Karachi: After obtaining GSP Plus status the government is bound to take steps to reduce the carbon footprints by replacing hazardous products with environment friendly substitutes like immediately replacing polypropylene bags with jute bags in all food grains including wheat.
Mohammad Younus, Secretary Pakistan Jute Mills Association (PJMA), pointed out that by doing so the government would show its commitment towards making progress on 27 international conventions it has signed as a prerequisite of obtaining GSP plus status. He further stated that in the year 2014 when Pakistan obtained GSP Plus status the government had contributed heavily to environment degradation by using 64 million polypropylene bags (equivalent to 3.520 billion polyethylene bags) for wheat and grain storage.
It is pertinent to note that polypropylene is a man-made fiber and bye-product of oil refineries. ‘Polypropylene bag powder is known to contain deadly elements such as lead, cadmium, chromium, copper, nickel and zinc. The antioxidants in the fabric are known to have caused skin irritation in certain elements,’ he explained.
They pointed out that a scientific study revealed that one kilogram of PP contains 66mg lead; 0.2mg cadmium; 23mg chromium; 13mg copper; 0.9mg nickel; and 79mg zinc, while amount of mercury and arsenic is yet to be analyzed. They said the government could separately conduct the analysis to confirm the findings.
“Polypropylene and plastic products get oxidized very fast, therefore, antioxidants are added to it, which can cause skin irritation. Antimony trioxides used as stabilizing and flame proofing agent is carcinogenic” said Tahir Ahmad a Biochemist. He added that the inhalation of the high nickel concentration can cause acute and sub-acute poisoning. Nickel dust and aerosols of nickel metal, nickel oxide and others are carcinogenic [causing cancer]. Antimony dioxide used as the stabilizing and flame proofing agent in PP is also carcinogenic.
He added that it is strange that the government on the one hand claims to protect our environment but on the other hand significantly contributes to the environment degradation through using polypropylene bags for wheat storage.
Experts regretted that the government agencies continue to ignore the guidelines of United Nations regarding wheat storage despite the fact that following them it can help increase the exports of wheat substantially. This massive purchase and usage of polypropylene bags is adding to the environmental pollution in the country said another researcher. It is worth mentioning here that unlike Jute Bags which are manufactured as per specified Pakistan Standards, the Polypropylene bags used for wheat packing are not specified by the Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority (PSQCA) rather there exist no Pakistan Standard specification for Plastic bags as it is not considered a suitable packaging and storage medium.
Another expert revealed that plastic compounds (which the pp bags are made of) enters our water channels, do not dissolve, thus polluting the aquatic environment. Plastic compounds when mixed with soil profile do not decompose, thus disturbing soil-plant environment in the root zone to affect agricultural productivity he added.
He said the only destroying process of plastic is burning to increase atmospheric temperature by adding heat to the environment; to increase particulate suspended in the air; and to increase concentration of N2 and CO2 and reduces O2. ‘People working in plastic factories get lung diseases through respiratory disorders. The continuous intake of plastic residues, smell, may result in tuberculosis, asthma, and other diseases,’ he added.
On the other hand, he added, jute being 100 percent natural fiber is biodegradable, environment friendly and can be used multiple times which means that the cost after several uses nullify the low cost advantage of polypropylene bags that are used one time only. ‘Traditionally wheat, rice, cotton and all other agricultural products are stored and packed in jute bags. The content inside jute bag is fully secure and safe and keep the germination ability intact. Jute bags are ideal for long-time storage and transportation of wheat.’ he added.