Turning the Tide on Trash: How Individuals, Communities, and Institutions Can Work Together for a Cleaner Future

by | Jun 23, 2023 | Lifestyle

According to the World Bank’s What A Waste 2.0 report, global waste generation stood at 2.01 billion tonnes per year in 2020, and was expected to increase to 3.40 billion tonnes by 2050. It was a shocking reminder of how much trash human activity generates, and how the problem is escalating. Globally, mismanaged trash has polluted water bodies, impacted air quality, and even contaminated the soil [1]. In Pakistan, increasing levels of waste have become a problem for policymakers, destabilized communities, and impacted individual quality of life. Thus, as we try to mitigate the damage, individuals, communities, and institutions need to collaborate for a cleaner future.

Pollution Beach Sand

Here is how each can contribute to clean-up endeavors.

Empowering Individuals

Increasing levels of waste coincide with population growth and rapid urbanization. That is individual actions compound and negatively impact the environment. For example, it was estimated in 2019 that if the number of single-use plastic bags used in Pakistan were totaled they’d amount to 55 billion a year [2]. Thus, individuals can start making positive changes in their own lives that can have promising snowball effects. They can start with their consumption habits, and ensure that they are managing their garbage properly by not littering, opting for reusable alternatives, and recycling as much as they can. Finally, individuals can also be mindful of shared community spaces, and become advocates for cleaning up. This way, they can encourage others through their actions.

Person with gloves picking trash

Power of Community

While individual action is important, community-level engagement can be even more impactful. According to research conducted by the World Bank, waste generation is steadily increasing in regions like South Asia [3]. Concerning Pakistan in particular, a 2022 report by the Asian Development Bank noted that while Pakistan generates 30 million metric tonnes of waste, only 50% of this waste is collected. It also highlighted that this figure varies by locality, and is much lower in rural areas [4]. Community clean-up efforts can help with this, by focusing their efforts on the most adversely impacted localities. Community groups can also help foster sustainable attitudes toward consumption. Positive impacts of such initiatives have already been seen. For example, cities such as Indore, India have adopted a zero-waste approach where residents prioritize reusing, recycling, and reducing their overall waste [5]. Community groups in Pakistan can encourage similar changes across the country as well.

Cleanup Drive on the beach

Driving Systemic Change

At an institutional level, a policy change can ensure systemic shifts. Pakistan has already seen some positive strides in this regard, for example, when it ratified the Paris Agreement in 2016[6] and imposed a ban on single-use plastic bags in 2020[7]. These efforts have been lauded, however, more can be done. For example, despite the ban, it was observed in 2022 that the use of plastic bags was still rampant [8]. Woman with Shopping BagsThe report by The Asian Development Bank noted that Pakistan has to empower governing bodies at various levels to adequately prevent waste mismanagement. While policymakers in Pakistan have pushed hard for reforms, the laws they have worked for have to be enforced.

Ultimately, the problem of mismanaged and increasing waste impacts individuals, communities, and institutions. Thus, only by working together can they elicit lasting change.


[1] https://www.allcountyrecycling.com/blog/2020/three-negative-effects-our-trash-has-on-the-environment.html

[2] https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/pakistan-moves-to-ban-single-use-plastic-bags-the-health-of-200-million-people-is-at-stake/2019/08/12/6c7641ca-bc23-11e9-b873-63ace636af08_story.html

[3] https://blogs.worldbank.org/sustainablecities/here-s-what-everyone-should-know-about-waste#:~:text=Poorly%20managed%20waste%20is%20contaminating,development%20such%20as%20through%20tourism.

[4] https://www.adb.org/sites/default/files/publication/784421/solid-waste-management-pakistan-road-map.pdf

[5] https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/story/cities-embrace-zero-waste-philosophy-amidst-torrents-trash

[6] https://www.dawn.com/news/1295695

[7] https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/pakistan-moves-to-ban-single-use-plastic-bags-the-health-of-200-million-people-is-at-stake/2019/08/12/6c7641ca-bc23-11e9-b873-63ace636af08_story.html

[8] https://tribune.com.pk/story/2388915/ban-on-polythene-bags-flouted

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