The coronavirus epidemic in China has adversely impacted the scrap plastic industry in Lalmonirhat, a northern border district of Bangladesh, as local merchants now find it difficult to offload their stocks.
Over the past three weeks, the amount of scrap plastic sold in the district has decreased with buyers citing a lack of business with China following the coronavirus outbreak as the principle cause.
Scrap plastic is cut or chipped into pieces and packaged for sale in Lalmonirhat. Buyers from Dhaka and Chattogram then purchase the scrap, which is resold to plastic product manufacturers as raw materials.
About 60 per cent of all scrap plastic available in the district is shipped to China while the rest is used by local factories.
With the local demand for the raw materials unable to make up for the surplus left by China, Lalmonirhat's scrap plastic traders have begun to count losses.
As warehouses for the product are full-up, scrap plastic is currently not being bought from merchants across the country since it cannot be resold to China, said Nur Alam, who works as a labourer at a scrap plastic factory in the district.
Like Alam, about 600 workers in the district earn a living by chipping scrap plastic and so, all of them have been impacted by the novel virus, he said.
Mujibar Rahman, a scrap plastic trader based in Bhelabari area of Aditmari upazila, said he invested Tk 25 lakh in the business which, due to a lack of sales, is on hold.
Scrap plastic is bought for Tk 15-35 per kilogram and sold at Tk 45-60 per kg after being chipped.
Even when buyers from Dhaka and Chattogram do come, they want to purchase one kg of chips at just Tk 25-30 to take advantage of the situation, Rahman added.
To make matters worse, even local plastic product factories are buying less of the material, according to Abdul Kuddus, a scrap plastic trader of Nayarhat area in Lalmonirhat Sadar upazila.
"Coronavirus outbreak in China has dealt us a blow. I cannot even regain the capital I invested," said Kuddus.
On average, 30-35 kgs of discarded plastic can be collected daily, said Nur Mohammad, a hawker, adding that local merchants have not been paying reasonable prices for the past few weeks.