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In the lead-up to 2022, Pakistan’s customs authority conducted a grand ceremony in which they set fire to a substantial stash of illicit alcohol, drugs, and prohibited goods, collectively worth an impressive $13.9 million. This distinctive Pakistani tradition of disposing of seized contraband items stands out from the routine practices seen elsewhere in South Asia. Here, drug burning becomes a theatrical display of national pride and ethical principles, marked by elaborate official ceremonies and celebrations.

Pictured: Anti-Narcotics Force burning prohibited goods and contraband drugs near Islamabad in 2016

Drug burning ceremonies have long been seen as a symbolic act of defiance against the narcotics trade and a demonstration of a country’s commitment to combating drug-related issues. However, it is essential to critically examine the environmental consequences of such ceremonies. While these blazing boycotts play a crucial role in their display against drug-related problems, it is equally important to acknowledge that their environmental impact, particularly in terms of carbon emissions, cannot be buried in the bonfire.

The Environmental Concern

While the intentions behind such ceremonies are commendable, it is crucial to recognize that the burning of substantial quantities of narcotics releases harmful pollutants into the atmosphere. The combustion process produces carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, contributing to climate change and air pollution.

A study conducted in Lahore investigating the outcomes of subjecting hashish to high-temperature burning, has demonstrated that this process does not result in the complete elimination of the drug. Instead, it releases significant quantities of various chemicals, including pain-relievers, silicon, and psychoactive compounds, into the surrounding environment, thereby posing potential hazards to nearby communities. In light of these findings, experts have strongly recommended that local authorities consider alternative approaches for the disposal of narcotics.

The Need for Responsible Alternatives to Drug Burning

It is vital to acknowledge that the fight against the narcotics trade should not come at the expense of exacerbating environmental issues. As we strive to create a more sustainable and eco-friendly world, we must reconsider the traditional method of drug disposal through burning. Alternative methods that minimize environmental harm should be explored.

Safe Disposal

Rather than burning, illicit narcotics can be safely destroyed through chemical processes that minimize emissions and prevent the release of harmful substances into the atmosphere. A safe bet would be to dispose of these drugs the same way that one would dispose of unused medicines. According to Pfizer, “The FDA recommends putting drugs in a plastic bag with an undesirable substance, such as cat litter or coffee grounds, and throwing them in the garbage, which is then taken to a regulated disposal site.” Therefore, contraband of this sort can be disposed of in a similar way to any undesirable substances. To meet the standard for being considered unusable, drugs like marijuana need to be ground and mixed at a 50:50 ratio with an authorized waste material, which includes: animal manures, food waste, and plant waste. With these ratios kept in mind, these drugs can then be classified as waste material.

Composting and Fertilizer

In cases where it is feasible, recycling or repurposing confiscated drugs for research or medical use can reduce waste and environmental impact. In Pakistan, large amounts of hashish are often confiscated. This can be used as excellent compost material and composting this waste can help farmers save money on new soil and waste-mitigation strategies. If the government does accumulate large amounts of this drug, it can potentially sell the excess to a farm or other organization that can repurpose it as fertilizer.

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Construction Material

Contemporary construction methods aim to incorporate eco-friendly materials to a great extent. Some enterprises are exploring the feasibility of utilizing compacted cannabis waste as a building material for various structures, including houses. Although this approach is in its preliminary phases of development, it does exhibit noteworthy promise.

Moving On From Drug Burning

Drug-burning ceremonies, though well-intentioned in their own right, are not the gesture we need from the government. We need streamlined and well-established policies on drug disposal and we need these to be accompanied by awareness.

Burning any materials, drugs or otherwise, can be seriously harmful for the air we breathe. While setting things on fire can be deeply cathartic and truly liberating, the government needs to know better. We must strike a balance between our commitment to addressing drug-related issues and our responsibility to protect the environment. Exploring and adopting environmentally friendly alternatives for drug disposal is not only feasible but also crucial in our ongoing efforts to combat climate change and reduce hazardous emissions. It is time to reconsider the traditional approach and find responsible solutions that align with our environmental goals.

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