Polypropylene bags’ use increasing at stake of public health and environment
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June 24, 2011
Millions of Pakistanis are bound to eat unhygienic and chemically contaminated flour on daily basis, which is abundantly available in the local markets after being preserved for long period in polypropylene bags.

The use of polypropylene have been increasing noticeable in the country for storing and transporting wheat despite its utility is prohibited for edible items on grounds of its hazardous impacts on human health, resulting several stomach and other diseases are spreading in cities and villages.

The stocking of wheat is carried out for past few years at large because the government is lacking of sufficient storage and the private sector has paucity of sophisticated warehouses for stockpiling the essential commodity.

The government’s records showed that 43,000 B/S polypropylene bags were used to store wheat in last fiscal year 2009-10 as compared with 20,000 B/s polypropylene bags were used in 2006-07 for the same purpose, showing growth of 115 percent in last five years.

The use of polypropylene bags by flour millers and distributers, however, it is also utilized for other commodities such sugar, rice, pulses and urea. Moreover, it is largely consumed for transporting and stocking of fruit and vegetable by traders countrywide, depicting its massive utilization in industrial and agriculture sectors.

Nutritionists have warned the government repeatedly the increasing trend of utilizing polypropylene bags for edibles is extremely dangerous and unhealthy in the country, where the situation of health care is already vulnerable.

The Polypropylene Bags are not advised for food grains and edibles packaging in most of the countries of the world and are prohibited by necessary legislation in certain states because these contain toxic and carcinogenic substances (causing cancer), which are released into the environment, they said.

Fayza Ahmad, a nutritionist said the wheat preserved for long period in polypropylene bags easily attacked by fungus and sometimes becomes more poisonous when it mixes with the powder of polypropylene bags, which also disintegrates in low temperature.

“Polypropylene bags’ use for packing of edibles has toxic nature kin very minute amounts result in food toxicity if kept for a longer time. Such toxicity enters the food chain and finally causing serious diseases in human being," she said.

She explained that wheat grain is a living organism and continuously respires. The respiration process increases as the temperature and moisture rises, generating heat that is not quickly dissipated because wheat is a poor conductor of heat.

When wheat is stored at high moisture or in a high temperature environment, it respires rapidly, gradually warming and respiring more rapidly. This process goes on and the wheat gives off carbon dioxide and water vapors and itself loses weight, he said and added the wheat gets trapped inside the polypropylene bag and therefore, causes the wheat to cake. Since the process of respiration continues, the wheat becomes mildew and is attacked by fungus.

Pakistan Council of Scientific, Industrial Research (PCSIR) in a Technical Report, issued in 2000-01 observed that Woven Polypropylene (WPP) bags show a rapid deterioration in the tensile strength as these bags get punctured on slight mechanical jerk. This is also observed that these bags are susceptible to heat and light, which causes their degradation.

"In our study we found that bags do not contain any suitable light-inhibitor or anti-ultra violates material. This leads to the breaking of WPP bags and mixing of small pieces of polypropylene with wheat. Therefore, the transportation and storage of wheat in such bags is not possible as the light and heat causes the leakages in the bag," the PCSIR report said.

Previously jute bags are used largely for preserving and transporting wheat in different parts of the country. The jute bags are also still being utilized by private sector, which is an alternative, save and effective item for wheat stocking. Jute bags are ideal for packaging and storage of wheat, rice, and other edibles.

The massive of polypropylene bags in the commercial sector is spreading pollution in the environment, posing a serious threat to human lives, livestock and food and cash crops of the country.

Polypropylene bags’ usage in Pakistan is increasing with accelerated pace over the period of past years for its lowest rates and easy availability in rural and urban cities used mostly for stocking and transporting edibles, fertilizes and agriculture products.

In contrast to the advanced countries, where the usage of polypropylene bags has been banned completely on the grounds of its hazardous impacts over human health and environment at large.

Environmentalists said that Polypropylene bags emits poisonous chemically gasses from its production in the mills to its disposal through combustion of commercial and household wastage in open fields.

Polypropylene processing causes emission of mono-oxides, nitrogen & hydro-carbon to air as well as toxic substances into waste water, they said and added our soil water bodies and atmosphere will be polluted and health of the coming generations will be severely affected.

Naeem Quershi, an environmentalist said WPP (woven polypropylene) bags left exposed to sunlight even under tarpaulins disintegrate into powder and get mixed with the grain. The powder is known to contain deadly elements such as lead, cadmium, chromium, copper, nickel and zinc.

The antioxidants in the fabric are known to have caused skin irritation in certain climates. The inhalation of the high nickel concentration can cause acute and sub-acute poisoning. Nickel dust and Aerosols of Nickel metal, nickel oxide and others are carcinogenic. Antimony dioxide used as the stabilizing and flame-proofing agent in poly bags is also carcinogenic, he added.

Environmentalists said the disposal of solid waste of poly bags is going to be one of the biggest problems, which the government is going to face very soon. The drainage wastewater schemes are not working anywhere in Pakistan on account of plastic waste.

They emphasized that government and public should act for protecting environment of the country collectively and avoid using plastic and polypropylene bags at commercial and domestic level.

They suggested that alternative resources such as jute and cotton bags should be used on priority for transportation and storage, which are environment friendly and 100% biodegradable.

These bags not only save the country’s environment but also curtail the health budget of individuals. Also, these bags are also affordable and could be used multiple time for different purposes.

The main attraction for the government to use polypropylene bags is their low cost as compared to higher cost of the bags, which are produced from natural fiber. On the contrary, jute bag has double capacity to store foods items and it is used more than twice safely.

Jute bags are made of natural fiber therefore, can stand sunlight. During 2001, when there was bumper wheat crop the wheat procured last for three years in jute bags without any damage as Jute is undoubtedly the friendly fiber not only for human beings but also for the environment.

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