Waste Management, in its most basic form, is concerned with the management and disposal of waste in a more environmentally friendly and sustainable manner. Solid Waste Management (SWM) is a global issue that affects countries all over the world and poses a serious threat to the planet and its inhabitants. The key drivers of rising waste levels are population growth, rapid urbanization, economic development, informal sector growth, industrial diversification, and the provision of expanded healthcare facilities. Over the next thirty years, these factors will increase global waste production by 3.40 billion tons.
In comparison to developed countries, managing this heap of waste is becoming a major concern for developing countries. Developing countries are more vulnerable to waste-related hazards because 90% of their waste is frequently discarded in an unsustainable manner. These practices exacerbate a number of public health, environmental, and climate issues. Pakistan is not immune to these challenges. According to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Pakistan generates 30 million metric tons of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) per year. Because the amount of waste generated and accumulated is far greater than waste management operations in the country, managing this massive waste has become a real-time challenge.
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Pakistan has become the top site for countries to dump their waste
This is evident from the fact that municipal authorities only collect 50-80% of urban waste in large cities and very little in rural areas, undermining Pakistan’s ability to meet Sustainable Development Goals. Another factor exacerbating the situation is that Pakistan has become one of the most popular destinations for advanced countries to dump their waste. Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom (UK), the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the United States of America (USA), Belgium, Germany, Spain, Canada, and Italy are among the countries dumping waste in Pakistan. The Basel Convention is signed by all of these countries, including Pakistan. As a result, any import or export of hazardous waste violates the Basel Convention.
Furthermore, there are gaps in waste management in rural areas when compared to urban areas. In turn, this egregious mismanagement endangers public health. According to some estimates, 5 million people die each year as a result of waste-related diseases. This is only one aspect of the task. Another factor is the existence of an informal recycling industry, which employs young children, the majority of whom are in their early adolescence, to collect waste.
According to a 2003 study conducted by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), approximately 89,500-106,500 children work as child scavengers in five major cities of Pakistan, including the capital Islamabad. They are exposed to an unhygienic environment and become vulnerable to skin and respiratory diseases. Each year, nearly four million children die as a result of waste-related diseases. The fact that they are paid minimum wage and are not covered by any form of social security is discouraging.
Drawbacks of waste mismanagement
Another disadvantage of poor waste management is the release of methane gas. MSW decomposition, whether natural or induced by deliberate burning, landfill dumping, and so on, is regarded as the third major anthropogenic source of methane. Because of its 25 times greater warming impact than carbon dioxide, the gas is classified as a super potent greenhouse gas. Improper waste disposal is also a major cause of drain clogging and domestic flooding during heavy rains.
Furthermore, roadside dumping and burning of MSW produce furan and dioxin gases, which, if inhaled, cause diseases far worse than cancer. Unmanaged MSW is also responsible for subsoil water pollution. These difficulties are the result of the failure of an SWM infrastructure, limited resources, and the budget allocated to the local municipal sector. Given the magnitude of the problems caused by improper waste disposal in Pakistan, it is imperative that appropriate policies, legislation, and guidelines for MSW management be implemented.
Legislations by Pakistan to counter the menace
Pakistan has enacted a number of laws to combat the growing threat of solid waste. Among these laws is the Pakistan Environmental Protection Act (PEPA) of 1997, the Hazardous Substances Rules 2003, the draught Punjab Hazardous Substances Rules 2020, the Sindh Hazardous Substances Rules 2014, the Hospital Waste Management Rules 2005, and the National Environmental Quality Standards (2000).
A National Hazardous Waste Management Policy, 2022, was recently passed in response to the emerging threat of Pakistan becoming a dumping ground for waste. While these initiatives are notable and demonstrate the government’s commitment to waste management, more needs to be done in terms of implementing modern SWM techniques and strengthening regulatory measures to monitor waste exported/imported by the country.
Effective waste management measures can be a compelling tool for Pakistan in meeting its international environmental obligations and achieving the SDGs, thereby positively contributing to environmental and climate security. Similarly, advanced solid waste management techniques can assist in dealing with waste more sustainably while minimizing environmental and human health damage.
Aside from that, more stringent regulatory and non-regulatory measures should be developed and implemented with sufficient budgetary resources. Formalizing the recycling industry into the formal economy; providing funds and incentives to the sector to improve waste collection, and setting domestic targets for hazardous waste and putting monitoring protocols in place are examples of regulatory measures.
Non-regulatory measures may include education, religious sermons on cleanliness, awareness campaigns, capacity building of industries to manage their waste, issuing guidelines for different sectors regarding waste management and segregation, and instilling a sense of cleanliness among the masses. Finally, a more proactive and environmentally friendly waste management approach will make the country cleaner, greener, and more sustainable for future generations.
The writer is a graduate of Strategic & Nuclear Studies from National Defence University, Isd and has done Post-Grad in International Relations from Istanbul University, Turkey. The views expressed by the writers do not necessarily represent Global Village Space’s editorial policy.