Change the way you use plastic products
Bangladesh, with a population of nearly 170 million, boasts of a vast maritime boundary along the Bay of Bengal. Much like other oceans, the Bay of Bengal is also plagued by unprecedented levels of plastic pollution. Because of our country's geographical characteristic, major rivers carry large volumes of water that eventually flow into the sea, carrying plastic waste along with them. Our pervasive use of plastic is a threat to marine ecosystems, is diminishing the fertility of our soil and overall threatening the balance of the ecosystem.
Plastic use has been ingrained into our day to day lives – be it bags, water bottles, soft drinks, chips and all manner of snacks, plates, glasses, storage containers – both single-use and reusable plastic products are everywhere. Plastic waste takes a long time to decompose and no naturally occurring organisms can break them down.
To better understand our reliance on plastic products, I talked to 20 individuals in Dhaka city, asking them about their dependence on single-use plastic and plastic bags. Availability, affordability and shopkeepers' tendency to provide single-use plastic have been touted as the main reasons behind this rampant use.
People turn to plastic due to its availability and the actions of producers and market suppliers. Those from previous generations would usually go to the marketplace with reusable bags. However, with the advent of single-use plastic bags, most people have ditched their sustainable habits. To overcome this challenge, we need to provide alternatives, raise awareness about the environmental crisis caused by our rampant plastic use, and implement bans on single-use plastic items.
Eco-friendly alternatives already exist, as such individuals can make a conscious effort to avoid using single-use plastic items. Carrying a reusable water bottle in place of regularly buying water bottles can eliminate the need for single-use plastic bottles and also help save up on expenses. The use of straws should also be reduced by promoting cultural adaptation and awareness. Encouraging individuals to drink directly from cups or glasses or utilising alternative options like metal or paper straws can make a substantial difference in reducing plastic waste.
During a visit to Kawran Bazar I also noticed shopkeepers unnecessarily providing plastic bags to each and every shopper. This points towards lax enforcement of regulations.
Another critical aspect is improving waste management. Many areas lack proper waste management systems, resulting in the improper disposal of plastic waste. Furthermore, there is a lack of public awareness regarding the environmental impact of plastic waste.
Addressing these issues requires a two-pronged approach. This includes establishing efficient recycling programmes, implementing proper waste segregation practices, and investing in appropriate waste treatment facilities. By effectively managing waste, especially plastic waste, we can minimise its detrimental effects on the environment. Developing advanced recycling technologies that efficiently process and reuse plastic materials can have a significant impact.
Along with that it is crucial to raise awareness among the population. Educating individuals about the consequences of plastic pollution and promoting sustainable practices can induce behavioural changes. Encouraging the reduction, reuse, and recycling of plastic can foster a more environmentally conscious society.
Cultural practices hold a significant potential in addressing this goal. By including comprehensive lessons on climate and environmental issues in the primary school curriculum can help educate the youth. Teachers can actively engage students in practicing reduced plastic consumption and proper waste management.
While the majority of people in Bangladesh heavily rely on plastics to meet various needs, there are viable alternatives to minimise its use. By avoiding single-use plastics, reducing straw use, improving waste management systems, and raising awareness, we can collectively work towards reducing plastic waste and mitigating its environmental impact. It is essential for individuals, communities, and governments to collaborate and take proactive measures to safeguard our planet for future generations.
Shahadat Hossain is a researcher focusing on International Relations, Climate Change and Forced Migrations.