Recession, shutdown, bankruptcy, economic depression, lay offs, factory collapse, etc have become buzzwords during the Covid-19 pandemic. This submicroscopic infectious agent is infecting humans and causing death. Furthermore, it is posing a threat to normal day-to-day life on this planet.
It is clear as day that the human dimension of coronavirus is much more lethal than health aspect. Multiple sectors across the globe are collapsing day by day.
In developing countries like Bangladesh, it is quite impossible to keep all the sectors on life support. The most dominating sector, namely the readymade garments sector, is also dragging its feet. They were the first to announce laying off of worker.
The same fate is being shared by the emerging plastic industries of Bangladesh. Just two years back, economists described this sector as full of potential. Accoring to the Bangladesh Plastic Goods Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BPGMEA), in the fiscal year 2017-18, the domestic plastic market size hit Tk25,000 crore.
BGMPEA projected the global plastic market share could go up from 0.6 percent to 3 percent, with an yearly growth of $117 million (31 percent), according to an article published in The Daily Star on March 2018.
A research titled "A report on plastic industry of Bangladesh" which was conducted by Dr Masur Ahmed and published in 2018 stated that half a million workers are currently employed in this sector while the Household Income and Expenditure Survey of 2016 said about 2.03 million people are fed by this sector. Covid-19 has left them in a bind.
Journalist Jagoron Chakma stated in a feature about plastic industries of Bangladesh that Germany and Italy are two of the biggest markets of plastic for Bangladesh. Unfortunately, these two countries are two of the hardest-hit by coronavirus as well.
Due to this pandemic, Germany and Italy have shrunk their orders this year by 75 percent, which is disastrous, as per a report by The Daily Star in July 2020
It has become a question of survival for the plastic factories as well as the workers. Accordding to the report, there are at least 1.2 million employees in 5,030 big, medium, and small plastic factories across Bangladesh.
According to the report, approximately, 175,500 people are working in 0.44 million, 1,400 and 10,000 small, medium, and big units respectively. The biggest fraction, which is the small unit, is on the verge of extinction which is the concern of Chakma. Yet, there is no response from the government, especially on their behalf.
To save the industry before it collapses, the government should take drastic response measures. Currently, the government is providing only 10 percent incentive to the plastic sector, according to Chakma. However, it is the 12th biggest export industry of Bangladesh, as per the research paper by Mansur Ahmed.
Besides allowing motivational packages, the authorities might also consider steps for the expansion of the market. Domestic plastic consumption in Bangladesh hardly provides any hope since Bangladesh is one of the lowest plastic consuming countries in the world. Currently, the plastic market is confined to Europe and mostly in Germany and Italy. It should be expanded fast.
To expand, the continuous supply of raw materials must be taken into consideration. Polyolefin, which can be extracted during oil refining and distillation of natural gas liquids, is the main ingredient for producing plastic.
Since there is no such facility in Bangladesh for producing polyolefine, this sector has to let go 25 percent of the neat production every year, which is fatal, according to a report titled "Plastic industry shows promise as demand rises" in The Daily Star.
The reported quoted BPGMEA stating that 155,000 tonnes of raw plastic materials are imported in Bangladesh from India, China, Formosa, Vietnam, and Taiwan every year, and the figure is still growing.
The price of raw plastic material has been stable so far. However, it is assumed it won't remain so after this global catastrophe. Therefore, Bangladesh must do something about this huge import burden.
In a feature of the Daily Star, Atik Rahman pointed out that Bangladesh imports various types of plastics as raw materials that amount to a total of 0.4 million tonnes.
Then, 0.8 million tonnes of plastic is generated every year as waste. Among this, only 36 percent is recycled and 39 percent is landfilled while 25 percent is considered unattended and finds its way into the sea.
Therefore, if the recycling facilities are strengthened, it can be a tremendous opportunity for this industry to sustain through this global pandemic.
The plastic industry must also be reasonably dispersed across the country. Then, it will be able to collect waste materials from all over the country, resulting in less pollution, and industrial decentralisation will be accomplished. Currently, most of the factories are in Dhaka (65 percent) and Chattogram (20 percent) According to Rahman.
Plastic industries must receive priority for a plenty of reasons. Firstly, plastics can be considered both a friend and a foe. Pollution resulting from both the land and sea use of plastic has become a major problem.
However, the advantage and efficiency of plastic goods and products are limitless. The amount of plastic used every day across the earth is astonishing. More than 480 billion plastic bottles, one trillion plastic bags a year, 0.5 billion plastic straws, 141 million tonnes for packaging, 500 billion plastic cups a year, 16 billion coffee cups, and 14 million tonnes of polystyrene are consumed every day which is the report of earthday,org.
Besides, the plastic industry in Bangladesh is highly inclusive. From street collectors to industry owners, everyone is a stakeholder in this sector. The fall of this sector will impact the life of collectors, wholesalers, recycle shops, factory workers, and the industry owners as well.
While plastic may have caused an environmental catastrophe, recycling of plastic is the way out of it. Due to the attack of coronavirus, if the plastic industry collapses, the recycling of plastic, will stop as well.
Md Asfaq Salehin works in several government's and private research projects. He is currently an M.Phil. fellow of the Institute of Bangladesh Studies, and can be reached at [email protected]