In the last one month, housewife Maksuda Begum Beauty bought two bottles of 1 litre antiseptic liquid, 10 bottles of 500 millilitre Hexisol hand rub, eight bottles of 500 millilitre hand wash and four bottles of 100 millilitre hand sanitizer.
The large number of plastic bottles she is left with afterwards are thrown away as single-use plastic (SUP).
Since Beauty is not the only person who bought and stocked up on a large amount of disinfectant for this pandemic, the volume of SUP in our environment is rising fast. Along with community households, even the health sector has also increased the usage of SUP.
There is good news though: DeliveryHobe and Garbageman have teamed up and invited everyone to give away their empty disinfectant bottles for recycling instead of just throwing them away.
Around 50 people have already agreed to the proposition and 40kg of SUP will be collected by the end of next week, according to Garbageman CEO and Founder Fahim Uddin Shuvo.
But initiatives like these have limited impact as most of our major SUP-producing industries – like the food industry – are not active in this recycling chain.
Popular coffee houses such as Apon Coffee House or Star Chicken in Khilgaon produce around 200-500 pieces of SUP utensils per day. After usage, they are binned and end up in the city corporations' garbage-collecting vans.
Bangladeshis throw away about 87,000 tonnes of SUP every year, 2,184 tonnes of which are produced by restaurants, according to the Environment and Social Development Organisation (ESDO).
This huge amount of SUP waste is dumped directly into the Matuwaile or Aminbazar landfill without being sorted. While many countries earn money from recycling plastic, Bangladesh does not have any such plans.
"Earning money from this waste is not an easy goal to accomplish," said Zahid Hossain, chief waste management officer of Dhaka South City Corporation. "To achieve it, the city corporations need a formal agreement with other ministries."
According to him, both Dhaka city corporations collect 3,000 tonnes of waste per day, around 13 percent of which – including metal and recyclable plastic – is recycled.
The other 77 percent waste, including SUP, is dumped in landfills. This year, 2,500 tonnes of SUP waste was generated by laminated posters used in the Dhaka city corporation election campaigns, writes ESDO. The posters were dumped into landfills, according to Dhaka city corporations.
"A portion of laminated election posters were recycled by an organisation – making school bags or exercise books – yet those are eventually going to be dumped in the environment," said Siddika Sultana, executive director of ESDO.
To manage and minimise waste, especially from SUP, a project has been undertaken in the Matuwaile landfill to add 81 acres of land to it. Around 50 acres of the land will be used to expand the landfill, and in the remaining 31 acres, there will be a biogas plant, a waste-sorting plant and an incineration plant.
"All these non-recyclable plastic and other waste will be used in that incineration plant as fuel to produce electricity," said AHM Abdullah Harun, executive engineer of waste management at Dhaka South City Corporation. He added that it will be executed by 2022 and preparations are going to start in April this year.
Manzur Hossain, chief waste management officer of Dhaka North City Corporation, said that Aminbazar has the same plan to use SUP as fuel. The sooner the land is allocated, Dhaka North City Corporation is going to start their work.
An estimated 478 tonnes of plastic waste were generated from the Ekushey Book Fair, while 956 tonnes were generated from the Dhaka International Trade Fair, according to an ESDO research paper titled Single Use Plastic: Hidden Costs of Health and Environment in Bangladesh, 2019.
"As these fairs and exhibitions represent our culture, they cannot be stopped. But certainly, celebrations can be held in an environmentally-friendly manner," said Zahid Hossain. To control this, he thinks city corporations need their own city governance to implement laws and build awareness among the public.
Manzur Hossain said as they do not have access to direct law implementation, the Department of Environment (DoE) needs to handle this strictly.
But since the DoE alone cannot handle this situation, its director Ziaul Haque said, they are planning to hand over some direct law enforcement powers to the Bangladesh Police regarding plastic and SUP production, transportation and usage.
The High Court has ordered the government to ban SUP in coastal areas, hotels, motels, and restaurants across the country within a year to combat pollution. Along with that, the government has also ordered that a report on the progress of the implementation be submitted by January 2021.
To execute this, the DoE is publishing a list of products which are considered SUP and is going to issue a gazette notification to ban them in specific areas.
Syeda Rizwana Hasan, executive director of the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers' Association, asked, "If in 2002 we could make people understand they had to obey rules to protect the environment, then why cannot we pursue this goal now?"
Bangladesh was the first country in the world to ban the manufacture and use of single use polythene shopping bags in 20020. It was successfully implemented all over the country within a year.
"It has just been a few months since the High Court ordered a ban on SUP. Now, it needs massive promotion to build public awareness, city corporations' cooperation and individual's concern," Syeda said.