Transforming Waste Management & Recycling – IoU and hbs Empower Youth-Driven Initiative

Islamabad: Pakistan’s waste crisis looms large, with approximately 48.5 million tons of solid waste generated annually, according to a report published by the International Trade Administration. This issue is exacerbated by a yearly population growth of 2.4 percent and the rapid pace of urbanization. However, many Pakistani cities lack the financial and infrastructural capacities to effectively manage the escalating waste. At present, according Asia Development Bank Report only 50 to 70 percent of waste is collected from cities, leaving the remainder to be improperly discarded, leading to harmful emissions and hazardous leachate that contaminate soil and water. This dire scenario translates to over 5 million lives lost annually due to waste-related illnesses according to World Health Organization’s research.

A resounding call to action echoed during a significant event hosted by the Institute of Urbanism (IoU) in collaboration with Heinrich Böll Stiftung (hbs), aimed at addressing Pakistan’s burgeoning waste challenge. The event brought together eminent speakers and ignited discussions around harnessing the potential of waste as a resource, all while nurturing the involvement of the nation’s youth. In an unwavering response, IoU and hbs have converged, harnessing the potential of Pakistan’s burgeoning youth demographic, constituting over 64 percent of the population, as a driving force for transformative change. This collaboration culminated in a pioneering one-day capacity-building session, aptly titled Waste Management and Entrepreneurial Opportunities through Effective Recycling, at the Blue Area campus of Punjab College of Science, Islamabad.

Dr. Ejaz Ahmed, Senior Research Fellow at IoU, set the tone by acknowledging the rising significance of solid waste, particularly the pervasive presence of plastic waste in daily life. He elucidated how plastic, increasingly ubiquitous in packaging, has become a pivotal contributor to clogged drainage systems, a predicament reflective of a shared national attitude towards waste disposal.

Rafia Mahmood, Senior Environmental Officer at WWF-Pakistan, cast a poignant light on the enduring persistence of plastic waste in the environment and its insidious infiltration into daily dietary habits. She unveiled an alarming statistic, attributing 70-80% of oceanic waste to land-based sources, thereby underscoring the urgency for adopting sustainable waste management practices. The clarion call—Refuse, Reuse & Recycle —resonated deeply, urging the audience to make informed, eco-conscious choices.

Ayesha Majid, Program Coordinator at IoU, navigated through Pakistan’s waste management trajectory, charting the course from unsustainable practices to the critical importance of waste segregation. She highlighted policy challenges, shedding light on the uphill struggle against unregulated waste incineration and the subsequent greenhouse gas emissions. Noteworthy strides, such as the establishment of new landfill sites equipped with waste segregation facilities, were commended as steps towards a more sustainable future.

Arsalan Ayaz and Saad Saleem, representing Trash Bee, shared their inspirational journey from waste collection to recycling. Their revelation that Pakistan’s annual waste production equated to 16 times the height of K2, the world’s second-highest peak, underscored the gravity of the situation. The duo illustrated waste’s latent potential, emphasizing its recyclability and advocating a paradigm shift from conventional methods to innovative, sustainable solutions.

Shahid Islam, Principal Punjab College, thanked the speakers in his concluding remarks. He said that proper waste disposal is a collective responsibility ingrained in our identity as Muslims as well. Disregarding waste segregation by thoughtlessly discarding it from baskets contradicts our bas role as citizen for cleanliness, and community well-being. As a nation, it’s vital to uphold these values, demonstrating a commitment to preserving the environment and ensuring a healthier, more sustainable future for Pakistan and the world.

This event, tailored specifically for young students, fostered dynamic group discussions that yielded a range of creative ideas. These encompassed forging private sector partnerships, implementing a comprehensive 3-bin waste segregation system, incentivizing recycling, imposing fines for littering, and capitalizing on the 3 R’s approach (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle), in addition to exploring the potential of waste-to-energy solutions.

This workshop represents a stepping stone towards a brighter future, providing young people in Pakistan with the tools and impetus to spearhead tangible changes that enhance the environment’s cleanliness and waste management.

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