ISLAMABAD: The country lost a whopping Rs 90 billion over the last three years by using inferior quality flour bags made out of recycled plastic waste. Interacting with the experts it was revealed that 3 to 5 percent flour goes out of the bag because of dusting like going from the mills to wholesaler to retailers and finally to homes resulting in significant loss. They believe that the problem lies in the coarse polypropylene sacks that are used for flour packaging as these sacks are porous and incorporating recycled polypropylene waste fail to contain all the flour and result in wastage. Lamination of one side (not both because the flour needs to breathe) will solve the wastage issue for a nominal increase in the cost. An official at the Ministry of National Food Security and Research told this correspondent requesting not to be named that if we assume wastage of 3 percent of all the flour produced in Pakistan, the total loss amounts to Rs. 20 billion and at 5 percent, it is Rs. 35 billion per year. When asked it’s a huge loss so why the government has not taken any action yet, he said “In every sector we have mafias which want to stuff their pockets and deprive poor of their due rights. 5 percent wheat loss maybe nothing for us but for a poor family it is quite something as they lose around 10 to 12 roti per bag”. He added that the notification to make use of one-side laminated sacks mandatory is stuck with Ministry of Science and Technology and should have been issued in weeks but taking years. The reason for this delay he gave was that it had to go through all the ministries even if not relevant as that’s what law requires before gazette it. A high ranking official at the Minister of Science and Technology who wished to stay anonymous told this correspondent that the matter is stuck with the provincial governments as their consent is necessary before making it mandatory. “The deadline was February 24, 2017 and we got replies from Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. KP gave its consent; however, Baluchistan made some observations about higher price of the PP bags but we are responding to the observations of Baluchistan and may set a new deadline to seek consent of the remaining provinces” he added. Another issue that is delaying making laminated sacks mandatory are the court cases. Whenever we make such decisions the affected party goes to court and receive stay orders, he added. Talking to this correspondent, leading manufacture of Polypropylene sacks Iskander Khansaid that large sacks used for packaging wheat, rice, sugar, and flour are all made from polypropylene, which is biodegradable. This means that it decomposes under the sun, and can be recycled. However, every time a recycled material is incorporated into a new bag, it becomes non-food grade (used in packaging fertilizer or chemicals). This means it loses strength and becomes more vulnerable to biodegradation. “Polypropylene degrades in the sun. That’s why food items are never stored in sunlight; they’re always stored in godowns. But when you put in recycled material, it degrades in shade. For food grade bags, you cannot use recycled material.” Moreover, the non-food grade bags are generally weaker and tear more easily. But, because using recycled material saves money and props up margins, who can blame the producers for opting for this option? “Flour mills buy their sacks from whoever gives it cheap. The price of flour already incorporates the cost of the bag. Just to save his own money, he uses recycled material.” Mr. Khan added. When I put to him observations of Baluchistan about the higher prices of the sacks, he responded that we are saving Rs. 3 but wasting Rs. 50 worth of wheat flour. Also the flour mills are already overcharging for the sack, buying for Rs6 and pricing it at Rs12.