Despite the hazardous effects of plastic, it has become an indispensable commodity in our daily lives. Bangladesh's usage of plastic has increased threefold in the previous 15 years, placing it ninth in the world, in terms of the production of plastic waste.
Besides that, a study by the Eco-Social Development Organisation (ESDO) reveals that each month Bangladesh produces roughly 250 tons of single-use plastic as waste.
At present, there is no international agreement focusing solely on preventing plastic pollution. However, countries joined together at the third session of the United Nations Environmental Assembly (UNEA) in December 2017, to introduce a resolution on marine waste and plastic pollution.
Now the Centre for International Environmental Law (CIEL) is working to establish a binding treaty to address global plastic pollution.
Plastic bags are illegal in Bangladesh, as a revolutionary amendment to the Environment Conservation Act added a new section (6A). This section describes punishment for the production, importation, marketing, sale, transportation and distribution of plastic bags.
Subsequently, notifications were issued by the Director-General of the Department of Environment, through which, all kinds of polythene shopping bags have been banned with certain exceptions. The penalty for polythene related offences is described in section 15(1) of the Environmental Conservation Act.
Moreover, in 2010, the Government of Bangladesh took further initiative to decrease the use of plastic bags by establishing the "Mandatory Jute Packaging Act, 2010". This act emphasises the compulsory use of jute packaging for six essential items: paddy, rice, wheat, maize, fertiliser, and sugar.
The act also provides penalties of one-year imprisonment or fine of up to Tk50,000 or both for using any non–biodegradable synthetics for packaging. However, the ban merely appears on paper, as in reality, it has not yet come into effect.
The indiscriminate use of plastic has serious adverse effects on the environment, human health and wildlife. Plastic in oceans causes serious harm to all marine creatures and their habitats. Apart from marine pollution, plastic also causes serious damage to the soil.
Plastic particles hinder the growth of microorganisms. As a result, soil fertility declines, hampering agricultural production.
Moreover, due to its non-biodegradable nature, plastic does not break down easily. Plastic can remain unchanged from 400 to 1,000 years in the soil, leaving its devastating effects. Therefore, if plastic garbage is not managed properly, it contaminates the soil and eventually contaminates our food, water and the whole ecosystem.
The consumption of plastic fibres through food causes severe diseases such as: asthma, pulmonary cancer, liver, nerve and brain damage, renal diseases and so on. Furthermore, the manufacture of plastic emits greenhouse gases, which contributes to climate change.
However, there is some hope in the fact that the government has made commendable efforts to minimise the usage of plastic bags. Apart from the aforesaid two acts, in 2017, the Ministry of Textiles and Jute launched a pilot project to manufacture 'Sonali Bags'.
Sonali Bags are eco-friendly polymer bags made from jute which can be used as an alternative to polythene. These biodegradable bags are more useful than regular polythene bags. The project's duration has been extended in order to produce these bags on a larger scale and at an affordable price.
Bangladesh, being the second-biggest producer of jute in the world, has a huge opportunity to export these bags. Experts recommend that the government should support public and private jute mills in creating the appropriate quantity of jute yarns, necessary to meet the demand for jute shopping bags.
That being said, no actions have yet been taken to address the widespread usage of single-use plastic in soda and water bottles, straws, cutlery, and such other items.
Even though there is no statutory prohibition on the use of single-use plastics other than polyethene, the High Court Division on January 6, 2020 passed an order, in response to a writ petition filed to ban single-use plastics in coastal areas, hotels, motels, and restaurants across the country within a year, but no step for implementation of the order has so far been taken.
Bangladesh has designed a "National Action Plan for Sustainable Plastic Management" in partnership with the World Bank. The project aims to reduce plastic use by 50% by 2025, eliminate single-use plastic by 90% by 2026, and minimise plastic waste production by 30% by 2030, starting from 2020-21.
It also emphasises on circular usage of plastic based on the "3R strategy": reduce, reuse and recycle.
Many countries have come up with creative solutions to limit the use of plastic. These successful initiatives have been adopted by some NGOs in our country. The activity of the "Pashe Achi Initiative, for example, is commendable. This non-profit organisation encourages people to donate single-use plastics in exchange for books.
Following the idea of Denmark, several countries like: the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain etc. have decided to effectively combat plastic waste by levying high taxes on plastic and encouraging the use of environmentally beneficial and affordable alternatives. These methods have the potential to be very effective in reducing plastic waste.
The usage of eco-friendly products such as bamboo, wood, clay, steel, and such other biodegradable materials should be encouraged. Several entrepreneurs in our country have already begun manufacturing and marketing goods made from these materials.
These activities, however, must be undertaken on a wider scale. The government must back these projects and provide adequate funding. Promoting these eco-friendly products will also benefit the local farmers and boost the economy.
Apart from investing in these effective projects which promote local products, proper enforcement of law and a strong plastic waste management system can assist in minimising the usage of plastic and contribute to the development of a better and healthier life for all Bangladeshis.
Gargi Das Chomok is a student of the Department of Law at the University of Rajshahi.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.