PLASTIC is a widely used item in everyday life and its importance is increasing in the present world. Because of the growing use and importance of plastic, plastic waste management has also come to be a major headache for developing countries such as Bangladesh.
The use of plastic bags has been banned. Nevertheless, its use is rampant. Proper management of plastic waste, in such a situation, is what is warranted and can be a timely solution to the problem.
The most widely used plastic originated in Britain. Alexander Parks, a scientist, first created plastic through a mixture of nitro-cellulose, plasticiser and other solvents.
The good side of plastic is that the raw materials needed for it sell at a lower cost, it is light in weight and is quite safe and convenient to use. It can easily be stored for many days as it is chemical- and water-proof. The negative side of plastic is that it does not decompose even in hundreds of years. As one-time use of plastic is high, its waste causes water stagnation as it blocks drains and water-flow channels, destroys the fertility of the soil and causes catastrophic environmental degradation, with an extensive damage to aquatic and marine ecosystems.
Bangladesh is completely import-dependent for plastic raw materials (polymers) and this is definitely a good thing. But there is no need to worry about the catastrophic control of new polymer production. There are more than 3,000 plastic manufacturing companies in Bangladesh. Eighty-nine per cent of them are small and medium enterprises. The plastics industry accounts for 1 per cent of Bangladesh’s gross domestic product. Its domestic market value is about $1,000 million and the sector employs about five million people.
The plastic industry is expanding in the country, but we lag far behind in the management of plastic waste although it can be recycled in well-designed and scientific way as is done in many countries.
In Bangladesh, low-income people or street children mostly collect plastic waste and sell it for Tk 5–20 a kilogram. A large portion of plastic waste, especially PET plastic (Polyethylene terephthalate), is exported to China, Thailand, Finland, etc for advanced recycling.
Such a haphazard collection of plastic and its sales are hazardous in many ways, including its impact on health. While there are a few thousands of tonnes of plastic waste produced in the country, with concentrations in the urban hubs, there is no modern, sustainable and advanced waste management policy.
The huge amount of plastic waste will cost us dearly in the near future. In the coming years, as experts say, more plastic will be available in the river than the amount of fish in Bangladesh as one-time plastic containers and bags are growing in use.
Still there is no government initiative to control the situation and stop the use of one-time plastic containers and bags. Moreover, plastic waste is unwisely dumped along with other wastes in the designated dumping zones. Unlike other sorts of wastes, plastic waste does not mix with the soil; it rather spreads to the ground, destroys fertility and may interfere with the recharge of ground water. As a result, the level of the fresh water table decreases which is likely to result in a drinking water crisis.
The government must attend to the issue of proper plastic waste management through modern, sustainable and scientific recycling. A proper recycling industry can also help to employ a large number of people. All that is needed is the government’s willingness to cooperate and invest in this sector. Proper investment in the plastic waste management sector can yield other results too.
For example, plastic powder is made from plastic waste, from which plastic yarn is produced, in turn. These yarns can be used in various industries. It costs only Tk 4–5 lakh to set up a plastic powder factory. If the government is willing, a proper plastic recycling industry can become a reality.
In addition, plastic wastes can be used to produce fuel oil. Plastic waste has many other uses, too. For example, it is used to produce nylon yarn, artificial cotton, resin or cloth yarns. Another use of plastic waste is in gas and oil production. By setting up plants for the production of fuel and gas from plastic waste, Bangladesh can go for a waste management mechanism.
The government needs to attend to the issue before plastic waste becomes too big a burden and to turn the burden into a boom, the government should invest wisely and adequately in the sector. Even public-private partnership schemes can be considered in the implementation of such projects.
Nadira Islam studies environmental science and engineering at Jatiya Kabi Kazi Nazrul Islam University.
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