PLASTIC pollution is a global public health concern. Research shows that, as New Age reported on Saturday, many of microplastics entering the air, water and soil system as waste can cause a wide range of diseases, including respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Globally, more than 300 million tonnes of plastic are produced each year. According to a paper presented at the World Economic Forum, only 9 per cent of the plastic produced is recycled, the remaining 91 per cent enters the ecosystem. From the ecosystem, plastic particles enter human lung tissue or the blood stream and stay there as the body cannot absorb it. While most of the initiatives to contain plastic pollution focus on environmental damage, the issue of microplastic found in indoor air, inside a home, is not addressed. Microplastics in indoor air result from the fragmentation through friction, heat or light of plastic objects found in households, including toys, furniture, plastic bags, cosmetics, toothpaste and scrubs. Another recent study conducted by Ecole Nationale des Ponts et Chauses concluded that inhalation of microplastic is most injurious as once inhaled, it could cause lesions in the respiratory system. In what follows, the United Kingdom government in January 2018 banned the use of microbead. It is, therefore, time that the Bangladesh government considered steps to prevent public health hazards from the deposition of microplastics into ecosystem.
There is no available research on microplastic pollution in Bangladesh. Considering the unregulated production and marketing of plastic product, it will not be far-fetched to assume that plastic particles are relentlessly entering the ecosystem. According to a UNEP report, Bangladesh pours the fifth largest chunk of plastic into the sea — around 73,000 tonnes of plastic waste ending up in the sea every day through the Padma, Jamuna and Meghna. Another study of Waste Concern showed that the share of plastic wastes dumped at landfills rose to 8.45 per cent in 2014 from 5.25 per cent in 2005. Plastic is excessively used for packaging everyday food items and other commodities. In recent times, an extensive use of plastic furniture and other household items also increased chances of higher concentration of microplastics in indoor air of Bangladesh. The rise of respiratory diseases, particularly among the rural children, may have caused from long-term exposure to microplastics. The first step for the environment department should, therefore, be to assess the reality of microplastic pollution and its public health impact.
The government, under the circumstances, should consider forming a special task force to stop the flow of plastic waste into the air. In doing so, it must immediately take up research to assess the situation of airborne microplastic pollution. With the full knowledge of the situation, it should then design a comprehensive strategy for the management of plastic waste. However, to improve indoor air quality, it must encourage and incentivise industries to divest from the use and production of plastic products.
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