15 February 2013 09:45 [Source: ICB]
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 6 February.
A nationwide implementation of the ban is highly unlikely, the traders said, citing the country's lack of alternatives to plastic bags. "No, never. Authorities will never expand this nationwide. What are people going to use?" a Karachi-based trader quipped.
In April, an environmental regulation prohibiting manufacturing, import, sale and use of non-degradable plastic bags and other plastic products in Islamabad will be implemented. The ban came as no surprise, given pressure on the government from environmental lobby groups to clean up the city.
DROP IN THE OCEAN
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. Plastics consumption is closely related to a population.
Based on a 2004 study 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, estimated at 397 bags per person, was forecast to more than double to 112bn by 2015, according to the EPC.
Pakistan's Ministry of Climate Change issued the ban on plastic bag use 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 said a number of countries in Asia, Europe and the 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, cigarettes, leather, textiles, 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 take to 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 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?" the trader added. "They are part and parcel of everyday life in Pakistan."
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