Staff Correspondent: Almost every grocery store readily offers plastic bags, and it has become a common practice to use them for various purposes. After purchasing vegetables, we stuff those into the plastic bags and throw away the plastic bags once we return home. Even roadside shops display rows of bananas hung from plastic twine.
Plastic has become an inseparable part of our lives, be it in cities or villages. We use it when buying something, eating, and disposing of waste – it seems like plastic is involved in every aspect of our daily routines. However, many of us fail to realize the harm we are causing to ourselves each day.
Fifty-year-old Mejbah believed he used minimal plastic. However, upon closer examination, he found his house filled with plastic water bottles, and he didn’t even consider the mini sauce pack that accompanies his chicken fries as plastic.
Upon realization, he questioned how he could continue living this way. From water bottles to colourful food containers, plastic has pervaded our lives, replacing traditional materials like cloth or jute bags and glass bottles.
Environmental activists advocating for our well-being suggest that we should return to the days when plastic wasn’t an integral part of our lives. For our own sake, we must reduce plastic usage, as it has adverse effects on our soil’s fertility and can directly harm our bodies.
What the research says
A report titled “Towards a Multisectoral Action Plan for Plastic Management in Bangladesh,” conducted by the World Bank, sheds light on the alarming rise in plastic consumption in the country.
In 2005, the per capita plastic consumption in cities outside Dhaka was 3kg, but it increased significantly to 9kg in 2020. Meanwhile, in Dhaka city, it surged from 9kg to a staggering 24kg.
Approximately 10% of the total waste generated in Bangladesh annually consists of plastic products. Among this plastic waste, 48% ends up in landfills, while 37% is reused in some form. However, a considerable portion, 12%, finds its way into canals and rivers, posing environmental hazards. Additionally, 3% of the plastic waste is discharged into the drains, exacerbating pollution concerns.
The “Environmental Performance Index-2022” highlights Bangladesh’s troubling contribution to global plastic pollution. The country accounts for 2.47% of the total plastic pollution worldwide. Despite this significant share, Bangladesh ranks fourth among countries that are lagging behind in pollution prevention efforts. Most of the plastic used in Bangladesh is disposed of improperly, causing pollution in arable land, various water bodies, and rivers.
A recent study conducted by the River and Delta Research Centre emphasizes that plastic waste is a major contributor to river pollution, affecting at least 56 rivers in the country.
What risky things we are using
Environmentalists warn that the use of “single-use” plastic products poses significant risks as they are often discarded on the ground, ending up in rivers, canals, and eventually reaching the oceans. These plastics can enter our bodies, leading to various diseases, including cancer.
The European Commission has identified ten types of “single-use” plastic products, which include cotton bud sticks, plastic knives, spoons, plates, glasses, food wrappers, liquid drink bottles, plastic bags, and sanitary items.
In an effort to combat environmental pollution, the Environment Pollution Control Division-1 of the ministry issued a letter on March 1, instructing all government offices, including the District Commissioner’s Office, and coastal areas to stop using “single-use” plastic. However, the implementation of this order has faced challenges.
Khalilur Rahman, assistant program officer of Environment and Social Development Organization (ESDO), emphasizes the need to introduce alternative solutions to reduce plastic usage.
He suggested that cloth bags should replace plastic bags or tissue bags. Additionally, widespread awareness campaigns are essential to educate people about the adverse effects of plastic and encourage them to adopt eco-friendly alternatives. For instance, people can choose to skip using straws or opt for reusable alternatives for daily plastic usage, contributing to their well-being and the environment.
What is the problem with plastic?
Studies have revealed that certain chemicals present in plastics can leach into the food and beverages we consume. Phthalates and bisphenols are examples of such chemicals, and they have been linked to various health issues, including obesity, neuro-developmental problems, and reduced fertility.
Khalilur Rahman highlights the alarming consequences of plastic pollution: “Plastics mix with water and do not break down. As a result, they enter the food chain through fish consumption. Numerous chemicals, approximately 175 types, are utilized to harden or soften plastics, and their presence can be detected.”
What are the solutions?
Environmentalists suggest that if polythene bags and plastic are banned, eco-friendly alternatives such as eco-friendly bags and furniture should be adopted.
Recently, there have been developments in the creation of polythene bags that dissolve in water, which can be a promising solution. To support such initiatives, the government should allocate adequate funds for research and marketing.
Sharif Jamil, the general secretary of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (Bapa), highlighted the long-standing crisis in the area of law enforcement.
He believed that effective planning involving direct public participation is crucial for successful implementation. Strict legal enforcement is essential to regulate the source, production, marketing, and consumption of polythene.
Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chief executive of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA), criticized the lack of environmental sensitivity in development plans.
She emphasized the importance of prioritizing environmental protection alongside development. Market monitoring and control are essential to ensure that polyethylene products are not produced and sold illegally.
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