Plastic waste threatens environment and biodiversity
Plastic waste poses a serious risk to the country's environment, public health and biodiversity. Recently, on 20 December 2021, a research report prepared by the World Bank for the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, entitled 'Towards a Multisectoral Action Plan for Sustainable Plastic Management in Bangladesh', stated that its use in urban areas has tripled in the last 15 years, this means that in 2005 the per capita consumption of plastic in other cities outside Dhaka was 3 kg, in 2020 it has increased to 9 kg.
In Dhaka city it has increased from 9 kg to about 23 kg. About 10 percent of the country's annual waste comes from plastic products, 48 percent of it falls to the ground and 37 percent is reused, 12 percent fell into canals. Most of the plastic falling on the ground is used as polythene bags, product packaging and packets. About half of this plastic remains in soil and water and creates deadly pollution, threatens public health.
Not only that, these plastics are accumulating in the rivers, canals and drains of the country and increasing the water retention. Concerns are growing about this and the environment and biodiversity are being endangered.
It was informed that the government has made a plan to halve the use of plastic in the country by 2030 to overcome this situation. In addition, the World Bank- assisted plan emphasizes increasing recycling of plastics. It is said to have been made as part of an action plan to control the use and pollution of plastics in the country.
The program also summarized an action plan to control the use of plastics between 2021 and 2030. It called for a 50 percent reduction in the production of plastic products, a 30 percent reduction in plastic waste and a 50 percent recycling of plastics by 2026.
Plastic waste in the capital alone has more than tripled since the country banned polythene in the last two decades, which is a worrying figure. However, there is no initiative to recycle plastic or make an alternative to polythene. Due to the unawareness of the city dwellers, life, nature, environment and biodiversity are heading towards dire consequences.
Despite the government's talk of using jute bags instead of polythene, the country's jute mills are slowly closing down.
It has been seen that most of the plastic bottles are found by cleaning the canals and drains of the capital and this is the reason why waterlogging is created in the capital as soon as it rains. After use, these things are thrown in different water bodies and everywhere, so later it is flowing into the Bay of Bengal as a river. Aquatic animals are taking it from there. Through these animals it is entering our food cycle.
In fact, plastic bottles or polythene bags get the last refuge in ocean after crossing canals, ponds, sewers, rivers, etc. The marine environment is being seriously endangered due to plastic waste; the helpless animals are dying tragically.
Plastics contain a chemical called phthalate, also known as plasticizer, which helps in softening the plastic. These pellets can be mixed with food or water from plastic materials. Phthalate also acts as a synthetic estrogen (responsible for feminine nature). Phthalate causes hormonal imbalance in the animal's body and reduces or eliminates fertility.
Plastics also contain a highly harmful plasticizer called Bisphenol-A, which acts as a synthetic estrogen. Research has shown that it can cause cancer and even damage fertility. The Canadian government recently banned the use of Bis-phenol.
About 100 million marine mammals die each year from plastic waste alone. The existence of the earth is due to the marine system. By providing food and oxygen, the oceans protect the earth's fauna. The marine environment is being endangered due to our negligence and irresponsibility.
It may be mentioned that the production, marketing and use of plastic polythene was banned by law in 2002. The law states that if a person produces, imports or markets prohibited polythene products, he can be sentenced to 10 years imprisonment or a fine of up to Tk. 10 lakh or even both.
According to the Department of Environment, from 2015 to 2021, a total of 2,897 operations have been carried out. In addition to fines, 91 people have been sentenced to various terms of imprisonment for using polythene. However, the reality is that banned polythene is being manufactured in about 1,200 factories across the country, including the capital.
A study published in the Journal of Science of the Total Environment, published in November last year, found that 87 percent of the country's polythene and plastic waste was not being disposed of in an environmentally friendly manner. The amount of plastic waste generated every day in Bangladesh is not even a month's worth of plastic waste in many countries.
According to another data, while the growth rate of organic waste in Bangladesh is 5.2 percent, the growth rate of plastic waste is 7.5 percent. About 61% of the people in the country are using polythene bags. These facts and figures are undoubtedly painful. We ourselves are infecting the food cycle, polluting the environment but everyone is indifferent, what could be more catastrophic than this!
In conclusion, the rate of misuse and misuse of polythene and plastic materials among the people is increasing day by day even though it is known to be harmful. On the other hand, the use of polythene plastic is not decreasing due to its cheap price and easy availability.
It is important to end this situation. A popular alternative to polythene is to make jute fibre bags. Alternative use of polythene and recycling of recyclable plastics are essential to prevent contamination of plastic waste. As well as awareness among the people is urgent.
Md Zillur Rahaman, Banker and Freelance Columnist