Bangladesh’s plastic menace worsening

Of the 977,000 tons of plastic consumed in 2020, only 31 percent was recycled.

Staff Correspondent

Staff Correspondent

The Daily Star


December 21, 2021

Bangladesh’s plastic consumption in urban areas tripled in the 15 years to 2020, found a World Bank study, in what can be viewed as a setback for the government’s efforts to beat plastic pollution.

A large part of the plastic waste is dumped in water bodies and rivers, said the report titled “‘Towards a Multisectoral Action Plan for Sustainable Plastic Management in Bangladesh”, which was unveiled yesterday.

Of the 977,000 tons of plastic consumed in 2020, only 31 percent were recycled, according to the report. The rest were mismanaged, ending up in landfills, rivers and canals, and drains and unserved areas.

“The unmanaged plastic waste can seriously pollute the environment and have far-reaching consequences on human health,” Abu Hasnat Md Maqsood Sinha, a consultant for the report and executive director of Waste Concern, told The Daily Star.

The plastic waste mixes into the ecosystem — into the soil, water bodies, air and food chain, he said.

“With rapid growth and urbanisation, Bangladesh faced a sharp increase in both plastic use and pollution,” said Dandan Chen, acting country director of the WB.

And the pandemic has worsened plastic pollution, especially from single-use plastic used in masks, gloves and personal protective equipment, she said.

In 2020, the country’s annual per capita plastic consumption in urban areas stood at 9 kg, up from 3 kg in 2005, according to the report.

“The average per capita plastic consumption in European countries is more than 100 kg — much higher than in Bangladesh. But Bangladesh is one of the top plastic polluted countries due to mismanagement of plastic waste,” said Bushra Nishat, environmental specialist of the World Bank, while presenting the report at the event.

The problem is worse in Dhaka city, where plastic usage is significantly higher than the national average.

In 2020, the per capita plastic consumption in Dhaka stood at 24 kg, up from 9.2 kg in 2005.

About 646 tons of plastic waste is generated daily in Dhaka, which is 10 percent of all wastes generated in Bangladesh. Only 37.2 percent of the plastic waste in Dhaka is recycled.

In this circumstance, sustainable management of plastic will be crucial for Bangladesh to tackle the increasing plastic pollution and ensure green growth, the report said.

While Bangladesh has taken steps in curbing plastic pollution over the years, the outcomes were varied.

For instance, in 2002, Bangladesh was the world’s first country to ban plastic shopping bags.

However, after some time, plastic pollution increased again.

The Jute Packaging Act 2010 for six essential items (paddy, rice, wheat, maize, fertiliser, sugar) promoted an alternative to plastic packaging.

In 2020, a High Court directed concerned authorities to ban single-use plastic in coastal areas and all hotels and motels across the country.

And yet, plastic pollution prevails.

The National Action Plan for Sustainable Plastic Management has set a target of recycling 50 percent of plastics by 2025, phasing out targeted single-use plastic by 90 percent by 2026, and reducing plastic waste generation by 30 percent by 2030 from 2020/21 baseline.

The plan, which is aligned with the eighth five-year plan, focuses on the circular use of plastic based on the 3R strategy: reduce, reuse and recycle.

A circular economy will help create new value chains, green skills, employment, and innovative products while addressing social and environmental challenges, the report concluded.

To implement the National Action Plan, commitment from all stakeholders, including citizens, the government, private sector, development partners and citizens will be important, said Eun Joo Allison Yi, senior environment specialist at the WB, and co-author of the report.

To implement the action plan, the report identified policy reforms, technologies, infrastructure, investment and institutional capacity-building needs.

The report, which was prepared in collaboration with the Department of Environment and ProBlue, a multi-donor trust fund, provided a blueprint for managing plastic pollution over the short-term (2022-2023), medium-term (2024-2026) and the long-term (2027-2030).

“Going forward, sustainable plastic management — from designing a product to minimising plastic use, to recycling — will be critical to ensure green growth for the country. We commend the government’s commitment to implement a National Action Plan to beat plastic pollution,” Chen said.

Speaking as chief guest, Md. Shahab Uddin, minister of forest, environment and climate change, stressed the enforcement of the law to reduce plastic pollution.

“The government wants to implement the 3R strategy through social inclusion. We have to encourage people to reduce the use of plastics,” he said.

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