. The second way is indicated through Lipton’s project of making tea bags from plant-based material, which means that it will be compostable and renewable, thereby reducing the use of plastic. Its aim has been to produce 30 billion tea bags using plant-based materials by 2021, and reaching the target of 45 billion tea bags by the end of 2023. Third strategy is to pack products in flexible plastic pouches, created of thin layers of plastic, to have minimum environmental impact. The last one is to use recyclable plastic bottles and jars to contribute to zero waste management. The goal set by the company is to make the jars and bottles that are 100% recyclable by the end of 2022. Such practices contribute to the smooth transition to a circular and a more environment-friendly economy. 

Moreover, making the transition to zero waste via ecologically responsible manufacturing, consumption, and recycling of plastics is a crucial step towards minimizing the effects of climate change and reducing temperature. According to WWF, researchers anticipate that the manufacturing and combustion of plastic has pumped over 850 million tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere in 2021 alone. Thus, individual responsibility rests in rethinking the role of plastics by collecting, sorting, and recycling it for as long as possible in a continuous loop. 
In the context of Pakistan, plastic contamination is as prevalent as plastic use itself. It necessitates not just reducing, reusing, and recycling, but also rethinking. In recent years, Pakistan has witnessed overwhelming exposure to the country's expanding plastic pollution. Over 3.3 million tons of plastic is discarded each year in the country, majority of it ending up in landfills, uncontrolled dumps, or spread across land and water bodies. Despite the fact that the problem has been identified by the government and it has adopted various policies like ‘ban on single-use plastic’ to overcome the problem, additional levels of devotion, creativity, and investment are urgently required to deal with this problem. Some efforts have been made by various institutions, for instance, the Pakistan Business Council and British High Commission in Islamabad initiated a training series for enterprises to create awareness about how the zero waste initiative is currently being implemented in Pakistan. Additionally, Pakistan has partnered with the UNDP to make the country's major cities plastic-free by 2025. 
In order to adopt eco-friendly methods and to rethink the use of plastic, comprehensive and accurate information is required for strategic and transformative actions to be taken for environmental sustainability. Also, accountability should be a key component of any future strategy for addressing Pakistan's plastics problem and enacting policies that have an impact on private businesses, policymakers and non-traditional security experts. Pakistan is working towards effective implementation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 with the adoption of provincial bans on single-use plastic bags.
To meet its corporate social responsibility (CSR), the Coca-Cola Company has taken up the goal,  of collecting and recycling a bottle or can for every bottle or can it sells by 2030. According to Fahad Qadir, director Public Affairs and Communication for Pakistan and Afghanistan at the company's Export Corporation, “Presently, more than 85% of our packaging globally is 100% recyclable.  98% of our packaging in Pakistan is 100% recyclable.” This is part of a larger goal to expand with responsibility by becoming a sustainable beverage company. 
Coca-Cola is striving to construct a post-consumption collection and recycling infrastructure for polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles in major cities, in partnership with NGOs and those engaged in the informal PET recycling business. In addition to this, Nestlé has made a global commitment to use only 100% recyclable plastic by 2025. Nestlé Pakistan is working on projects to help the government reach its goal of having plastic-free regions. The company is considering all options to assist in tackling the plastic waste problem and is embracing a variety of solutions that can make a difference. It is with the help of Nestlé that Hunza has become the first plastic-free zone of Pakistan and Asia. Eco-friendly options are necessary requirements to reduce the overall impact of environmental pollution and to work on sustainable development by transitioning to zero waste management. 
There are also eco-friendly alternatives that can be adopted on individual level to counter the growing problem, such as replacing plastic straws with paper straws, stainless steel straws, bamboo straws and reusable silicon straws. People can also replace plastic cutlery with steel, wood or bamboo cutlery. Around 500 billion disposable cups are used annually. Although lightweight and efficient, polystyrene cups cannot be recycled and frequently end up as waste in landfills. Using a reusable cup or a mason jar as an alternative, and moving to eco-friendly and biodegradable options is crucial. Such small day-to-day practices can bring in major transformations in the environment, leading to sustainable development and efficient zero waste management. 
The growing threat of plastic pollution cannot be controlled unless the federal and provincial governments, citizens and the corporate sector join hands to protect the environment by adhering to the requirements of zero waste management, rethinking plastic materials and adopting eco-friendly alternatives. HH

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