The market for one-time paper cups has multiplied more than six times across the country because of the steady increase in public awareness on the use of eco-friendly products.
Over 20 crore paper cups are currently being sold every month, compared to only 5 crore before the pandemic.
Many local paper-cup manufacturers have enjoyed increased profits since the start of the pandemic, says Kazi Sazedur Rahman, president of the Paper Cup Manufacturer Association Bangladesh (PCMAB).
"The cups are easily portable, lightweight and small in size," Sazed explains the reasons behind the rise in popularity of paper cups at weddings and official events.
"One-time paper cups are also becoming increasingly popular in educational institutions, hospitals, stadiums, and tea stalls," he says.
"Several local and multinational companies have become regular buyers – having their logos printed on the paper cups," he adds.
According to experts, while many sectors have suffered huge losses due to Covid-19, the pandemic has proven to be a boon for some others. The coronavirus has brought about significant behavioural changes among people, with many refraining from eating or drinking out of common crockery and/or utensils.
PCMAB leaders hope for sales of 250 crore paper cups worth about Tk350 crore this year, versus last year's sales of 40 crore.
According to the PCMAB, of the 20 crore paper cups used every month in the country, local manufacturers supply 5 crore cups and the remaining are imported – mainly from India.
The association president, Kazi Sazedur Rahman, fears that the excess dependency on imported paper cups – around 75% of the total demand – would ultimately hamper the growth potential of local producers.
"The need for easily perishable and environment-friendly hygienic products amid the ongoing epidemic has steadily increased the appeal of paper cups. My fellow entrepreneurs and I are hopeful that the daily domestic demand will progressively increase," he says.
"With the right incentives from the government, our local producers can easily fulfil 100% of the total domestic demand," he adds.
Explaining the current market situation, he says, "The National Board of Revenue has fixed $1.50 in duties per kilogram of imported paper cups. But, the local producers are paying $1 for 1kg of imported raw materials to manufacture the cups, meaning we have to spend $1.90 to produce 1kg of the environmentally friendly product."
He suggests the government should fix $3.50 duty per kg of imported paper cups to encourage domestic companies.
PCMAB Secretary General Md Sofiul Alam Ujjal tells The Business Standard, "This sector has already successfully established itself as a potentially lucrative one. About 1,000 labourers are currently engaged in this sector. If the government pays proper attention, it could be possible to generate 20,000-30,000 jobs in this sector within a matter of days."
Stressing on the criticality of creating more new small enterprises in the country, he says, "By exporting paper cups to the North American, European and Middle Eastern countries, this sector holds enormous foreign exchange earning potential."
Prof Dr Md Khabir Uddin of environmental science at Jahangirnagar University says the increasing demand of environmentally friendly, biodegradable paper cups should be seen as a large-scale positive societal change.
"It is now up to the government to fulfil its responsibilities through the provision of incentives, grants, subsidies or loan facilities to the industry, thereby ensuring that toxic, plastic products, which pollute the environment, gradually die out from the market," he says.
He thinks concrete steps must be taken to keep the market price of paper cups within the purchasing capacity of the average consumers and to ensure that quality is maintained via periodic, thorough inspections.
Bangladesh Environment Lawyers' Association's Chief Executive Syeda Rezwana Hasan also hopes to see a daily incremental increase in the use of the biodegradable one-time paper cups.
"We have observed that alongside the paper cups, usage of plastic cups, which are like deadly cancer to the environment, has also increased during the pandemic. These plastics cause extensive damage to our water bodies and drainage systems and severely disrupt crop cultivation," she says.