POST TIME: 9 July, 2018 10:29:14 AM
Polythene pollution looms large in Bangladesh
Proper management of plastic waste is a must. So stronger implementation of law is needed and exemplary punishment has to be ensured to prevent such pollution
Prof. Sarwar Md. Saifullah Khaled

Polythene pollution looms large in Bangladesh

The environmental pollution triggered by worldwide industrialisation and urbanisation is on the rise. Polythene and plastic are the main components of environmental pollution. In Bangladesh polythene shopping bags still rule the market though its production and use were banned nearly 16 years back. It was the first country in the world to do so and the move was widely hailed as a major step towards reducing environmental plastic pollution, when Bangladesh slapped the ban on polythene bag of less than 55 micron thickness in January 2002. The government in 2010 enacted another law in support of the 2002 ban, titled the “Mandatory Jute Packaging Act 2010” for the compulsory use of jute in packaging products instead. Nevertheless, the use of polythene bags and one-time-use plastics is rampant now, because of the non-enforcement of the law. The reuse and recycle of plastic is urgent to protect the environment. Bangladesh government, however, claims that it is going forward attaching the highest priority to the protection of nature and environment aiming to attain the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) declared by the United Nations (UN).
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in a report observed that in Asia, several countries have attempted to control the manufacture and use of plastic bags through levies, and some governments already introduced plastic bag ban more than a decade ago, such as in Bangladesh. But the enforcement of regulations has often been poor, and single-use plastic bags continue to be widely used and mismanaged despite prohibitions and levies. In contrast, UNEP observed, another Asian example is Japan, where no ban is in place on single-use plastic, but due to a very effective waste management system and a high degree of social consciousness, the country accounts for relatively limited leakages of single-use plastics in the environment. Again, China seeks to green logistics services to beat plastic pollution.

The authorities claim that they try to conduct anti-polythene drives frequently. The concerned authority also said that it is difficult to trace and catch them as the mushrooming of small-scale polythene manufacturing factories always tend to produce them from different locations.

However, the Ministry of Jute and Textiles are close to making jute-derived poly bags which can be an effective replacement for polythene bags. But the lack of coordination issues in assigning a magistrate and a team of police to conduct mobile drives against plastic bag use are major reasons in addition to inadequate manpower. As polythene bags are blocking the drainage system in cities and towns across the country the importance of raising awareness among the city dwellers about the harmful nature of polythene needs to be stressed. As per official sources, only 83 anti-polythene drives were conducted across the country till date this year 2018. As per the Department of Environment (DoE) during these raids, 4.25 million tonnes of polythene bags were seized and those who were found guilty were fined about Tk1.34 million. It said that apart from 1 or 2 factories, all the other polythene-manufacturing factories are illegal and it will shut those down.

The DoE said that they asked the city's market owners' associations to refrain from promoting polythene shopping bags in a meeting they recently held with them. The association leaders assured them of their full cooperation during future drives. Although the mobile court magistrates have the authority to punish those guilty of using polythene bags for up to two years in jail and additional fines, but it is hardly done. Textiles and Jute ministry said that the ministry's project to launch jute-derived poly bags look a lot like polythene but are not hazardous to the environment. It will get dissolved with soil within three months. As they are trying to buy a bigger machine for mass production of jute-derived poly bags, they have now started its production on a small scale. Once that is done, they can gradually decrease the use of polythene bags by manufacturing it commercially within 3 to 4 months.   

The situation demands stronger implementation of law to resist illegal production, marketing and usage of plastic to prevent environment pollution. At least four-points are to be stressed, which are: (i) ensuring exemplary punishment for violating law, (ii) planning and implementing community based waste management system, (iii) taking initiatives in government and non-government sectors to ensure recycling of plastic goods, and (iv) inventing environment friendly alternatives of plastics. Bangladesh, as mentioned above, is the first country in the world to impose ban on using polythene in 2002. It amended the “Bangladesh Environment Conservation Act 1995” in 2010, putting restriction on production, transportation, storage and use of polythene shopping bags but the country is not getting any benefit due to its poor implementation.

In Bangladesh, polythene is being used indiscriminately and each year around 300,000 tonnes of plastic waste are being dumped into water bodies and open places. Although Bangladesh is known as a user of natural products, the use of plastic is increasing day by day and about 10 percent of total waste produced per day is plastic. Thus ecological balance is being damaged due to excessive use and production of plastic. That is why proper management of plastic waste is a must. So stronger implementation of law is needed and exemplary punishment has to be ensured to prevent such pollution. The need to increase public awareness and participation in the process of doing away with plastic is also essential to that end.

The writer is a retired Professor of Economics, BCS General Education Cadre