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Hilal Her

Zero Waste: Single-Use Product and Waste Management

June 2024

Single-use products have become ubiquitous in our modern consumer-driven society, offering convenience and accessibility in daily life. However, the convenience they provide often comes at a significant environmental cost. The exponential rise in single-use products has led to a corresponding surge in waste production, exacerbating environmental degradation and posing significant global challenges for waste management systems. One common example is single-use plastics, used for packaging and service ware, such as bags, bottles, wrappers, and straws, etc.

Online Shopping in Pakistan
Online shopping is becoming increasingly popular in Pakistan, as it is across the globe. However, the adoption rate in Pakistan is slower than in other countries. Notably, online shopping is gaining traction among the younger demographic, including students and professionals. Marketing products on Instagram and Facebook via paid ads has resulted in spendthrift behavior, i.e., extravagant and excessively wasteful spending habits, often surpassing their financial means.
With a high inflation rate and overpopulation, factors such as price, confidence, security, convenience, time, after-sale service, and discounted deals influence online shopping decisions in Pakistan. The price factor is particularly significant; as online prices are frequently lower than traditional market purchases. Online shopping offers consumers’ advantages such as convenience, time-saving, and cost-effectiveness. Consumerism constructs a compelling narrative influencing individual behaviors by consistently promoting material wealth as synonymous with happiness and success.
Consumerism is the inclination of individuals within a capitalist economy to adopt a lifestyle centered on excessive materialism, characterized by wasteful, reflexive, or conspicuous overconsumption. Hyper-consumerism has been widely criticized for its social, economic, psychological, and environmental consequences.
The increased number of products made, bought, and used due to consumerism is often linked to environmental issues. Industries producing consumer goods and consumption itself generate adverse environmental impacts. These can manifest as urban sprawl, pollution, resource depletion, and challenges in waste management due to excessive consumer goods and packaging.
Hoarding Stems from Consumerism
Hoarding is the psychological need to excessively gather and store items, frequently associated with compulsive buying, i.e., consumerism. The widespread inclination towards excessive accumulation stems from the intricate interaction of psychological elements and societal pressures. People with hoarding disorder tend to excessively acquire items that are not needed. One possible explanation for this phenomenon is that individuals with hoarding disorder often express stronger emotional connections to their possessions and may develop a tendency to anthropomorphize them. Hoarding behaviors are worsened due to societal pressures that somehow equate an individual’s worth with material possessions. The attraction to owning possessions, influenced by the widespread impact of consumerism, plays a significant role in sustaining hoarding behavior.
E-commerce Waste Material
The advent of e-commerce has revolutionized the shopping experience, transforming the way individuals browse and acquire products. Nevertheless, it has also resulted in considerable environmental pollution and waste. E-commerce produces a significant amount of waste. These encompass the packaging materials utilized for shipping, the returned products, and the discarded obsolete technology. 
The amount of plastic used for packaging in e-commerce is higher than what would have been used through traditional brick-and-mortar retail. Products are often packaged in layers of plastic, bubble wrap, and cardboard boxes, which can be difficult to recycle. According to the United Nations, over 8 million metric tons of plastic waste end up in the oceans yearly, equivalent to dumping a garbage truck full of plastic into the ocean every minute. 
In E-commerce, goods are usually sent directly to the consumers, which increases the number of shipments. Online purchases are susceptible to a phenomenon known as “bracketing,” where shoppers often purchase more items than necessary to ensure proper fit, leading to a higher likelihood of returns. It is estimated that nearly 20-30% of E-commerce orders end up being returned, contributing to the issue of excess plastic packaging waste from these returns.
Waste Management in Pakistan
Waste management capabilities and infrastructure vary across all the provinces in Pakistan. In Punjab, Lahore is the sole city with a comprehensive solid waste management, treatment, and disposal system contracted to Turkish companies Albayrak and OzPak. Similar initiatives are in the pipeline for secondary cities within the province. Meanwhile, the Sindh Solid Waste Management Board (SSWMB) is actively working to enhance solid waste management services in 20 cities in the province, regularly inviting tenders for various waste management projects. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the Water and Sanitation Services Peshawar (WSSP) is constructing a sanitary landfill. However, despite being Pakistan’s largest province by area, Balochistan lacks significant waste management infrastructure, with its sparse population of 6.9 million exacerbating the challenge.
Policies for Waste Management in Pakistan
Managing waste in large urban centers poses significant challenges due to bureaucratic obstacles, deficient urban planning, insufficient waste management infrastructure and technology, and limited public awareness. The government of Pakistan enacted the Pakistan Environmental Protection Act (PEPA) in 1997, the most recent and updated environmental legislation. It provides a framework for establishing federal and provincial Environmental Protection Agencies (EPAs). 
The PEPA of 1997 oversees all the activities concerning environmental preservation, encompassing the implementation of international conventions. Conversely, the Constitution (Eighteenth Amendment) Act of 2010 allocates autonomous authority to provincial administrations to legislate on ‘environmental pollution and ecology’. Consequently, provincial governments are responsible for drafting their environmental regulations. Government estimates suggest that approximately 87,000 tons of solid waste is generated weekly, with a significant portion originating from major urban centers. Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, boasting a population of approximately 20 million, produces over 16,500 tons of municipal waste per day. 
Way Forward
Addressing zero waste and sustainable waste management in Pakistan requires a multifaceted approach involving various stakeholders, including government bodies, businesses, consumers, and civil society. The government should enforce strict regulations on single-use products, packaging materials, and waste management practices. The government can incentivize businesses to adopt circular practices through tax breaks, subsidies, or grants. Adequate investment in waste management infrastructure, including recycling facilities, composting plants, and waste-to-energy projects, is crucial for managing waste effectively.

Educating the public about the environmental impact of consumerism and the benefits of reducing waste is crucial. Awareness campaigns, school programs, and community workshops can help promote sustainable consumption habits such as reducing, reusing, and recycling. Encouraging the adoption of eco-friendly alternatives to conventional products can help reduce waste. Public-private partnerships can facilitate the implementation of waste reduction initiatives, while community-based programs can drive grassroot efforts to tackle waste at the local level.
By embracing sustainable packaging practices and making mindful decisions as consumers, we can contribute to building an environmentally sustainable future for our planet. Advancing sustainability in packaging can be achieved through various initiatives, ranging from researching eco-friendly alternatives of plastic to optimizing packaging processes for efficiency. However, achieving widespread adoption of these sustainable alternatives within the E-commerce industry necessitates substantial upfront investments in technology and machinery. This investment is crucial for scaling up production while maintaining competitive pricing and ensuring the viability of environmentally friendly packaging solutions.

Tasneem Shafiq is a policy researcher based in Islamabad. She currently works as a Research Associate at  the Institute of Social and Policy Sciences (I-SAPS).
Email:[email protected]

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