Plastic recycling and waste management  

Wasi Ahmed       | Published: July 03, 2018 22:15:40

Plastic products, no doubt, constitute one of the most flourishing sectors of global economy. Given the reservations posed mainly by their harmful effects on human health-- as latest scientific studies have been warning the consumers worldwide-- plastic is thriving all over.

There are efforts, reportedly, towards cutting down the ill-effects; and one hopes the efforts succeed to the benefit of billions of people dependent on plastic products. Thus while one speaks about plastic, there are other things that automatically come up. One such is the poor or inadequate recycling of plastic waste. This is a scene common to most developing countries, and Bangladesh is no exception. In fact, the situation of plastic waste recycling in the country is a grim reflection of the extent of environmental hazards caused by the plastic industry all over the country. In Bangladesh, although the government is providing tax exemption on account of recycling, and reduced bank loans are also being availed of by the enterprises for the purpose, recycling is appallingly low. A study conducted in this regard says that only a small volume of plastic waste meant for recycling is actually recycled leaving the bulk of the harmful stuff to cause environmental degradation, soil erosion, water logging and so on. The study, however, mentions that with the facilities and technology currently available in the country, 50 per cent of the waste material could be recycled.

Findings of the aforementioned study conducted by a private research body, Waste Concern, reveals that as much as 72 per cent of the plastic waste is not recycled. The study further mentions that this high volume of waste, not properly disposed of or recycled, deprives the country of substantial earnings which could be to the tune of Tk 61.50 billion annually. The yearly production of the country's plastic factories, from well over 5,000 units, is approximately 4 million tonnes, of which more than 1 million tonne turns into waste. But the volume of waste recycled, according to the study, is only around 28 per cent.

This, no doubt, is the flip side of the prospects of the plastic sector that explains the fact that efficient waste management is integral to exploiting the prospects of plastic manufacturing. It is this urgency that needs collaborative efforts of the government and the private sector towards working on an effective waste recycling and management policy. This, experts believe, is the key to realising the prospects of the country's plastic industry. While improvement in infrastructure, product development is integral to the growth of the industry to desired levels, waste management and recycling are some of the critical areas in need of urgent attention. It has been found that of all the waste, accumulated on a daily basis in the country, the share of plastic is more than 60 per cent. However, doing away with the waste is relatively easier compared with those from other sources due to the user-friendly recycling technology. But in the absence of systematic methods of collecting the waste and recycling facilities, the bulk of the waste is left to pollute the environment.

One of the main benefits that most countries derive from recycled plastic waste is substantial saving on procuring raw materials and increased earnings from recycled products. Findings of the aforementioned study say that if the waste of plastic factories in and around Dhaka alone is recycled with appropriate technology, 75 per cent of the waste could be turned into fresh products, which would amount to saving around Tk 7.0 billion in foreign exchange. This indeed explains that an added focus on recycling and growth of the country's plastic sector is mutually inclusive and reinforcing.

The country needs a plastic policy, to start with. The policy among other things should provide strict guidelines for manufacturing-- away from the traditional methods prone to cause harmful effects, and also envisage enforceable measures to take care of waste recycling. Major improvement in infrastructure, waste management and skill development calls for urgent attention. In addition to these basics, product development and product adaptation should be attended to as a matter of priority. This, unfortunately, is an area many of the manufacturers miss out resulting in less than expected success in accessing overseas markets. In this regard, the government has a lot to do to help the sector move in a well-directed manner. A comprehensive packaging act to address problems relating to polythene bags, jute bags, recycling of plastic bags etc is also required. The Plastic Engineering and Technology Centre, the lone training centre of its kind in the country, should be made into a full-fledged institute. Above all, a plastic hub at a safe and convenient location needs to be developed in the interest of the sector.

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