REGULATORY lapses in governing the plastic industry, particularly the import of plastic waste, have become a major environmental concern for Bangladesh. In a recent study jointly conducted by the Environment and Social Development Organisation and the International Pollutants Elimination Network, it was revealed that around 1.2 million tonnes of illegal plastic waste was shipped to Bangladesh from different developed and developing countries in the past three years. The unabated import of plastic waste is continuing as the authorities concerned have failed to enforce the import regulation in this regard. Green organisations are concerned about the long-term environmental and public health consequences of such regulatory failure because the imported waste contains toxic chemicals. It poses extreme risks of destabilising the marine ecosystem of the Bay of Bengal. Every year about 2 lakh tonnes of plastics enter the Bay of Bengal and fishermen in the area have been reporting about its impact on fish population for long.
Environmental organisations, while emphasising the strict enforcement of the import policy, talked about the lack of environmentally sensitive foreign policy of successive governments as they failed to establish a trade relation on an equal footing and allowed Bangladesh to eventually become a dumping ground of plastic waste. Their claim is not wrong given that the shipping of plastic waste to Bangladesh has increased when the Chinese government imposed a ban on importing plastic waste. In what follows, green activists have urged the government to consider a ban on the import of plastic waste and to formulate a trade policy considering the environmental cost of waste import. At the same time, the government needs to adopt a national policy discouraging the production and use of single-use plastic. In Bangladesh, on an average, 3,000 tonnes of plastic waste, 12 per cent of the total wastes, is generated every day and it stays in the environment in different forms as there is no effective waste management and recycling system in place. Scientists have detected 150 toxic chemicals in plastic wastes that are slowly contaminating the land and river systems. Successive governments have taken piecemeal initiatives to discourage the use of plastic and to manage plastic wastes. It is evident that without regulating the industrial production and the use of plastic, it will not be possible to contain plastic pollution.
The government must, under the circumstance, immediately investigate the reported illegal trade of plastic waste and take action against all those involved in violation of existing rules and regulations. The government must also design a comprehensive plan to prevent plastic pollution that will include an effective waste management and recycling plan and encourage and incentivise industries to divest from the production of single-use plastic. It must do so following the Basel Ban Amendment, the United Nations Environment Assembly Resolutions and the Bangladesh Import Policy Order 2015–18.
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