Talking points: Plastics as a viable resource

Keeping aside the impact of the use of fuels in terms of energy aside, by far its most important byproduct is plastic. According to research by the World Wide Fund (WWF), 3.3 million tonnes of plastic waste are generated annually in Pakistan, and since plastic continues to be an ideal resource for packaging, construction and textiles, it is unlikely that it can be replaced soon.

With respect to SDG 12, Responsible Consumption and Production, Target 12.5 requires countries to substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse by 2030. Thus, there is a need to move towards a circular economy which essentially requires looking at waste such as plastic as a resource.

Even though Pakistan has an informal economy that currently collects everything that can be recycled, the report by WWF highlights almost 65pc of the waste surveyed on Karachi’s beaches is plastic waste. This is generally in the form of thin plastic and Styrofoam as it is currently not recyclable and thus has no value. Waste PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles used for water and fizzy drinks are collected and turned into recycled polyester. This, in turn, is used in value-added goods in the textile industry due to the increase in global demand for recycled material products.

Other innovative approaches driven by consumer preferences can be seen in the recent investment made by companies such as Unilever Pakistan and Coca-Cola in playground equipment and roads respectively. In a recent webinar by the Pakistan Business Council and British High Commission, researchers from the University of Aberdeen presented how hydrocracking plastic can turn it into a viable fuel for transportation, with byproducts that can be added to cement and roads. These initiatives show the potential of a viable circular economy.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, September 27th, 2021