FocusPakistan polymer sector shrugs off Islamabad plastic bags ban

06 February 2013 04:20  [Source: ICIS news]

By Muhamad Fadhil

Pakistan polymer sector shrugs off Islamabad plastic bags banSINGAPORE (ICIS)--Pakistan’s mainstream polymer market is unlikely to be affected by a ban on plastic bags that will soon take effect in Islamabad as the country’s capital accounts for a small fraction of the overall industry, traders said on Wednesday.

A nationwide implementation of the ban is highly unlikely, the traders said, citing the country’s lack of alternative to plastic bags.

“No, never. Authorities will never expand this nationwide. What are people going to use?” a Karachi-based trader quipped.

In April, the environmental regulation prohibiting manufacturing, import, sale and use of non-degradable plastic bags and other plastic products in Islamabad will be implemented. The ban did not come as a surprise to the market, given that the government is under pressure from environmental lobby groups to clean up the city.

But the move is not expected to dent the country’s polymer market as only 1m of Pakistan’s roughly 180m population is in Islamabad, the traders said.

Karachi – the country’s financial hub – and Lahore, where converters are located, are the main markets for polyolefins in the country, the traders said.

In terms of population, around 20m people reside in Karachi, while Lahore has about 6m residents, much larger than those of Islamabad’s. Plastics consumption is closely related to the population of any given area.

In 2012, Pakistan’s polyolefins demand was at around 600,000 tonnes/year, with polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP) having an equal share of the total, according to ICIS data.

Based on a 2004 study conducted by the Pakistan Environmental Protection Council (EPC), the country’s annual plastic bags production and consumption totalled 55bn, with growth projected at 15% a year. Consumption, which is estimated at 397 bags per person, was forecast to more than double to 112bn by 2015, according to EPC.

Pakistan’s Ministry of Climate Change issued the ban on the use of plastic bags in Islamabad with the aim of controlling the “spread of waste plastic bags and enable exporters to comply with the environment-friendly packaging demanded in the international market.”

It cited that a number of countries in Asia, Europe and Americas have successfully controlled plastic waste by introducing oxo-biodegradable plastic technology, adding that these environment-friendly plastics can be used in packaging of food, beverages, cigarette, leather, textile, electrical/mechanical machinery and components.

In Pakistan, international food chains such as McDonalds’ and KFC, as well as major domestic brands, including Dawn Bread, HyperStar, Sazgar, and ICI Polyester, have switched to using biodegradeable plastic bags, according to the country’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

But any new technology in manufacturing plastics will take time to be accepted in the mainstream market, said a Pakistani polymer trader.

“People will want to know how long [will the technology develop] and how expensive [it will be]. Mainstream markets in Pakistan are known to [resist] such new technology because of its potential downsides,” the trader said.

Most market players in the polymer market are sceptical about a successful ban on plastic bag usage in Islamabad – more so, about a nationwide implementation of the environmental reform, as efforts in the past failed to yield positive results.

A trader cited a similar initiative was done in Sindh province, where Karachi is capital, five to six years ago, but said that “it was not very successful”.

“How do you stop people from using plastic bags? They are part and parcel of everyday life in Pakistan.”

Additional reporting by Tahir Ikram

($1 = €0.78)

Read John Richardson and Malini Hariharan’s blog – Asian Chemical Connections

By: Muhamad Fadhil
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