In Pakistan, waste can be turned to wealth
Life is a circle, and all that grows returns to where it began: the earth. From there it grows again and forms a perfect cycle. Around the world, and particularly in Pakistan, we have broken that cycle without recompense. Our consumption, populations and economies grow unsustainably at the expense of nature. Inadvertently, the world has created a linear economic model; make, use, dispose. But those lines are not going to be stretching infinitely.
The world extracts millions of tons of natural resources every year, turns them into materials to consume and then simply throws them away. But there is another way, and it is doable.
Each year in Pakistan, 30 million tons of solid waste is produced, 9% of those are plastics. Roughly 55 billion plastic bags are produced every year, in addition to more than 300 tons per month of scrap rubber including tyres. Despite being a signatory to the Basel Convention, Pakistan is increasingly becoming a dumping ground for hazardous as well as non-hazardous waste from around the world.
With these numbers for waste, and for a country struggling on its economic front, adopting a circular economy could actually transform waste to wealth.
Certain companies like US-based Green Earth Recycling are actually notable for turning trash to cash. By introducing the ethos of a circular economy, it not only generates jobs, reuses and recycles waste but also conserves the environment and natural resources for the generations of the future. And if that isn’t enough motivation, it shows us that saving the world can even be a profitable business model.
Another possible way to boost the economy is turning waste into power. In a first, in July 2018, the Punjab government announced the establishment of a 40-megawatt waste-to-energy incineration plant as part of the Clean and Green Punjab Campaign with the help of Chinese and other foreign companies. Similar schemes scaled up around the country will not only meet the country’s energy demands but also breathe life into the power deficient industrial segment.
Despite being a signatory to the Basel Convention, Pakistan is increasingly becoming a dumping ground for hazardous as well as non-hazardous waste from around the world.
Dr. Mehreen Mujtaba
What if Pakistan’s entrepreneurs began looking to the wealth of its waste, and began designing reusable, recyclable products so that we only extract new resources when we actually need them. We would end up using less new material and energy and help save our natural wealth. Hence a circular approach would not only boost the economy contributing to innovation and job growth but also reduce pollution and help the environment by preserving our precious natural resources.
A circular economy promotes and encourages the use of bio-degradable materials in industrial production so that when the product reaches its end life, it can go back to nature without causing environmental degradation. In cases where it is not possible to use environment-friendly materials, for example electronics, batteries, metal scraps etc; the aim is to reintroduce them into the production cycle.
A change from a linear economy which is based on the principles of take, make and dispose to a circular economy which encourages renew, remake and repair will also help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, especially SDG 12 which relates to responsible production and consumption.
A recently published UN report suggests that Pakistan needs to step up efforts to build its circular economy. According to the report, companies could devise methods to develop a viable circular supply chain, wherein they could increase the rate of reuse, repair, re-manufacture and recycle and significantly contribute to reduce the use of materials. The report also emphasizes that “many elements vital for industrial production could become scare in the coming decades and by adopting circular economic model businesses and especially manufacturing industries could cushion themselves from the volatility of a finite supply of primary resource."
It is true that the way we interact and use materials has a major impact on the climate and determines to a large extent our greenhouse gas emissions.
Our energy consumption patterns (greenhouse gas emissions) are closely linked to the extraction, processing transportation, use and discarding of materials. In order for the world to reach the 1.5 degree target, it is estimated that CO2 emissions should be reduced by an additional 15 billion tonnes. By adopting strategies aiming towards a circular economy we can not only achieve emission reduction that could bridge the gap to half but also keep in accord with the Paris Agreement. In summary, a circular economy also translates to a low-carbon economy; both these challenges are inextricable entwined.
A circular economy is possible and profitable, and brings with it brand new opportunities, especially for developing economies with huge populations like Pakistan. Living within the limits of our planet is a shared responsibility, and a burden of love that humanity must see-through in a perfect circle, before it is too late.
– Dr. Mehreen Mujtaba is a freelance consultant working in the areas of environment and health.