Why are we still allowing single-use plastic?
Three years have passed since the High Court's directive to the Department of Environment (DoE) to put an end to the use of single-use plastic in hotels, motels, and restaurants in coastal areas, but very little progress has been made in implementing it. Similarly, the use of polythene and throwaway plastic bags continues to be rampant despite a ban imposed on polythene bags in 2002. Lack of initiative from the government agencies responsible is mostly to blame for the non-implementation of these vital directives. The result? Single-use plastics, including polythene bags, have emerged as one of the major environmental threats for the country.
Reportedly, Bangladesh generates around 3,000 tonnes of plastic waste every day. It ranks 10th in mismanaging plastic waste in the world, according to a report. Meanwhile, a study has found that in Bangladesh, 36 percent of plastic waste is formally recycled while 39 percent is dumped in landfills. The remaining 25 percent leaks into the environment, eventually flowing into the Bay of Bengal through the rivers.
Plastic waste, dumped into the rivers, has reportedly polluted them so badly that many of them are now on the verge of death. Buriganga River is a case in point. With indiscriminate plastic and industrial pollution, its water has now become poisonous for fish and other aquatic animals to survive there. Karnaphuli, Kirtankhola, Meghna, Kaliganga and scores of other rivers are also choking from plastic pollution. A recent study has also found that at least 17 species of fish and three species of shellfish in three key rivers flowing through the Sundarbans are contaminated with microplastics. This is an alarming situation, and requires urgent intervention from the authorities.
Bangladesh, we must admit, is not the only country to be grappling with plastic pollution. Single-use plastics have emerged as one of the most pressing environmental threats for humanity. But while other countries in the world are taking steps to curb this pollution, Bangladesh lags far behind in this regard. Despite there being bans, laws and HC directives galore, nothing has changed in all these years. Polythene bags and single-use plastics are being used indiscriminately right under the nose of the law enforcers. This needs to change.
It is good to know, however, that the environment ministry has recently asked all government offices at the district level and coastal areas to take necessary measures to stop the use of single-use plastic and polythene. It has requested all relevant offices to hold regular meetings with stakeholders to increase awareness in this regard. While raising awareness and conducting regular drives will definitely make some improvement, the government must do more to effect change. It must fully enforce the bans on plastics, and make sure to strongly implement the relevant law to stop illegal production, marketing and usage of plastic to prevent further environmental pollution.