On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of PACT Radio/The Saba Story’s environmental programme, here is a transcript of one of our reports on a crucial issue affecting the environment in our border regions:
Reporter: Baba (old man), tell me, when you used to bring items from the shops, what did you bring them in?
First interviewee: My name is Miran Shah. We used to bring our shopping home in a bag of some sort. We used to make a bag of our own out of some cloth or other.
Second interviewee: My name is Gul Rahman. I am from Kalwaray. In the old days, when the elders of a household used to go to the shops, they would have a shawl with them. They used to tie whatever they used to buy in a knot, in the corner of their shawl and bring it home. When they reached home, they would untie the knot in their shawl. Inside, there would be separate paper-bags, containing various items of shopping.
Third interviewee: I am Ghulam Shabbir, from Bazi Khel. In the old days, people brought their shopping home in bags made of cloth. Now they bring it home in plastic shopping bags.
Music rises for a few seconds
Reporter: Are these plastic bags good, or was the old method better?
Ghulam Shabbir: Those old shopping bags were much better. For one thing, no one could see what was in them. So your shopping was protected from the evil eye. It was also safe from harmful dust. Now your shopping is in a plastic bag, which everyone can see. For another thing, these shopping bags are harmful to health.
Reporter: How are they harmful for health?
Ghulam Shabbir: Well, for one thing, these black plastic bags can cause cancer. They contain some chemicals. The government of our North-West Frontier Province has even banned these bags.
Reporter: Are they still banned?
Ghulam Shabbir: Yes, they are.
Reporter: But they are still being used. Is it just the black shopping bags which have been banned, or all shopping bags?
Ghulam Shabbir: All shopping bags, but the black ones have particularly been targeted.
Gul Rahman: The old system of bringing shopping home in a shawl was much better. It prevented all this litter! Now, wherever you tread, there is a plastic bag there. If you dig the earth, you will find a plastic bag, if you walk on top of your roof, you tread on a plastic bag. What is more, there is no cure for these plastic bags.
Reporter: What are the harmful effects of these plastic bags?
Gul Rahman: Their harmful effects are that they have contaminated our whole country. They do not decompose, nothing can destroy them. Wherever they are lying, they stay lying there for years on end. There is nothing you can do about them. They stop you from using spades, because the spade will get stuck when it reaches a plastic bag. These plastic bags are nothing but contamination! They have nothing to commend them about. It would be best if their use was discontinued, both by ordinary people and by the government.
Reporter: Why do you want them banned?
Gul Rahman: Look, put them in the earth, and they will just stay the same. Even if they are mixed with mud, they will remain the same. Neither water nor earth can affect them. The only way they can be destroyed is by fire. They are full of germs! Put something inside them, and before you know it, it will have turned to worms.
Music rises for a few moments
Reporter: Do they cause any harm, these plastic bags?
Ghulam Shabbir: Lots of information is being given on the harm that they cause. For one thing, they block streams and irrigation channels. This causes puddles of stagnant water to form, which spreads germs, and creates a big factory for the production of mosquitoes. This causes a lot of people – particularly children – to fall sick with malaria and typhoid. This is all because of these shopping bags, since they block irrigation channels, and all the stagnant water spills outside. These are the main harmful effects of these plastic bags. If they had any more harmful effects, then we would all be dead, would we not?
Reporter: What harm do they cause for farmers, when they are mixed with the earth?
Ghulam Shabbir: For one thousand years, they will not decompose. They stop the roots of trees from spreading out, which stunts the growth of trees. In the same way, they have an adverse effect on crops also. They stop tractors from properly ploughing the earth, since the plough cannot get its teeth into the soil because of these shopping bags.
Reporter: So how can we avoid all these harmful effects?
Fourth interviewee: It would be better to just bring your shopping home in a cloth, or tied up in one’s shawl.
Gul Rahman: We can do that if the government plays its part, and the people play their part.
Reporter: What part can people play?
Gul Rahman: They can play a part by using pieces of cloth to tie their shopping in.
Ghulam Shabbir: So long as the government ban has not been implemented, then we should do what we can to prevent their use ourselves. That will prevent the use of shopping bags, and all the contamination that they cause.
Reporter: So what should we do to prevent their use?
Gul Rahman: Just refuse to use them. Our whole habitat will improve. We should sow cloth bags at home. Then we can bring our shopping home in a low-key, honourable manner. It will be concealed. It will not exposed, which might make others upset that others are able to buy things which they are not able to buy themselves, because of their poverty.
Ghulam Shabbir: The factories that manufacture these things should discover something else which they can manfacture – something which can benefit the public.