Circular Economy: Can sustainability alleviate Pakistan?

As a new government is finally ushered into power at the back of ambitious promises, we can only hope that it will deliver on them because at this point any reform short of ambition would only mean further regression for Pakistan. Rome wasn’t built in a day, similarly, we must acknowledge that a radical change in Pakistan’s present state won’t occur over night. The road to progress will be a long and arduous one which will require the new government and all Pakistanis to show grit and above all embrace innovation.


The “Circular Economy” is as it sounds, novel. Novel to the extent that at best it may be thrown around over evening tea or at worst, not be lent any credence at all, ignored, and set aside as a model to be implemented in the future. The problem is that the future sounds far but is often just around the corner these days. Issues that we assume can be delayed until later often end up requiring our attention much sooner than we’d like.


For e.g. with the effects of climate change, we find it safe to assume that we have until the mid-century to get our climate act together, but the harsh truth is that the climate change phenomenon is incredibly unpredictable. If we consider the 2022 floods we realise that there’s quite literally no way to quantify what mother nature will throw at us next and to what extent we shall suffer her wrath. Unseen crises of such scale require us to build climate resilience across our nation and transitioning to a circular economic model is indeed a step in this direction, the right direction.


Unfortunately, there are still other concerns just as pressing for Pakistan to consider such as the sheer size of our population and that its projected to reach over 400 million by 2050. If this growth is not curtailed and we continue in our present state; crippled by debt, polluted beyond recognition, lacking infrastructure, dependant on imports for vital resources, riddled with corruption and malpractice across the board then the Pakistan of the mid-century would make for a very bleak sight indeed. But if sustainable practices such as those promoted by a circular economic model are adopted now, then we may have a chance at accommodating such a massive population efficiently.


Of the many benefits brought about by a circular economy, waste management is one. Insignificant though it may seem given the issues we’re currently dealing with it is quite the contrary, for in addressing this one issue we address multiple. According to the International Trade Administration, Pakistan produces approximately 49.6 million tons of solid waste annually of which 3.3 million tons is plastic waste. The tendency to use plastic in our services and products etc. is due to several factors ranging from the fact that it is cheap and convenient to the fact that most Pakistanis aren’t aware of the inherent consequences. The orthodox linear economy model where products are designed as one-offs and then discarded also plays a huge role towards encouraging this behaviour. Currently this model reigns supreme not only in Pakistan but across the world and it can be held singularly accountable for generating enormous amounts of waste and thus creating a culture of disregard towards the environment. Undoing such deeply rooted practices would require a change in not only the way we conduct business but also our behaviour and mindset which is exactly what a circular economy model encourages via sustainable practices in business.

Furthermore, waste is grossly mismanaged in Pakistan, such that we have the highest percentage of mismanaged waste in South Asia. This is primarily due to Pakistan’s literally toxic relationship with outdated albeit convenient waste management techniques which are costing us dearly now and will continue to cost us dearly in the long run as our population exponentiates. Take for e.g. open burning of waste, a common practice that results in the release of airborne toxins and GHG’s (Greenhouse Gases) that contribute to global warming and are a serious health hazard. Consider pollution in major cities like Lahore presently and try to imagine it down the line if we continue the same practices into the mid-century.


Acknowledging the afore-mentioned issues first is important to understand why Pakistan needs to embrace novel but innovative solutions. Circular economy adjusts existing business models in a way that the resources used to create products are recovered and re-used thus preventing environmental degradation and reducing the amount of waste generated. Firms are required during the design process of their products to cater for re-usability since it is estimated that more than 80% of a product’s environmental impact is determined during the design phase. Naturally this would allow for better waste management as firms are incentivized to recover their own discarded products and re-introduce them into the supply chain.


Seeing that only around 40% of urban waste is managed by municipal authorities in Pakistan and the remaining 60% ends up in unauthorized sites, one can see why introducing new approaches is imperative. Supply chain innovation inspired by a circular economy would inevitably reduce pressure on authorities and create a culture of accountability to the environment and society in our private sector. Such a culture is crucial to develop because transitioning to a Circular Economy model even if it brings immense benefits is no easy task and it will require a multilateral effort.


Alternatively, we may continue to save money with current unsustainable practices but someone else will have to pay for our excesses, our future generations.


Perhaps such a transition is exactly what is required of Pakistanis at this point, not just because of waste management optimization but because it requires all of us to make a collective effort to adopt sustainable practices. It changes our business practices, our way of viewing our environment. And most importantly it brings us together to take responsibility for our country.




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