Business-as-usual in the way we approach development must change. Traditional approaches to development are struggling to keep up with today’s social and environmental challenges. Many of these challenges are growing exponentially. The speed, dynamics and complexity of today’s social, economic and environmental problems are fundamentally different from previous eras in history. UNDP Innovation-AccLab Pakistan has created a learning space to test effective and meaningful development approaches. Understanding the people, we serve and the larger complex systems like plastics waste is critical for UNDP Pakistan.
In an effort to build momentum towards a plastics system that works, Innovation-AccLab Pakistan is working with the local innovators, industry and government to develop systemic solutions to promote the transition towards a circular economy for plastics in which they never become waste or minimize their leakage into environment. To understand the extent of the problem, we explored the journey of plastics in Pakistan with the citizens, industry players, government and academia.
During our discussions with a group of citizens in our digital exploration sessions, one major insight was that plastics is not going anywhere soon from the market or from our surroundings. Let that sink in. Yes, the plastic pollution is as pervasive as the use of plastic itself. It requires us to not only reduce, reuse and recycle but also rethink.
Recent years have seen an unprecedented recognition of the rising plastic pollution in Pakistan. But it has become clear that despite recognition of the problem, there is a dire need for increased levels of dedication, innovation and investment. A blanket ban of single use plastics by the Government will not alone solve the problem, a point from the solution safari done by our solutions mapper to see how the blanket ban of single use plastics by the government is doing. While essential for tackling the symptoms of the plastic pollution crisis, the ban does not address the root causes.
To begin with, it’s worth reminding ourselves that plastic is not just one material – technically it’s a collective term for a variety of synthetic polymers. Goods made from plastics have been increasing exponentially since the middle of last century. Many of these products, unfortunately, are created for single use - roughly half of plastic is used once and thrown away. More than 3.3 million tonnes of plastic are wasted each year in Pakistan, and most of it ends in landfills, unmanaged dumps or strewn about land and water bodies across the country. The figure below shows if we dump this waste collectively together, it can go as high as 16500 m making the height of two of world’s second highest mountains in the world (K2 mountain).