August 20, 2023
At first glance, the Green Earth palatial complex looks like a conventional farmhouse. But there is something very special. Everything here – tables, chairs, sofas, swings, manhole covers and even the frames for the paintings and pictures – is made from recycled plastic and wood waste.
“Everything you find here is green. We let almost nothing go to waste,” said Syed Belal Termezi, an employee of Green Earth, a leading recycling company that works extensively on recycling waste into reusable, environmentally friendly materials.
The project was started by Zafar Bhatti, a son of 1965 Indo-Pakistani war hero Major Raja Aziz Bhatti.
Behind the handsomely painted high walls is another world, opposite to the eye-soothing place on the southern outskirts of Lahore. Huge bundles of plastic, wood, empty bottles and other disposable material are lined up. Dozens of workers, some of them without masks, gloves and hearing protection, are busy sorting waste materials in a sprawling workshop.
The sorted material is then washed in a huge washing machine before being transported to the different departments. “We do not waste water that is used to wash waste. We recycle that water and use it for cleaning purposes,” Termezi told a group of environmental journalists during a visit organised by the Institute of Urbanism, an Islamabad-based think tank.
The highlight of Green Earth is the movable kitchens and washrooms, especially for tourists, made from recycled plastic from shopping bags. The kitchen can easily be converted into a bedroom.
In addition, pulp, aluminium files and plastic are extracted from milk cartons, which are later turned into raw materials for the production of paper, roofing membranes, manhole covers and other materials. Pulp is mainly sold to paper mills. Recycled disposable bottles are used to make benches, chairs, staple fibre and other raw materials.
The plant, which exports its recycled products, especially plastic benches, can recycle 400 to 450 tonnes of waste daily.
Recycling a new global industry
According to the United Nations Environment Programme, about nine percent of plastic waste worldwide is recycled; the rest ends up in the trash. The increase in solid and plastic waste has contributed enormously to the lurking threats to the global environment. However, this major challenge could be turned into economic opportunities through a robust recycling industry.
Recycling has emerged as a full-fledged global industry in recent decades. In Pakistan, however, this opportunity remains largely untapped, even though the country has great potential for start-ups and companies to turn waste into a highly lucrative and environmentally friendly bio-product.
In recent years, however, this field has attracted some attention from the public and private sectors.
A recycling facility set up by the Lahore Waste Management Company (LWMC) is one of the largest waste collection centres in South Asia in terms of operations and workforce. With 15,000 employees, the company collects 5,000 to 6,000 tonnes of waste daily. The LWMC’s recycling facility is located at the Mahmood Booti landfill site in a suburb of Lahore and has a capacity of 100 to 200 tonnes of waste per day.
The landfill also has a facility to produce compost with a capacity of 1,000 tonnes, which is supplied to various nurseries, while two consignments went to the city’s parks and horticulture department, said Umar Chaudhry, chairman of the LWMC.
Located a few kilometres from Mahmood Booti, the Lakhodair landfill covers an area of 200 hectares and extracts the methane gas accumulated in the rubbish heaps and supplies it to local industries.
Lasani Fibre Industries, another leading recycling company, produces regenerated, recycled or carded polyester fibres from polyethene terephthalate (PET) bottles. Last year, it recycled more than 18,000 tonnes of PET, equivalent to six million bottles.
The company manufactures 32 products from PET bottles and has a production capacity of 55 tonnes of polyester fibre per day.
Despite the widespread economic and environmental benefits, experts believe that recycling is not an unlimited solution to the rampant waste problem, especially plastics. Instead, an approach must be taken that aims to reduce the amount of waste we produce every day, with a focus on reducing dependence on plastics. The extremely frequent use of plastics, especially plastic bags, not only poses a serious threat to our marine life but has also clogged our waterways and natural streams.
The presence of microplastics in drinking water, food and air places an additional burden on human well-being in terms of long-term effects. “Recycling, reuse, etc. are some of the strategies for waste management, but the fundamental question is how to reduce waste generation. We need to practise the ‘no waste’ option for our sustainable future,” said Dr Ejaz Ahmad, senior programme fellow at the Institute of Urbanism Islamabad.
Alternate economic plan needed
Banning plastic products has been a much-debated issue in Pakistan for a long time. In recent years, several efforts have been made to ban plastic bags, but they have yielded little results due to various reasons, especially the economic context and lack of awareness among the people.
Across Pakistan, tens of thousands of people are employed in the production of plastic bags. A blanket and immediate ban would render them jobless at a time when it has become a Herculean task for the middle class and lower middle class to support incomes. Therefore, the government and the environmental agencies should come up with a plan to provide an alternative economic solution for these people.
Government support coupled with harnessing the recycling industry could be a tonic for the country’s faltering economy. Before that, however, safety standards, especially for workers’ health, must be put in place.
As in many other industries, working conditions in the recycling sector do not meet international standards. Most workers either do not have adequate protective clothing or do not wear it when handling waste. It is the responsibility of the relevant government institutions and the companies operating in this sector to implement their safety regulations and take care of the workers who create wealth for them from waste.
Mian Amir is a freelance contributor. All facts and information are the sole responsibility of the author