Plastic Waste in Gilgit Baltistan: A Serious Health Hazard

Zubair Ghazi

I was going on an evening walk near the river bank in Gilgit, enjoying the fresh wind breeze in the hot summer, when I saw a grown man trying to catch fish. When asked how many fishes he had managed to catch, the man replied, “I am trying for the last 9 hours and have not been able to catch a single fish today. When I used to be a kid, we used to catch a minimum of 10  fish in the same time period.”

Another man told me “I used to feed my family and a major portion of our daily diet was fish that we used to catch from this river. We also used to sell them in the local market. The sudden decline has affected our livelihood”.

These fresh rivers and the species living in them are in danger because tons and tons of plastic waste, hospital waste, house drainage, and other waste material are dumped into it every year. This unabetted pollution is not only ruining the freshwater source but also affects the livelihood of the communities who rely on natural resources for their livelihood.

Even a cursery look at the river reveals plenty of plastic waste at the banks, as well as floating in the river too. A worrying scene, to say the least. We are hardly noticing the effects of our daily routine on the natural habitat and the livelihoods of vulnerable minorities.

In Gilgit Baltistan, there are no proper waste management systems in place.  Traditional dumping methods are used to dispose wastes, which creaats health hazards while also damaging the flora and fauna of the region.

Medical waste

Medical waste, incluidng drips, syringes, and other medical hazardous or infected equipment are found in the river water which can cause serious health hazards.

Ironically, dumping is also the most common method of waste disposal used by Municipality Departments in Gilgit Baltistan. With the increase in population and changes over time.

New methods and technologies are required to introduce in such matters. Waste recycling facilities and techniques are much needed in the regions where the population is increasing due to people migrating from various regions for tourism, trade or work.

Gilgit Baltistan is a tourist hub and it has been a center of attraction and tourist point not only for the domestic visitors but has recognized name all over the world. The continuous flow of people from different regions of the world one hand has created many opportunities for the locals to generate income and promote local products, and local cuisine but at the same time there have been several cases in which tourists leave behind waste products i.e. Plastic Bottles, Parcel boxes, wrappers and rest of plastic made materials which do not only affect the beauty of the region but also mixes up with the freshwater resources and pollutes the drinking water sources which contaminate the drinking water causing various diseases in Gilgit Baltistan Region.

There has also been an increase in child patients in hospitals with common diseases cholera, diarrhea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid, and polio. These are diseases associated with contaminated water and food.

Plastic is not only the cause of land or water pollution but the majority of the air pollution is also caused by burning highly toxic plastic materials that cause air pollution. Burning plastic and treated wood releases heavy metals and toxic chemicals, such as Dioxin. Other chemicals released while burning plastic include Benzo (a) Pyrene (BAP) and Polyaromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs), which have both been shown to cause cancer.

Way Forward

As we all can see plastic is being commonly used around us and it has become nearly impossible to eradicate the usage of plastic from our daily lives.

Plastic can, however, be recycled and used to make different materials that are useful in our daily lives. A

A Plastic Brick made from used bottles

Columbian company called “Conceptos Plasticos”, in partnership with UNICEF, has established women-led recycling market creating schools with bricks made of recycled plastic. The bricks are more durable, easy to transport, and stronger than average cement bricks. Plastic bricks are found to be more heat-insulating compared to normal bricks.


Such type of success stories are highly influential and can be easily implemented by any country to get rid of unwanted plastic materials and turn them into reusable materials instead of just dumping them into different regions.

Recycling machines should be provided by the government in collaboration with multinational organizations to tackle the serious health hazards that are caused by plastic waste dumping in areas where the water sources are used for drinking water.

This can create further job opportunities for people as waste collectors, plastic separators and machine handlers and maintenance teams. These innovations and unique ideas are what we lack as a society to maximize the benefits of any harsh situations.

SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production

SDG 12 is one of the most fundamental goals we have in the Sustainable Development Goals, as it is the key to sustaining the livelihoods for current and future generations. Solid waste recycling projects can help us achieve SDG 12 with positive changes on grassroots levels.

Instead of taking small and least effective strategies, such as banning plastic or polythene bags, large-scale change and more effective outcomes can be achieved by using recycling methods. Machines can be used to make new useful materials that cost less and gives highly durable material to people as a substitute for highly expensive and hard-to-transport goods such as cement bricks. It will give an extra option to the people working in commercial sectors and housing businesses to use a more light material in construction.

This will not only help us fight diseases, but also clean the environment, create jobs at grassroots levels and ensure a sustainable future for the current and upcoming generations

The contributor works as Community Resilience Officer (GLOF – II) project. He can be reached at

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