KARACHI: Conservationists and experts have warned that the use of plastic is increasing in the country and is posing serious threats to freshwater and marine ecology.They were addressing an event held to celebrate Earth Day, which is being observed globally on April 22 organised by WWF-Pakistan in collaboration with Karachi University (KU) at the Institute of Environmental Science on Friday. “Plastic products take hundreds of years to decompose as they have strong chemical bonds that simply make them last longer.The simplest plastic normally used in grocery store bags take at least 100 years to break down while the complex ones take between 100 to 600 years or even last beyond that to decompose,” said experts, adding that during this period, these plastic products keep on damaging the environment until they are completely decomposed. The first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, was observed in the wake of the the 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. The event mobilised 20 million Americans from all walks of life and is widely credited with launching the modern environmental movement. In the last five decades, the human impact on oceans has reaching catastrophic levels as use of plastic waste has a destructive impact on marine ecology.According to Earth Day Network, it is the world’s largest recruiter to the environmental movement, working with more than 50,000 partners in nearly 195 countries to build environmental democracy, and more than 1 billion people now participate in Earth Day activities each year, making it the largest civic observance in the world. The theme for this year’s Earth Day is End Plastic Pollution, which is aligned with WWF-Pakistan’s upcoming campaign to curb the use of single-use plastics. Plastic pollution is a key environmental issue and is a major problem in marine and freshwater bodies in Pakistan; it destroys habitats and adversely impacts wildlife species.Friday’s event shed light on threats emerging from plastic pollution and suggested practical solutions to mitigate the issue. The event also mobilised participants, especially students, to develop innovative ways to help end plastic pollution in Pakistan. Tasneem Adam Ali, the dean of Faculty of Sciences at Karachi University, said that using an excessive amount of single-use plastics in our daily life was devastating the environment. “In Pakistan, plastic is becoming an environmental catastrophe in both the rural and urban areas. In our cities, plastic bags chock up drains, which results in flooding.” She emphasised on promotion of 4R concept that is Reject, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle plastic products. “The theme for Earth Day this year stresses that every individual, policymaker and business must take action against plastic pollution to protect our ecosystems,” she said.Studies carried out by WWF-Pakistan indicate that the number of incidents of marine animals trapped in plastic products in the sea is increasing. It is estimated that globally about 8 million tons of plastic is deliberately dumped in the sea or finds its way there through wind or flow of rivers and urban runoff. This is approximately equivalent to the dumping of a garbage truck into marine waters every minute.While, Muhammad Moazzam Khan, the technical advisor on marine fisheries at WWF-Pakistan, shared that plastic products, mainly in the form of household utensils and low quality toys, had been used in Pakistan even prior to its creation in 1947. However, from 1965 to 1975 there was a noticeable increase in the use of plastic when it became an integral part of our lives.He informed that today plastic material constituted the fourth largest item of import and this sector alone contributed significantly to the national exchequer in different heads. The industry is growing at an annual average of 15 per cent and has surpassed all other industrial sectors. Today, the domestic consumption of plastics stands at more than 2.7 kg, far less than the international average, yet Pakistan is the second largest domestic market in the Southeast Asia after India.He shared that a rapid assessment survey undertaken by WWF-Pakistan under its Marine Programme in January revealed that even remote beaches of Balochistan including Jiwani (which is located near Iran’s border) are not spared of plastic pollution.Professor Omm-e-Haney, the director of the Institute of Environmental Science at KU, said that plastic pollution is posing a serious threat to marine life and its ecosystem. The issue of plastic pollution along Pakistan’s coast is a major concern and is worsening due to an inadequate solid waste disposal system in the city. Most plastics that enter the sea become a serious threat to marine life due to its non-degradable nature.Speaking on the occasion, Altaf Hussain Sheikh, Manager Conservation Sindh, WWF-Pakistan, said that the use of plastic in Pakistan had increased manifold. “It is used in everything ranging from household to commercial items.”He said that urbanisation and population growth has resulted in increased demand of plastic products and since these products were much cheaper and affordable as compared to metal, wood and ceramics, their use was increasing day by day. He warned that the reckless disposal of plastic products posed a serious threat to the environment, particularly the wildlife. Sheikh highlighted that as responsible citizens the use of plastic products should be discouraged and inappropriate dumping of plastic waste on beaches or in public places should be stopped.Published in Daily Times, April 21st 2018.