THE production and rampant use of polythene bags found to be clogging canals and drains almost everywhere in Dhaka and elsewhere, triggering water stagnation and polluting the environment brings to the fore the government’s indifference to enforcing the ban on the manufacturing and use of polythene bags. This apathy has emboldened a section of unscrupulous traders to manufacture and market the banned item openly in breach of the law. A study undertaken by Waste Concern in 10 cities and 261 urban centres, as New Age reported on Sunday, shows that rapid urbanisation led to a significant increase in the per capita use of bags and other materials made of polythene and polypropylene over a decade. Environmentalists, however, expressed concern about the dumping of scrapped polythene items, including shopping bags and food packets, into landfills causing soil and water pollution besides blocking the drains of rain waters in densely populated cities.
The influx of polythene bags makes one wonder whether these traders enjoy some kind of protection from certain quarters in the environmental administration and law enforcement agencies. The ban was imposed successfully in 2002 to save the environment from the onslaught of the non-biodegradable material but it has found its way later not only to city drains and storm sewers but also to rivers and canal beds, threatening normal breeding of aquatic life. We recall that the awareness campaign that came with the ban had worked well with people spontaneously switching over to shopping bags made of biodegradable materials, such as, paper, jute, etc. But once the initial hullabaloo had died down, manufacturers of polythene bags came back with renewed vigour to carry on with their business. A number of manufacturers of jute and paper shopping bags are facing stiff competition from traders of illegal polythene bags as we do not notice any government agency in the field clamping down on the violators of law. There is no gainsaying that a lot of damage has already been done to our environment. Hence, the message should go loud and clear to polythene traders that the government means business this time and that no one will be spared for damaging the environment. At the same time, relevant government agencies and financing organisations should encourage cottage industry and laid-off jute mills to produce environment-friendly shopping bags.
It is time all stakeholders became fully aware of the impact of polythene on health and environment and acted together to end the menace. People in general would opt for biodegradable shopping bags once these were made available abundantly at affordable prices. Hence, the onus rests on the government to ensure that such alternatives are made available to people. But it would entail a good measure of inter-ministerial cooperation and coordination to reach the environmental objective.
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