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To Plastic or Not to Plastic

By Sidra Adil

Ever since the advent of the industrial age, humans have been in pursuit of achieving ultimate convenience. In this quest, we have literally come up with an indispensable product. This product can be found everywhere – from toothbrushes and mobile phones to product packaging. Plastic has become such an integral part of our lives that we are unable to depict a world without it. But we are now beginning to see how it is being misused worldwide, even though it can be recycled, and has begun to pose a threat to wild and marine life.

Imagine yourself walking into a store where you end up buying a plastic bottle of water to quench your thirst. Once you’ve drunk from that bottle, what do you do? If you’re a responsible Pakistani, you’ll throw it in the trash can (which isn’t much help either since you are ultimately contributing to an excess of plastic on this planet). If you’re somebody who isn’t as bothered about keeping the streets clean, you’ll throw that plastic bottle on the side of the road.

Plastic is made of chains of hydrocarbons that are held together by one of the strongest forces in nature and you need high temperature and pressure conditions to break it down and convert it into simpler molecules like water and carbon dioxide. Such conditions don’t exist in nature and thus we only have estimates of how long it takes for a plastic bottle to degrade – from a few hundred to a thousand years.

According to National Geographic, people throw away roughly 4 million tons of trash every day—that’s enough to fill 350,000 waste collection trucks. In a country like Pakistan which is still developing; still working to produce enough energy to cater to the increasing population; still trying to produce enough food, it is not hard to understand that we do not have the waste management systems in place to deal with this national pandemic. We dump most of our waste on open land. We hardly have any engineered landfills and the ones we do have aren’t operational.

There are a lot of different kinds of waste. Why are we particularly fussing over the exceeded production rates and mismanagement of plastic waste in particular? The problem lies in the fact that most plastic ultimately ends up in our oceans and on land which causes big problems for our wildlife- some animals mistake plastic for food, while others become entangled in the trash, unable to free themselves.

While the downsides of overproduction and mismanagement of plastic are innumerable, it is safe to conclude that this problem won’t contain itself unless we intervene. We can now say for sure that plastic pollution will be on the rise owing to the increasing population and escalating demands for disposable products. This will ultimately disrupt natural systems, contaminate our food chains, destroy habitats, and adversely impact life on land and sea. 

Should we do something about this problem as engaged citizens and as Muslims? 

Indeed, we do. It is as simple as realising that Allah (SWT) has created this world and everything in it for the benefit of His Creation. 

And the earth He laid [out] for the creatures. Therein is fruit and palm trees having sheaths [of dates]. And grain having husks and scented plants. [Surah Ar-Rehman 55: 10-12]. 

And do good as Allah has done good to you. And desire not corruption in the land. Indeed, Allah does not like corrupters. [Surah Qasas 28:77]

It would thus be remiss of us to willingly and deliberately contribute to harming the favours of our Lord upon us. 

It is narrated in Sahih Muslim, that the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: 

‘This world is beautiful and green and Allah has made you His representatives on it and He sees how you acquit yourselves’

As Muslims our responsibility towards preserving our environment is paramount. We need to take steps that minimise the harm we can do as individuals, as families, as societies to the environment. 

And you can start discharging your responsibility with a few simple steps: 

Number One: 

Ditch water bottles packaged in plastic and switch to re-usable water bottles that you can refill whenever you feel thirsty! According to ‘The Guardian’, a million plastic bottles are bought every minute, all over the world! A million plastic bottles- can you imagine! If we cut off plastic bottles from out lifestyles, we’ll be reducing that outrageous number! You can find racks upon racks of re-usable bottles in a variety of materials ranging from steel to glass- grab one and it will be an investment you won’t regret!

 Number Two:  

Make a trip to your local Sunday Bazaar and buy some cloth shopping bags for a meagre 20 rupees, or if you can, stitch some bags of your own big enough to carry your monthly shopping. Plastic bags are a menace clogging up Pakistan’s sewerage system and lead to frequent road floods during heavy rains (think about Lahore in Monsoon 2018!).

Various cities in Pakistan since August 2019 have completely banned plastic shopping bags which is an awesome step towards a cleaner Pakistan. And, it makes it easy for us to make the switch from plastic to reusable shopping bags. 

Number Three: 

Buy reusable coffee travel mugs to cut down on the disposable cups we throw away after drinking beverages in them in school canteens, offices, transport stations, roadsides etc. 

You see so many Styrofoam, plastic and paper cups littering your streets every day. According to WWF, 58 billion such single-use cups are used worldwide per annum, using more than a million tonnes of paper. Their production requires 32 million trees, 100 billion litres of water (that’s 43 thousand Olympic swimming pools, by the way) and emits as much greenhouse gases as half a million cars. Hardly any single-use cups are recycled. Moreover, Styrofoam is unrecyclable, meaning that the Styrofoam cups we throw away today will still be present in our landfills 500 years from now!

This is a global issue, play your part and buy a reusable coffee tumbler which can be used everywhere! They are cuter, keep your drinks warmer for longer, and are less likely to spill all over you! 

With these small everyday steps, we will be contributing to a larger cause. With growing pollution and increasing global warming, we cannot now afford to not act. We must play our part to leave a sustainable future in our legacy. As Muslims, we should be taking up this responsibility wholeheartedly! 

The Islamic concepts of living our lives in moderation, and not being wasteful with our resources whether it be food or water, all relate to us living lives where we take care care of this planet. The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) has been narrated as saying: ‘There is reward on account of every living thing’ (Adab-ul-Mufrad) i.e. if we show mercy and kindness to living things around us (plants, animals, insects etc.), we will be acquiring rewards from Allah (SWT).  

So what remains us for us to do but start pleasing Allah (SWT) with the way we interact with the environment around us? 

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