Over the past five decades, plastic production has soared worldwide. A staggering 1 million plastic bottles are purchased every minute around the world. If all the plastic bottles sold in 2018 were gathered in a pile, it would be higher than the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.
A plastic bottle comes with many conveniences but the growing use of plastic is having a devastating impact on our environment.
Bangladesh is not immune to the plastic hazard. Because of the ever-increasing use of plastic in different industries, especially packaging, Bangladesh remains one of the top plastic polluted countries. Images of clogged rivers as a result of haphazard disposal of plastic bottles partly depict the gravity of the problem.
Here are some shocking statistics on plastic in Bangladesh:
- 3,000 tonnes of plastic waste is generated every day.
- Plastic comprises 8% of the total waste generated every year. Numerically, that is 800,000 tonnes.
- Some 14 million pieces of polythene bags are used every day in Dhaka city. Those often end up in rivers and the ocean, posing a hazard to the sea life.
- Around 73,000 tonnes of plastic waste end up in the sea every day through the Padma, Jamuna and Meghna rivers.
- In Old Dhaka alone, around 250 tonnes of non-recyclable products, such as straws and plastic cutlery, are sold every month.
- The growth in biowaste production is 5.2% while that in plastic waste is 7.5%.
In addition to the domestic waste, plastic waste from India, Nepal and China flowing down the Ganges, Yamuna and Brahmaputra end up in our waterbodies, including rivers and canals. The scale of the problem is as massive as it gets.
According to Reuters, Asia is the world’s biggest producer of plastic material and its waste.
A serious menace to environment, health
The Environment and Social Development Organisation (ESDO) in Dhaka has described polythene bags and plastic waste as a serious threat to the country’s overall environment.
A 2017 ESDO study shows that most of the used plastic and polythene end up in landfills and waterbodies across the country. There is no process to collect or recycle them.
Still, in spite of being aware of the detrimental effects of plastic, 61% of the people in the country use polythene bags.
There are over 100 factories in different areas of Dhaka, including Lalbagh, Hazaribagh and Sadarghat, and Chattogram that produce polythene bags.
In a keynote speech on plastic pollution at a seminar in 2018, United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Programme Specialist Arif M Faisal said production of plastic emits greenhouse gases and contributes to global warming while polluting soil and water.
This, he said, is affecting the Bangladesh government’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) achievements.
Globally, about 380 million metric tonnes of plastic was produced in 2015, according to a research published in the Science Advances journal. Half of all plastic produced is designed to be used only once.
Single-use plastic contains many different chemicals with endocrine disrupting properties, including solvents, UV stabilizers, phthalates, antimicrobials, and industrial additives, according to ESDO.
Polythene ban not working
Bangladesh banned the use of polythene bags back in 2002, when the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) was in power. The ban was imposed in view of the damaging effects of such bags on the environment.
However, the official prohibition has failed to yield the expected result. Polythene bags are still in use on a massive scale. Groceries are mostly packaged in poly bags when they are sold to customers in absolute defiance of the ban.
To discourage the use of polythene bags, a law on using jute bags was also passed in 2010. The response, however, has been poor.
The use of polythene and plastic bags has marked a sharp increase in recent years, and it is affecting the environment as well as clogging the drainage system.
Is there any way out?
Raising awareness of the grave threats of plastic waste is a key step to beat the growing plastic pollution, according to experts in Bangladesh.
They suggest innovative, sustainable solutions and policy recommendations for the promotion of biodegradable plastic as well as economically viable alternative packaging material.
A proper plastic waste management system, including recycling of plastic, has also been suggested.
BUET (Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology) Professor Izaj Ahmed said in a 2018 keynote address that plastic recycling industries could capitalise huge profits in Bangladesh as cheap manpower and raw material are available here.
While unveiling the “Stop using single-use plastic to protect human health and environment” report in 2018, ESDO Secretary General Dr Shahriar Hossain said: “We use single-use plastic only for our comfort. We need to ban this plastic. There are more environment-friendly alternatives, such as bamboo or glass.”
Rosemarie Downey, global head of packaging research at Euromonitor International, has stressed awareness, saying that mindful consumption of plastic is a global duty of everyone.
Consumers have their part to play to help realise zero-litter, Downey told Reuters.
The European Union has voted in favour of outlawing 10 single-use plastic items, including straws, forks and knives, by 2021. It has also set targets for all plastic packaging, the top source of plastic waste, to be recyclable by 2030.